China investors turn against Hong Kong shares in market rout
August 10 2018 09:50 PM
The Hong Kong flag (centre-right) fluttering next to the Chinese national flag (centre-left) outside the stock exchange building in Hong Kong. After turning net buyers in July, mainland traders have been selling the city’s stocks this month, returning to an April-June trend, when they dumped $3bn of shares over a record three consecutive months.

Bloomberg/Hong Kong

Chinese investors have gone off Hong Kong stocks again. After turning net buyers in July, mainland traders have been selling the city’s stocks this month, returning to an April-June trend, when they dumped HK$24bn ($3bn) of shares over a record three consecutive months. 
The reversal came as the Hong Kong benchmark declined every day last week, but investors continued to pull out Monday through Wednesday, when the Hang Seng Index rose 2.5%. The gauge added 0.9% on Thursday.
“Southbound flow to Hong Kong has been positive since 2016, but the tide started to turn in April,” said Tang Jianzhuo, a Shenzhen-based portfolio manager at E Fund Management Co. “Some mainland capital was forced to pull out due to deleveraging pressure on the mainland, while some chose to sell due to trade concerns and weaker expectations for the economy.”
Net sales last week amounted to about HK$7.5bn, the third biggest weekly total on record, according to Bloomberg calculations based on daily trading data. Another HK$4.5bn was sold this week. It’s a far cry from January, when the Hang Seng Index soared to a record high and investors piled in via trading links with Shanghai and Shenzhen.
Mainland investors have spent about HK$86bn buying Hong Kong stocks this year, averaging out at about HK$601mn in net purchases a day. That’s down about 60% from 2017.
The waning inflows have exacerbated the Hang Seng Index’s declines this year, Tang said. Stocks in Hong Kong and the mainland have fallen hard this year amid deteriorating trade relations with the US, a weaker yuan and signs of slower economy in China, where a deleveraging campaign has hampered growth.
“We think the southbound outflow is also related to profit- taking by mainland investors,” Tang said. “After two years of good performance in Hong Kong, many southbound funds have earned sizeable profits.”
Mainland investors have lowered their stakes in 15 out of 50 Hang Seng Index members this year. Tencent Holdings, Ping An Insurance Group and AAC Technologies Holdings are among those experiencing the biggest outflows, according to Bloomberg calculations based on shareholding data from the Hong Kong stock exchange. “Large caps with good liquidity could bear the brunt of selloffs if investors want to exit,” said Cheng Lv, Shanghai- based analyst at Huatai Securities Co. 
Heavyweights like banks and technology firms could take a blow when mainland investors cash out, she said.
While Chinese investors’ holdings in Hang Seng Index members is near a seven-month low, their exposure to Hang Seng Composite Small Cap Index members remains close to the highest in at least a year, according to Bloomberg data. China Education Group and Gemdale Properties & Investment Corp are among the most popular stocks in terms of inflows this year.
Onshore investors are keeping a close watch on two areas to decide whether to keep selling: Chinese economic growth indicators and trade talks between China and the US, said Wang Menghai, Shanghai-based money manager at Fullgoal Fund Management Co Wang oversees 7bn yuan ($1bn) in assets investing via the trading links.
“If the trade solutions or economic growth turn out to be better than expected, funds would flow to Hong Kong,” Wang said. “If the trade tensions escalate, or there are bad signs for the economy, investors may not have much motivation to buy Hong Kong stocks in the near-term.”
Wang said he is avoiding sectors closely related to the trade tension between China and the US and allocating to companies with abundant free cash flow, as they are more resilient during volatile times. He also favours companies with low gearing, given deleveraging measures being taken on the mainland.
The weaker yuan is an overhang for investors. Huatai’s Lv said companies listed in Hong Kong that generate a bulk of profits on the mainland will see their earnings hit when translated into the Hong Kong dollar, which is pegged to the greenback.
The yuan is the weakest currency in Asia over the past three months, falling around 7% against the dollar. The government has stepped in to try to stem the decline, yesterday, making it more expensive to short the currency and then this week urging major banks to prevent any “herd behaviour” and momentum-chasing moves. “We may not see a strong comeback of southbound flows in the near-term,” Lv said.

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