Short sellers abstain as China opens door

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A new scheme allowing global investors to short sell mainland Chinese stocks via the Hong Kong market has failed to attract a single order on its first day of operation, following criticism of the limitations it places on trading.

The new short-selling facility, announced by bourse operator Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing a week ago, allows foreigners to try to profit from price falls in individual Chinese stocks for the first time, using the three-month-old equity trading link with Shanghai.

However, analysts have been quick to focus on the shortcomings of the scheme. Under the rules, a maximum of 1 per cent of available shares can be sold short by foreign investors per day, up to a total of 5 per cent over 10 days — restrictions that some say defeat the point of allowing shorting altogether.

On Monday, not a single short-sell trade was completed, according to HKEx data.

Enthusiasm for betting against Chinese stocks has also been damped by rising share prices. Over the past five trading sessions, the Shanghai market has risen 4.1 per cent, and it gained 0.8 per cent on Monday following a rate cut by the People's Bank of China over the weekend.

"We believe this move [to cut rates] is a net positive development to the equity markets, and lends support to our constructive view on Chinese equities," said Kinger Lau, China equity strategist at Goldman Sachs, in a note.

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However, the Shanghai rally has failed to attract large inflows from international funds — disappointing those who had expected the Stock Connect trading facility to bring a flood of overseas money into China.

On Monday, just 9 per cent of the daily "northbound" quota was used, a figure in keeping with recent trading days. Some sessions have even seen the quota rise, with sell orders outweighing buys.

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Many analysts and market watchers expect the flows to increase as more large fund managers — many of which were not ready at the start or had not yet gained regulatory clearance — sign up for the scheme. The proposed addition of a Shenzhen link-up later this year is also forecast to boost demand.

In June, index compiler MSCI will decide whether or not to add mainland Chinese shares to its widely tracked emerging market indices. Such a move could force global funds to allocate billions of dollars to domestic Chinese stocks, much of which would be done through Hong Kong.

Domestic Chinese investors have largely ignored the chance to snap up Hong Kong-listed stocks, with those eligible together buying less than $4 billion through the scheme so far.