Bucks are here for a bigger bang

Editorial | 16 Feb 2017

The Hong Kong stock market has been climbing for a week, with daily turnover exceeding HK$80 billion for days.

Some say the "Big Era" is back, and Morgan Stanley strategist Jonathan Garner is among these bullish, as he predicts A shares will jump 37 percent within the year.

The robust outlook received a boost yesterday: although the Hang Seng Index gained less than 300 points, daily turnover soared to top HK$111 billion - the highest since September.

The question is, are we at all certain we're on the doorstep of another "Big Time?"

The last time markets here and up north had their so-called big moment was two years ago. They went berserk amid encouragement from Beijing policymakers, only to crash spectacularly after something seriously wrong was discovered.

So, what are the similarities - and dissimilarities - between then and now?

Let's start with the dissimilarities.

Instead of growing robustly, mainland markets have seemingly been on life support. The Shanghai Composite Index, for instance, has been fluctuating in the 3,100 to 3,200 range most of the time, with daily turnover figures unimpressive.

Trading yesterday on the Shanghai bourse sank to a low of 207 billion yuan (HK$233.8 billion) - a fraction of daily turnover during the so-called "Big Time" that peaked in the second quarter of 2015.

Yet, the similarity is that the Hang Seng Index's recent surge is attributable to capital outflows from the north.

The Hong Kong market has always been subject to two factors: mainland and overseas capital movements. Since Donald Trump's ascension to the US presidency, there have been no significant signs of overseas capital flowing into the SAR.

On the contrary, money is heading to America as the US greenback strengthens against major currencies.

One plausible explanation for the spirited performance of Hong Kong stocks is the availability of mainland capital, since it will be hard for local money alone to raise daily turnover numbers from the dull HK$58 billion registered after the Lunar New Year to the HK$111 billion high of yesterday.

That's a curious surge.

While it's true more mainland capital has recently been snapping up SAR stocks through the Shanghai-Hong Kong and Shenzhen-Hong Kong stock connects, the activities weren't extraordinary, and their impact shouldn't be exaggerated.

Rather, the robust activity may have more to do with mainland funds already parked in Hong Kong, and their owners are keen to keep them here to avoid Beijing's stringent currency controls targeting capital outflows.

About 170 billion yuan had reportedly migrated here via the stock through trains in 2016. It may be imprudent to suggest the entire amount will remain in the SAR, but it will be equally imprudent to say otherwise.

It's all psychological. Would you repatriate your money back to a place if you know it will be difficult to get it out again later?

Beijing may find this tolerable as long as the money doesn't leave Hong Kong, since it's part of the motherland.

Looking forward, one may read Garner's prediction warily.

While it's traditional wisdom to place sell orders on good news, could his positive outlook be a sign that the market may be peaking soon?

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