Hong Kong Exchange Proves Safe Bet in City’s Turbulent Times

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A top bet this year on Hong Kong’s stock exchange is the Hong Kong stock exchange.

Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd. has surged 46% in 2020, making it the second-biggest gainer in the benchmark Hang Seng Index.

The jump to a record has been stoked by a flood of share listings by high-profile Chinese companies. The firms are turning to the bourse amid rising political tension with the U.S., and increased scrutiny of Chinese firms, recently culminating in a push by President Donald Trump to rein TikTok owner ByteDance and WeChat’s Tencent Holdings Ltd.

HKEX’s listing funds rose 49% in the three months through June. It’s now poised to welcome another mega deal by financial technology giant Ant Group. The main source of revenue, trading, is up about 50% from last year after the recent big share deals.

The rush to the exchange “is arguably the most certain story in an uncertain time,” said Hao Hong, chief strategist at Bocom International in Hong Kong.

Offset by lower income from derivatives and commodities, the exchange is anticipated to post about a 6% rise in profit in its second-quarter earnings report on Wednesday, according to Bloomberg Intelligence senior analyst Sharnie Wong.

Hong Kong Exchange Proves Safe Bet in City’s Turbulent Times

While Hong Kong has been rocked by political turmoil since Beijing revealed in May it was imposing a security law on the city, a flood of Chinese money has helped to stabilize the financial hub. Since early June, flows from mainland bourses in a trading link has doubled from a year earlier, raising speculation over Beijing-directed buying.

The dynamic is likely to sustain gains for the bourse until at least the U.S. November election, Hong said. “Seeing what TikTok is going through, U.S.-listed Chinese stocks are all feeling the imminent danger and making contingency plans,” he said.

A feared capital flight out of Hong Kong has yet to materialize. Many high-net worth investors have been opening accounts abroad, but are as of now sticking it out, betting Chinese support will deliver gains and stability back to the protest-rocked city. The city’s financial chief, Paul Chan, has sought to reassure that businesses will continue as usual, urging the industry not to worry about any curbs on such things as short selling and writing research reports.

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The exchange’s fortunes are also on the mind of the U.S. president after he rescinded the city’s special trading status and sanctioning a number of officials over their roles in the security law. “Hong Kong markets are going to go to hell, no one is going to do business in Hong Kong anymore,” he said in a Thursday interview on Fox Businesses.

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China’s long-term commitment to propping up Hong Kong also isn’t a given. Authorities are opening their financial markets and keen on building up local exchanges, making it easier to list in Shanghai and Shenzhen, posing a challenge.

Ant Group is pulling off a dual listing, with the largest part of cash expected to be raised in Shanghai. Beijing has also dragged its feet on allowing Alibaba Group Holding Inc.’s Hong Kong shares to trade on the mainland stock link. The bourse scored a big coup last year in luring the tech behemoth to do a $13 billion dual listing in Hong Kong, adding to one in New York.

While only a year old, Shanghai’s STAR Board has attracted a number of Hong Kong-listed companies to raise or seek to cash, among them Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. and Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. SenseTime Group Ltd., China’s largest artificial intelligence company, is also exploring a dual listing in Hong Kong and China as it closes in on $1.5 billion of pre-IPO financing.

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For the time being, Hong Kong has an advantage with an abundance of derivatives for hedging not available on the mainland as well as well as longer trading hours. Alex Wong, asset management director at Ample Capital Ltd., said that means investors will likely favor Hong Kong over Shanghai when Ant is listed in both venues.

But the biggest advantage for Hong Kong remains China’s capital controls.

“Diminishing policy favor from China would be a long-term challenge for HKEX,” said Hong. “Mainland bourses obviously wanted to have a share in the game, but as long as capital controls are in place Hong Kong and the HKEX remained very hard to replace.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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