Shenzhen-HK stock link more significant than it appears

Updated: 2016-08-30 09:18

By William So(HK Edition)

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The long-awaited Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connect was finally approved by the State Council on Aug 16. The program, which will take four months to prepare, is likely going to be launched by December. The day after the announcement, the aggregate quota for the existing Shanghai-HK Stock Connect was removed while the daily cap remained at 13 billion yuan ($1.95 billion) for northbound and 10.5 billion yuan for southbound and will apply to both connect programs.

Honestly speaking, the announcement was largely expected by many of us - it was only a matter of when. So any positive impact on either the financial markets or the real economy should be muted in the short run.

Yet from a longer-term perspective, I believe the Shenzhen-HK connect will have more of an impact. For the Chinese mainland, following the RMB's inclusion in the special drawing rights last November, which will become official very soon in October, the opening-up of the Shenzhen stock market is another sign of the mainland's determination to internationalize its financial markets. To be more precise, it should be regarded as a stepping stone toward the subsequent longer-term plans, such as the MSCI inclusion, and perhaps the "commodity-connect" and "bond-connect" as well.

Shenzhen-HK stock link more significant than it appears

In its June review meeting, the MSCI rejected again the inclusion of the A shares into its benchmark index; one of the main concerns back then was the difficult accessibility of the domestic market of the Chinese mainland. Now one of these obstacles is removed via the two stock connect schemes, the outcome of the next review should be more promising, in my opinion, and it will mark another step closer toward modernization and liberalization of the country.

Coming back to Hong Kong, similar to the Shanghai-HK connect, the city will act as the bridge between the mainland and the rest of the world in this Shenzhen-HK program. Yet unsurprisingly, although numerous government officials and some others have repeatedly suggested that such stock connects will bring Hong Kong lots of opportunities, some cast doubt on its actual benefits on the real economy, especially when the Shanghai link only received such a lukewarm market response.

But we must realize that compared to Shanghai where the market is dominated by mostly traditional, large and old-economy enterprises, Shenzhen's stock market is dominated by innovative, young and high-growth enterprises. In other words, it symbolizes the new growth path of the mainland economy in the long run. So the launch of the Shenzhen-HK link is not merely an opportunity to enhance the city's role as a leading financial hub in Asia or simply allow Hong Kong to enjoy a free-ride offered by the mainland, it has a bigger implication: It will facilitate Hong Kong's participation in this new FinTech era and help revitalize our economy.

Hong Kong used to enjoy some advantages in the fields of innovation, research and technology compared to the rest of the world. We were among the first to introduce an e-payment scheme - the Octopus card - back in 1997, well before the introduction of the Oyster card in the UK and Alipay on the mainland. Yet 20 years have now gone by, and it seems that we are still standing on the same spot.

This is not to suggest that we have not improved at all; the point is that there is still plenty of room for us to grow ahead. In fact, the city has fostered notable growth for many technology startups in recent years; the problem here is that we have been very much outpaced by many others now, with Alipay probably being the most noticeable one.

So, with the upcoming opening-up of the Shenzhen-HK stock connect, we have the precise opportunity to take a leap forward and catch up with the progress. But the premise is that we should understand that the program is not just an investment channel for capital to go in and out of the two exchanges, it can also facilitate two-way communication and cooperation for businessmen and investors between the two sides. We should also leverage our position as the financial gateway to attract more foreign direct investment into the city, to bring in more capital, technology and ideas, and to broaden the base of our economy.

In addition, we should also speed up our research and development process on the so-called "blockchain" technology in order to strengthen our existing comparative advantage on the Belt and Road Initiative. Only by doing so are we able to attract more investments or businesses from the coastal countries.

For sure the city has all the advantages of being the leading financial hub with such a close relationship with the mainland, and any strategic reform implemented by the central government could be beneficial to the city's long-term economic development. Yet I hope we would not take such opportunities as granted; we must be proactive and act fast with determination before such chances slip away.

(HK Edition 08/30/2016 page10)