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China takes major step to opening up bond markets

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Fund managers and other institutional investors can trade in Chinese bonds without having to set up an onshore account, after China’s central bank officially opened its “Bond Connect” programme with Hong Kong.

The Bond Connect link was officially opened yesterday by the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) and Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) “in order to promote the development of the bond markets in mainland China”, the two parties said in a joint statement.

The first day of operation saw $721m (€636m) of purchases, according to Bloomberg. China’s total government and corporate debt market is estimated to be worth $9trn.

The opening of the Bond Connect follows last month’s decision by index provider MSCI to include Chinese A-Shares in its emerging markets indices from next year. While the additions will make up a small portion of MSCI’s Emerging Markets index, it is set to add momentum to the Chinese government’s efforts to open up its domestic market to foreign investors. Stock Connect, a programme to improve foreign access to domestic shares, was introduced in 2014 and expanded last year to cover both of China’s main equity exchanges.

Mo Ji‎, chief economist for Asia ex-Japan at Amundi, said investors that ignored Bond Connect would be “at a significant disadvantage”.

“This is another step in the normalisation of Chinese capital markets which is a trend that no one should underestimate,” Ji said. “Chinese stock markets account for 10% of global market cap, and Chinese bond markets rank third in the world. We will see their integration into global markets go progressively deeper. Governance and transparency will continue to improve in the process.”

Carl Shepherd, fixed income portfolio manager at Newton Investment Management, added: “Whichever form market access takes, China as an international bond player represents a much smaller market than its position as the world’s second-largest economy would suggest. Greater access should be seen as an inevitability, and provide greater trading volumes, which in turn should boost liquidity in both the bonds and the currency.”

Shepherd added that the improved market access would also encourage greater accountability. 

“If not, this should quickly become apparent in the form of yield spikes or significant outflows,” he said. “This [is] useful for providing a graphic example of market risk perceptions which may not be reflected or announced in the state managed press releases. We would ultimately view this as part of a natural progression towards a more consumer-led model of policy making, and away from the old command and investment-led economy.”

The PBoC and HKMA said in their statement that they would “establish effective mechanism for information exchange and execution assistance, strengthen supervisory cooperation, and jointly combat cross-boundary illegal activities so as to ensure effective operation” of Bond Connect.

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