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Overseas taste for China A-shares recovers

By Ye Zhen (Shanghai Daily)

08:33, December 24, 2012

OVERSEAS appetite for China's yuan-denominated Class A shares has recovered as equity markets rose after a three-year decline and regulators stepped up moves to make the country's capital markets more friendly to foreign investors.

Participants in the Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) program opened 104 accounts to trade A shares from January to November this year, up sharply from just 24 entries for 2011, according to the China Securities Depository and Clearing Corporation.

On December 14, in the latest relaxation of rules on foreign investment, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange abolished the US$1 billion ceiling for sovereign wealth funds, central banks and foreign monetary authorities participating in QFII. No new upper limit was specified.

Launched in 2002, QFII is a main gateway for foreign institutions to access China's yuan-denominated markets. In the past decade, the program has witnessed a more than 10-fold expansion in both the number of participants and the size of approved investment quotas.

The long slump in China's stock market cooled that ardor. QFII funds that invest solely in China's A shares lost 10.4 percent on average in 2010, 25.3 percent in 2011 and 9.1 percent in the first 11 months of this year, according to Lipper, a subsidiary of Thomson Reuters.

"The size of some QFII funds has shrunk considerably in the past three years due to losses and redemptions by investors frustrated by the funds' poor performance," said Xav Feng, head of Lipper's research in the Asia region.

Sentiment seems to be changing amid perceptions that the Chinese stock market, at near historic low valuations, has hit bottom.

China market more attractive

"QFII fund managers have begun to stir since the Shanghai Composite Index fell to the 2,000 level," Feng said.

The valuation of Shanghai's stock market on December 3 declined to its lowest level since 1997, with the price-to-earnings ratio of the index at 10.8 times, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. That makes the Chinese stock market more attractive, especially while developed markets remain inhibited by the "fiscal cliff" political showdown in the US and the debt crisis in the eurozone.

"I think now is a good time to invest in the Chinese stock market because the current valuation indicates considerable returns in the future," said Tomas Franzen, chief investment strategist at the Second Swedish National Pension Fund, which received approval to become a QFII participant in September.

Investment sentiment in China has been further buoyed by the stock market's recent rebound. Between December 3 and December 14, the Shanghai Composite Index has surged above 10 percent from a near four-year low.

"We increased our onshore exposure at the end of July in order to take advantage of the QFII available because I think we will see a new rush amongst foreign investors when the market picks up," Christina Chung, head of Allianz Global Investors' China team in Hong Kong, said in an interview with Citywire Global.

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