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Pilot REITs drive stock surge on mainland bourses

By Zhou Lanxu | China Daily | Updated: 2020-05-07 08:29
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An investor looks at share prices at a brokerage in Fuyang, Anhui province. [Photo by Wang Biao/For China Daily]

Infrastructure stocks surged in mainland exchanges on Wednesday, as investors expected a newly-launched financing vehicle for the sector will facilitate economic recovery while containing debt risks, analysts said.

Seven listed firms related to infrastructure construction hit the 10-percent daily gain limit as the market reopened on Wednesday, after China launched a pilot program of publicly offered real estate investment trusts, or REITs, during the market closure.

The move has marked the beginning of the development of publicly offered REITs in China and is a milestone in the country's supply-side reform of the financial system, benefiting both short-term and long-term economic growth, according to analysts.

The program will allow the public issuance of a specific type of REIT-a mutual fund with more than four-fifths of the money collected from investors to invest in securities backed by an in-use infrastructure project, according to the China Securities Regulatory Commission.

Most of the income generated by the infrastructure project, such as a toll road or a logistics center, will be distributed to investors, the commission said in a draft guideline on April 30. Investors can trade the publicly offered REITs easily as they are listed on exchanges.

The reform effort came after a key Party meeting last month, presided over by Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, that underlined the importance of focusing on supply-side structural reform as the main task and ramping up investment in traditional and new types of infrastructure to expand domestic demand.

In the short term, the REITs could mobilize existing infrastructure assets to raise money from the public to fund new infrastructure projects, which lies at the core of promoting economic recovery from the COVID-19 shock, said Zhang Zheng, a professor with Peking University's Guanghua School of Management.

Different from the traditional debt financing mode for infrastructure investment, REITs are equity financing tools and could avoid running up debts when stimulating investment, he said.

The debt-to-GDP ratio of China's real economy rose significantly in the first quarter of the year by 13.9 percentage points to nearly 260 percent, indicating the need to strike a balance between shoring up growth and containing debts, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

From a longer perspective, the pilot reform will make market-based pricing of infrastructure projects possible, which will be critical for enhancing the efficiency of infrastructure investment and therefore the nation's high-quality growth pursuit, Zhang said.

The CSRC said the pilot program will also provide social capital with new investment channels, as the publicly offered REITs feature high liquidity and steady return.

Though products qualified as publicly offered REITs by international standards have not emerged in the mainland, the instrument has been used in more than 40 countries and regions across the world, according to the commission.

The value of China's publicly offered REITs market may amount to 1 trillion yuan ($141 billion) or more, and exceed 5 trillion yuan if commercial properties are also allowed as underlying assets of REITs in China, said a report from China International Capital Corp Ltd.

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