FIXGlobal speaks with the buy-side in China about the prospects for China’s equity market, IPOs and how new technology and competition will improve domestic trading.
GDP and Trading Volumes The property market might continue to cool down in 2012, but it is not reasonable to expect the Chinese economy to shrink significantly this year because the Chinese government will allocate resources to other sectors of the economy. Because of the Lunar New Year effect, it looks as though Chinese Consumer Price Index (CPI) is heading upwards. Based on adjusted CPI, the property asset bubble is a political issue rather than an economic one. The Chinese government has pledged to continue monitoring property prices, and its strong fiscal position gives them various options in terms of how they address this situation. Trading volumes are expected to be much the same as 2011 and inflation should be heading downwards.
Major Driver: IPOs or Economics? There has been a rapid increase in the number of IPOs in China, but the regulators are questioning the quality of some of the IPO companies. Of those companies newly listed in 2011, valuation declined quite significantly. Investors used to think an IPO was like a lottery – buying new shares virtually guaranteed a profit. Many investors did not consider the actual valuation and quality of the company, and many are now realizing that not all investments are worth their list price.
The Chinese equity markets are in a transition stage; they are moving from being somewhat amateur to being much more economic and investor-driven. There were instances of listed companies in one industry that changed industries after the IPO (often moving into property development) and occasionally changing the name of the company, leaving investors uncertain about their strategy and focus.
Listed companies used to have considerable power, but the market is changing in a positive direction. However, we do not know how quickly the market will become transparent and trustworthy. The regulators, media and institutional investors are now more serious about issues of valuation, transparency, corporate governance, etc. The regulators should consider increasing Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) and ways of improving the dissemination of information to investors in order to set a good example in the domestic market.
A primary focus of the Chinese Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) this year is insider trading. Addressing this matter will improve the quality of listed companies and give investors greater protection. The regulators are working on improving access to information for investors and institutional funds will benefit significantly from this transparency. Regulators are concerned with addressing both the difficulty of access to information and the quality of information about IPOs, and it is quite likely that they will be able to improve both aspects.
Applying New Technology The biggest technology upgrade implemented in the past six months has been algorithmic trading. Most Chinese buyside use their brokers’ algos, but in China, domestic mutual funds are not allowed to route orders to brokers. So what many dealing desks have done is to install the brokers’ algo engine on their side, so for every algo they choose, they go through their server and send the order to the exchange. In this way, dealers achieve efficiency in their algo usage because they do not use any brokerage; as a dealer, they are almost like their own broker. Algo trading also provides the buy-side with more precise post-trade analysis; specifically, the ability to analyze how much alpha has been captured and the transaction costs involved.
The primary benchmark used by most Chinese buy-side traders is Implementation Shortfall (IS), which is used to generate information to help the fund manager improve their investment strategies. For example, it might provide data about the delay cost created by an investment decision made an hour after the market opens, showing the fund manager that if the decision had been made earlier they could have saved a certain amount on the investment.
As recent history shows, China has a vast and diverse economic system, which contains a number of economic sub-systems, many of which have experienced growth in the last 36 months. In the media, headlines portray China to be an economic powerhouse, with expansion plans that have far reaching implications for these domains, including electronic trading in Financial Services.
One area that has seen much attention from western companies in the financial sector over the last two years is that of the Qualified Domestic Institutional Investors (QDIIs). More and more of the QDIIs, are gradually being granted authorisation by the Chinese government to trade global offshore securities in the stock, bonds and other securities. QDII programs are used in places where the capital markets are not yet completely open to all investors. For example, any institutional investor in China that obtains approval to be a QDII may invest up to 50% of net assets into allowable foreign securities, so long as not more than 5% is invested in any one security.
