China Adds Flesh to Bones of Plan for Big Bang Financial Opening
(Bloomberg) -- China’s plan for an historic opening of its financial sector came into sharper focus as the nation’s top central banker elaborated on pledges from President Xi Jinping that have buoyed global markets and eased trade tensions with the U.S.
The daily Shanghai-Hong Kong stock connect quota will quadruple to 52 billion yuan ($8.3 billion) from May 1, People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang said Wednesday at a panel discussion at the Boao Forum for Asia. More financial-sector opening will be realized by June 30, he said, citing a range of items from limits on foreign insurers to easing foreign ownership caps on securities companies.
The fresh details from the new central bank chief may help further ease trade tensions after Xi’s renewed pledges to open sectors from banking to auto manufacturing drew praise from U.S. President Donald Trump. When asked by Bloomberg News whether the financial reforms represented a “big bang,” Yi characterized them as gradual.
“I think that the Chinese philosophy is gradualism,” Yi said. “I’ll be very cautious. I even don’t want to use the word ‘bang,’ no matter if it’s big or small. I think this is a prudent, cautious, gradualist move.”
Yi’s predecessor, Zhou Xiaochuan, used one of his last public appearances to urge the world’s second-largest economy to “be bolder in opening up.” Wednesday’s comments add specifics to those and other recent pledges by Chinese officials to increase access to its financial system.
“This would appear to confirm China’s commitment not only to greater openness and access to the Chinese economy but to an acceleration of that process,” Callum Henderson, a managing director for Asia-Pacific at research firm Eurasia Group in Singapore, said of Yi’s remarks. “This should be well received by markets.’
Stocks in Shanghai rose as concern over the U.S.-China trade dispute eased. Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd., operator of the city’s bourse, gained as much as 3.7 percent.
What Our Economists Say:“China is set to accelerate efforts to open up its financial sector,” Bloomberg economists Fielding Chen and Qian Wan wrote in a report. “In the context of recent trade tensions with the U.S., the remarks should further dial down risks of a trade war getting out of hand.”
When asked during the panel led by Bloomberg Editor in Chief John Micklethwait whether China would be prepared to let its currency decline if there were tariffs, Yi said the exchange-rate system is working well as it is.
“Our exchange-rate system is demand-and-supply determined, with a basket of currencies as reference, and managed floating exchange-rate system,” Yi said. “The exchange rate mechanism is a market-determined mechanism, it’s working very well, and I think it will continue to work very well.”
Yi succeeded Zhou last month to became PBOC governor, sharing responsibility for steering the institution with Guo Shuqing, the Communist Party’s secretary at the central bank who concurrently also serves as chairman of the banking and insurance regulator.
Ending restrictions on the business scope of foreign securities firms’ Chinese joint ventures will allow them to operate in the same areas as their local counterparts, Yi said. He also said officials aim to start a stock trading tie-up between Shanghai and London this year.
“It’s encouraging that the Chinese government is pledging further opening up and advancing reforms at Boao despite the anti-market and anti-globalization trade war rhetoric with the U.S.,” said Tao Dong, vice chairman for Greater China at Credit Suisse Private Banking in Hong Kong. “Pushing for further reforms helps the Chinese economy and the global economy.”
In Hong Kong, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in a speech Wednesday that countries need to avoid being sucked into a protectionist spiral that undermines the global economy. Without referring directly to the U.S. or China, she warned that import restrictions hurt everyone, especially poor consumers.
Yi said foreign ownership caps on securities companies, fund managers and life insurers will be fully scrapped in three years. He added that banking regulation will need to be strengthened during the opening-up.
“While the opening up widens foreign capital access and reduces business restrictions, prudent regulation will be applied to businesses with all kinds of ownership,” he said. “I’m confident that China’s financial market will be a more competitive market, better regulated and also serve the real economy much better, with fair competition and a level playing field.”
The economy has been holding up this year with economists surveyed by Bloomberg projecting a gradual slowdown to 6.5 percent from 6.9 percent last year. Inflation data released Wednesday suggest there’s little pressure to adjust policy settings.
On monetary policy, Yi said the interest-rate differential with the U.S. is “in a comfortable range” and that deposit and lending rates will become more market determined. He reiterated that the central bank will continue with prudent monetary policy.
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