Hong Kong-Shenzhen trading link off to a negative start

A display board showing the Hang Seng Index at the close of the market on the first day of the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connect on Dec 5, 2016.
A display board showing the Hang Seng Index at the close of the market on the first day of the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connect on Dec 5, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - A long-delayed trading link between the exchanges of Hong Kong and Shenzhen in China made a disappointing debut Monday, with markets on both sides of the border ending lower.

The link opens another door to the mainland's cloistered 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 companies.

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 analysts sounding a note of caution.

Hong Kong's city leader 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.

However, by the close Hong Kong was down 0.26 per cent and Shenzhen's composite index had given up 0.78 per cent.

And only 21 per cent of the northbound trade permitted under the scheme was taken up, while a little more than eight percent of the southbound quota was used up.

Hong Kong-based analyst Jackson Wong said the lacklustre 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.

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 stabilises, 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 yuan, which is at eight-year lows against the dollar.

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

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 the existing ones to trade another 101 smaller Hong Kong-listed companies.

Neil Mclean of brokerage Instinet said 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."