A member of security partols the trading floor.Photo: Anthony WALLACE / AFP
A member of security partols the trading floor. Photo: Anthony WALLACE / AFP

A long-delayed trading link between the exchanges of Hong Kong and Shenzhen got off to a disappointing start on Monday, with markets on both sides of the border ending lower.

The link opens another door to the mainland’s cloistered stock markets, allowing foreigners to buy shares in more than 800 Chinese firms for the first time, while also giving mainlanders further access to Hong Kong-listed stocks.

Similar to a connect that kicked off between Hong Kong and Shanghai two years ago, the scheme is being touted as China’s latest effort to prove its capital markets are gradually opening. But a growth slowdown in China’s economy, the weak yuan and an expected hike in US interest rates have had analysts sounding a note of caution.

The city’s leader, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, hailed it as “yet another milestone in deepening mutual access” between the capital markets in Hong Kong and mainland China.

The former British colony is now a special administrative region of China but remains connected to the global financial system, unlike the mainland’s closed markets.

By the break Hong Kong was down 0.4% and Shenzhen’s composite index had given up 0.6%. However, at the close Hong Kong was down 0.26% and Shenzhen’s composite index had given up 0.78%.

And only 21% of the northbound trade permitted under the scheme was taken up, while a little more than 8% of the southbound quota was used up.

Hong Kong-based analyst Jackson Wong said the lackluster start was not a surprise.

“Investors were not expecting a spectacular open anyway, because investor sentiment is a little bit on the quiet side,” he said.

“Investors were not expecting a spectacular open anyway, because investor sentiment is a little bit on the quiet side”

That was mainly due to the weak yuan and concern that China would not open up capital flows in the short-term, said Wong, a securities analyst at Huarong International.

The markets’ performance might improve once the currency stabilizes, he said, adding: “I think [China] will roll out more relaxed policies and that would eventually trigger … more buying interests.”

Analysts said the repercussions of a rout last year in mainland markets — which spread globally — were still being felt.

That delayed the launch of the new link, which had been expected by the end of 2015. Concerns have been exacerbated more recently by capital flight caused by the weakening yuan, which is at eight-year lows against the dollar.

Huge significance

Comments from Liu Shiyu, head of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, may also have dented sentiment, analysts said.
Liu on Saturday blasted hostile corporate takeover attempts between Chinese firms in a strongly worded speech posted on the commission’s website.

In the highest-profile case, China’s largest property firm, Vanke, has been fighting to repel an acquisition by private conglomerate Baoneng Group that would be China’s first blue-chip hostile takeover.

While recognizing some buyouts can be positive, Liu condemned those in which the suitor becomes “a barbarian, and then eventually a bandit.”

He did not spell out any official measures to stem such takeovers.

“The [market] drop is mainly related to [Liu’s] speech rather than the stock trading link launch,” said Zhang Yufa, research director for private equity firm Million Tons Capital. “Market sentiment was affected by this.”

Shenzhen is China’s second stock exchange, behind Shanghai, and is the world’s eighth largest bourse, with a market capitalization of US$3.3 trillion as of September.

“The real huge significance of this over a 10-year scope is the ability for China to come in to the rest of the world”

The Shanghai-Hong Kong link launched in November 2014, giving foreigners access for the first time to Chinese companies not quoted elsewhere, and vice versa. But it has failed to excite traders, with both daily quotas for “southbound” mainland and “northbound” international buyers often unfilled.

Mainland trading accounts are valid for both the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges, so the latest link does not give access to the Hong Kong bourse to any extra investors. However, it allows existing investors to trade in another 101 smaller Hong Kong-listed companies.

Analysts agree demand for mainland shares is sluggish, owing to their unpredictability. However, southbound investors may see the stock connect as a timely opportunity to diversify, said Patrick Mohr, a trading strategist at the brokerage Instinet.

The brokerage’s Neil McLean added that the long-term significance of the stock connect should not be underestimated.

“The real huge significance of this over a 10-year scope is the ability for China to come in to the rest of the world,” said McLean, head of execution trading for Asia ex-Japan. “China doesn’t open its doors for fun.”

Agence France-Presse