Background on some recent changes to the QDII programme
According to DeaconsLaw.com, the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) has confirmed it had signed Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) with four jurisdictions, namely Australia, Germany, Korea and Luxembourg, in addition to Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Singapore, Japan and USA over the past year. This means for commercial banks, QDII investment products issued by commercial banks may invest in listed stocks and mutual funds supervised by the relevant regulatory bodies in these jurisdictions. Also, in the case of Chinese fund management companies (FMCs); in 2009 the FMCs were permitted to extend their asset management services to multiple-client accounts, following single client segregated account services, which were launched during 2008. Whereas now, FMCs may expand their managed account asset management services to include investments in offshore markets and mutual funds as well as offering QDII funds.
To be able to invest offshore, FMCs need to apply for a new QDII investment quota or use any balance of their existing QDII investment quota (originally granted for the launch of QDII funds), provided an approval is obtained from State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE).
Trading offshore – Global Markets
Global Markets may be a new experience that some of these Chinese Funds’ find they have insufficient understanding or experience to adequately deal with.
This perceived shortfall of global markets trading experience manifests itself in both an opportunity and a threat, each with their own risks, neither of which can, nor should be ignored. Prudence and patience should be employed when prioritising the financial services opportunities in China; with their exceptionally high savings rate and positive trade balance providing an abundance of capital, some of which is targeted at foreign investment – Qualified Domestic Institutional Investors (QDIIs), this is a fledgling sector and is transitioning very slowly.
What is important for western companies to consider is that a lot of leg work will be necessary, whilst it may feel like a fruitless exercise, it is important to stick at it and be sure that your value proposition is appropriately reviewed in the right forum.
The financial services arena in China, is no stranger to electronic trading, this can be seen with their domestic solutions, which demonstrate a good deal more Straight Through Processing (STP) than most western organisations.
High Frequency Trading (HFT) is creating waves the world over, and Asia is no exception. With the challenges HFT presents being highlighted by many, and the benefits it offers markets being stressed by many others, Ronald Gould, Chief Executive Officer, Asia Pacific, Chi-X Global, focuses on their likely prospects in the enticing markets of China.
Developments in market structure generally occur in conjunction with three things. First, such developments require a receptive regulatory environment, one that permits change and encourages innovation. The second requirement is trading venue technology, generally coupled with the existence of more than one trading venue. Trading technology availability is improving but it would be wrong to suggest that markets everywhere are equal in this respect. Finally, there needs to be a user environment that is supportive of market change and willing to help drive innovation. These ingredients are observable in varying measure across markets in Asia, some at the forefront of change and others warily fighting against it. In most places in Asia, the current status of market change is in limbo as a result of hesitance on the part of one party or another to begin the process. Our own experience indicates that Japan, Singapore and Australia are leaders in this change while others are either cautious or opposed.
If we survey the market structure scene in Asia, some places present a more ambiguous picture than others. One of the most intriguing and perplexing pictures is China, a market filled with potential, intriguing to investors, clearly interested in innovation and change but whose plans and objectives are often opaque to the outside world. Given China’s growing importance to investors, an effort to make the picture of change clearer must be a useful one. First, it is helpful to establish a baseline from which to start, a description of the situation today.
According to figures published at the end of 2009 by the World Federation of Exchanges (“WFE”), China is now the world’s second biggest equities market based on total market capitalization. Free float is much smaller however, as both State and corporate holdings are still substantial. The market is heavily dominated by retail investors, of whom there are more than 50 million with active accounts and more arriving daily. Institutional investing is at an earlier stage although mutual funds have grown rapidly and Exchange Traded Funds (ETF’s) represent a major growth area as well. Because many of China’s largest companies were previously state owned and with shareholding still tightly controlled, turnover rates among institutional investors are very low. While a block trading facility exists in Shanghai, it is not as yet widely used and probably needs upgrading if it is to attract a greater audience among investors. The new generation trading system for the Shanghai Exchange was launched in Dec 2009, purchased from Deutsche Boerse and adapted with the help of Accenture for rather different market conditions over several years. Latency is not something that gets much scrutiny by investors in Shanghai but it is not a characteristic as yet highly valued. The question we confront today is whether we are at an inflection point for change in China, a point at which the instinct for innovation begins to drive a greater openness. Let’s look at the evidence.