Tapping China, the World’s Third Largest Bond Market

Published on15 APR 2019

The article below is from our BRIEFINGS newsletter of  15 April 2019

Earlier this month, Chinese bonds debuted in the benchmark Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Index, an important benchmark for global investors. We sat down with Goldman Sachs Research’s Kenneth Ho and Danny Suwanapruti, who shared their thoughts on the milestone and the opening of China’s capital markets. 

Can you set the stage for us? How big is China’s bond market and what are the investor implications?

Kenneth Ho: The move is significant. Adding China to a benchmark global bond index -- with two more global indexes likely to follow suit -- will attract many investors to China’s domestic bond market, some for the first time. The market has grown rapidly over the past decade, reaching $11 trillion at the end of 2019 from $1.6 trillion at the end of 2008. Yet foreign investors own just 2% of the debt. Global investors in the past were held back by capital restrictions, hedging difficulties and insufficient market liquidity, among other factors. We estimate that more than $1 trillion of foreign investment will flow into China’s bond market over the next decade, and index inclusion will be a meaningful driver of such flows. 

Danny Suwanapruti: It’s important to keep in mind that the majority of our estimated $1 trillion inflow will likely come from central banks and sovereign wealth funds, and they are less affected by the impact of index inclusion. Nonetheless, the index inclusion reflects significant progress in the development of the domestic bond market. Even as China grew to become the world’s third largest bond market, market access limitations and other operational issues kept it from being added to global benchmarks until now. In recent years, authorities have made significant efforts in addressing these issues, including providing overseas financial institutions direct access to the interbank bond market in 2016 and introducing the Bond Connect program in 2017, which allows global investors to make onshore bond purchases via accounts in Hong Kong. 

We’ve seen similar moves to opening up China’s local stock market to foreign investors, such as adding China A-shares to in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index and the creation of a comparable Stock Connect programWhat are some of the drivers behind China’s moves to open its capital markets?  

KH: We see a number of benefits to China having a more sophisticated bond market. Historically, China’s economy has been over-dependent on bank lending. Having access to the bond markets gives borrowers a more diversified source of funding, reduces the burden on domestic financial institutions and provide savers more instruments in which to put their money. Attracting foreign flows provides additional benefits. On a macro level, they help offset capital outflows and increase the usage of the RMB in international markets. On a micro level, the presence of foreign investors can improve credit analysis and spur the development of the corporate bond market. A case in point is the decision by policymakers to allow foreign rating agencies to start providing credit rating services in China.

You’ve both been on the road talking to investors. What is top of mind for them?

DS: I’m frequently asked by investors how the index change will affect other holdings in their portfolios. We expect China’s weighting in the Global Aggregate index to increase to a final weight of around 6% over the 20-month implementation period, which means that the weights for other markets will be revised lower as they effectively make space for China. In Global Aggregate the weights will come down the most for USD, EUR and JPY markets. However, if China is included in the emerging market bond indices, such as GBI-EM Global Diversified, the weightings of other EM markets will be revised lower. In addition, some investors have expressed concerns that China may not be ready for index inclusion, as there may be insufficient liquidity in Chinese government bonds for index-tracking investors to replicate the inclusion portfolio. As such, we estimate that about 10% to 20% of investors may opt out of the index.