Reading between the lines of China’s “Twin sessions”

China’s National People’s Congress, the annual plenary session of China’s legislature, is done and dusted. No major policy upheaval ahead the 19th Party Congress in November. Nonetheless, the shift in tone in the government work report have shed some light on China’s policy direction.

1. Tone shifted from “maintaining growth” to “containing risk”
The theme of stability, focusing on risk control and deleveraging have been reinforced by Premier Li Keqiang in the government work report. This tone was well set at the Central Economic Work Conference in December 2016.

The economic growth target in 2017 is softened to “6.5% or higher” while both the M2 and total social financing growth target were set at 12% in 2017, 1ppt lower than that of 2016. These targets reflect the government’s intention to contain rising leverage and pursue a prudent monetary policy.

A “neutral and prudent” monetary policy stance is further backed by the recent rate hikes in China together with regulation tightening. Reuters reported PBOC began taking into account off-balance sheet financing to its Macro Prudential Assessment (MPA) at the beginning of 2017. Furthermore, PBOC plans to tighten capital adequacy requirement by removing the “tolerance indicator”, according to sources[1]. The measures would make the expansion of risk assets by commercial banks more costly.

2. Stress on “real economy” and “innovation”
Both President Xi Jinping and Premier Li stressed that the real economy is the foundation for China’s development. The government work report stated that greater efforts will be made this year to upgrade the real economy through innovation.

It is noteworthy that the term “Artificial Intelligence” has been mentioned in the government work report this year, for the first time, saying that AI is one of the emerging industries where development will be accelerated. Many internet companies have been investing heavily on AI. By adopting AI, manufacturing companies could reduce cost and improve efficiency. According to The National Bureau of Statistics, in the first two months of 2017, the investment in high-tech industry grew by 18.4% yoy, or 9.5 ppt higher than the growth rate of total investment.

3. Why a “Total China” approach is the way forward?

Striving a balance between achieving growth target and reducing financial risks would pose both opportunities and challenges to the companies in China. In order to capture the growth story as well as mitigate the risk, a “Total China” approach to index investing should be considered.

The S&P China 500 Index offers a more comprehensive coverage of the top 500 Chinese companies, while approximating the sector composition of the broader Chinese equity market. All Chinese share classes, including A-shares, H shares, US listed ADRs are eligible for inclusion, subject to meeting minimum size and liquidity requirements.

As a result, the S&P China 500 Index offers a more diversified representation across sectors compared to existing major China indices (Figure 1). As of Dec 31, 2016, S&P China 500 has a weight of only 23.6% in the financial sector, much less as compared to FSTE A50 (66.4%), CSI300 (35.48%), and MSCI China (27.04%).  More weights are distributed to new economies such as Information Technology or Consumer Discretionary sectors, offering a more forward-looking representation of China’s economy in the new paradigm where technology-driven consumption plays a significant role.

Historical performance of the diversified S&P China 500 Index has demonstrated better risk-adjusted returns (Figure 2).  During the period from 31-Dec, 2008 to 31-Dec, 2016, the S&P China 500 Index generated an annualized return of 9.6% and a Sharpe ratio of 0.4, both are the highest among the major onshore and offshore China indices.

The S&P China 500’s all-inclusiveness and not biased towards any sector or large SOE mitigates the concentration risks and create a more balanced yet diversified China exposure.

[1] Source: Reuters, 9 March, 2017


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