Investors try to guess if MSCI will add China A-shares

It’s that time of year again, when index provider MSCI adds stocks to its indices. Again global investors are focused on whether the New York company will add shares listed on the China mainland to a key global benchmark.

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is the widely-used benchmark for this sector of the global equity markets. Currently, $1.5 trillion worth of assets track it. If a company gets included in the index, it means every portfolio manager around the world that tracks the index needs to hold that stock. This can bring a flood of assets to the company and the country it resides in.

So, the world’s largest investors are watching carefully and trying to guess if on June 14 MSCI will announce whether it plans to add yuan-denominated Chinese shares to the index. Reuters suggests such a moves would bring $400 billion into China stocks over the next decade.

MSCI’s refusal to admit China’s A-shares into the index has kept many foreign investors away. Both the investors and the index company are wary of entering China’s markets after the government’s heavy-handed intervention during last summer’s stock market rout.

Some actually think the market’s 40% drop was sparked by MSCI’s decision last June to not include the A-shares in the index. For the year leading up to June 2015, the Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index had surged more than 150%. Part of that exuberance was investors buying in anticipation of MSCI adding China to the index. When that didn’t happen, investors realized the huge cash inflows that come with index inclusion weren’t coming, so they sold.

But the sell-off was so severe it caught authorities off guard. They instituted a series of restrictions that concern both global investors and MSCI.

Investors still worry about market rules that could leave foreign investors trapped in Chinese stocks, as they were during the rout when more than 50% of the companies listed in China halted trading.

When and how long a stock can be suspended has to be clearer and stricter, several investment managers told Reuters, including State Street Global Advisors, BNP Paribas Investment Partners, and Legg Mason.

“The most important issue is stock suspensions,” Paul Danes, Asia chief executive at Martin Currie, a Legg Mason subsidiary told Reuters. “Stock suspensions can happen on any exchange, but it was the number and the length of suspensions that caused a lot of problems around liquidity and valuations last summer. We have emphasized to MSCI that this is a reasonably big issue.”

The Shenzhen and Shanghai exchanges plan to introduce new suspension rules imminently, the China Securities Journal reported on Monday, but it did not provide details.

Since last year, China has simplified the application process for its rigid $81 billion Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) scheme. But investors said it remains unclear how Beijing measures assets under management and how long the new approval process takes.

China imposes a three-month lock-up period on QFII investments and only allows 20% of net asset values to be repatriated per month. These restrictions have left investors nervous about their ability to get money out of China.



Categories: Asia Unhedged, China

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