As fund analysts and managers continue to attend futures training courses organised by the China Securities Regulatory Commission, a draft of the CSRC's proposed rules on how Chinese mutual funds can invest in the upcoming CSI 300 index futures hit the industry's email inboxes earlier this week.
The regulator is encouraging discussion in the industry; it wants the public to provide feedback on the rules by this coming Monday, March 22.
A first glance through the five-page draft seen by AsianInvestor suggests the rules look straightforward, and its broad strokes read largely the same -- both in language and spirit -- to the rules for futures investing by fund managers in Taiwan. (This doesn't come as a surprise; the regulations governing mutual-fund investments in securities, which went into effect in China in 2004, were also modelled after those in Taiwan.)
In the draft, the CSRC does not go into detail on how managers will qualify for futures-investing status. Fund houses, instead, are advised to review their fund prospectuses and contracts agreed with investors back at the fundraising stage and decide for themselves whether futures investing would meet their initial investment objective and risk exposure level as promised to investors.
For the fund industry, use of futures for the purpose of return enhancement is not permitted. The CSRC says the purpose of any fund activities in the futures market should be risk management.
The futures instruments for fund investment must be approved by and listed on China's securities exchanges, and based on indices tracking only equity prices. (So notions of funds participating in bond futures or pretty much any other type of derivative would be futile at this stage.)
There are 559 mutual funds known to exist in China, according to the latest fund-registrar data tracking numbers published at the end of January. A quick search using the word 'futures' in Chinese in a fund database yields only 29 hits, in which 'futures' are specifically mentioned in the fund contracts or prospectuses as acceptable instruments for use by these funds.
Should these managers be willing to take up the challenge, they will theoretically be the initial 29 participants able to actually short A-shares domestically in China. (And there are 11 onshore brokerages authorised to serve them.)
Equity funds, balanced funds and principal-protected funds appear largely free to allocate to the CSRC's approved list of futures instruments. The regulator thus far has made no mention on what it intends to do about segregated accounts and multi-client segregated-accounts, which went live in 2008 and 2009 respectively.
There will be limits on the holdings of futures by close-ended funds, open-ended index funds and exchange-traded funds. At the end of any given trading day, total value of securities held plus futures may not exceed 100% of a fund's NAV -- in short, leverage will not be permitted for these funds.
For open-ended funds, managers will be allowed to hold futures with a total outstanding value that exceeds 10% of the fund's daily AUM at market closing. Net turnover of equity futures trading in a fund cannot exceed 20% of a fund's NAV.
At the end of any given trading day, the total value of futures positions plus the value of the securities held in an open-ended fund may not exceed 95% of the fund's NAV -- with 'securities' defined as equities, bonds, options, asset-backed securities and repo instruments. Five percent of the fund's assets must be allocated to liquidity instruments with maturities no longer than the equivalent of one-year government bonds.
Mindful that the funds industry at large is still poring over lecture notes and textbooks this month and that most firms have not yet hired the required techies for back-end support, the CSRC is advising caution and proper understanding; all participants should be adequately prepared before they enter the futures market. The CSRC wants fund houses to set up specific departments covering futures strategies and investments.
Other stakeholders, including guarantors to the 'principal-protected' funds (China's version of CPPIs), are advised to get actively involved and aware of the potential value-at-risk for the funds they have given guarantee to; and that there should be sufficient assets to cover the principal-protected funds promised to investors should any potential losses occur.
Custodian banks are advised to review their own adequacy and strategies accordingly and develop risk-management and technological teams and platforms to support this development.
In earlier interviews with AsianInvestor, fund-rating agencies, including Morningstar and Lipper, have already taken a dim view of the opening moves that mutual fund houses will be able to make. Aside from the anticipated volatility to come, both predict a conservative and difficult early period, in which fund houses will be constrained by a lack of experienced staff and technical knowledge to draw on -- for what is supposedly one of the most important chapters in the recent history of capital-market developments in China.
Nonetheless, for now, unregulated private funds, foreign investors with access to A-share markets and high-net-worth clients, and the 11 brokerages authorised to trade futures, are expected to be the largest beneficiaries.
For foreign players, though, CSI 300 futures will just be something to add to the toolbox. Overseas funds have long been able to express their views on A-shares using FTSE Xinhua A50 futures available in Hong Kong or Singapore.