China to let investors buy overseas shares

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China's bullish investors will soon have an alternative outlet for their exuberance, as the authorities have sanctioned a pilot scheme whereby Chinese citizens can buy foreign equities for the first time.

While the mood in Western stock markets continues to be fractious, in China there's little doubt as to who's the winner in the battle between fear and greed. Chinese equities surged to another record high yesterday, after Beijing's latest interest rate rise failed to put off eager buying.

Chinese banks and companies have been unaffected by the worldwide "credit crunch", cushioned as they are by substantial reserves. China's vast trade surplus with the rest of the world and the Government's preference for investing the balance in US Treasury stocks rather than commercial paper has also provided a degree of insulation from recent traumas.

The Shanghai Composite index yesterday rose 0.5 per cent, or 24.86 points, to 4,980.08. On Monday, it posted its biggest one-day percentage gain in two years - 5.3 per cent. It is up 86 per cent this year.

News that Chinese investors with a Bank of China account in the northern city of Tianjin will be allowed to invest in Hong Kong-quoted stocks with no limit indicated sent that city's benchmark Hang Seng index to its biggest gain in almost nine years. It is up more than 9 per cent this week on the expectation that a slice of the 17 trillion yuan (£1 trillion) in household savings will hit the market. A start date has yet to be set.

The reforms should help China cool and rebalance its economy. Allowing capital to move offshore will dissipate the record $1.33 trillion (£668bn) foreign-exchange reserves, take upward pressure off the yuan and reduce the need to increase interest rates still further. Inflation, at 5.6 per cent, is running at a decade-high, and the People's Bank raised interest rates on Tuesday by 18 basis points to 7.02 per cent from 6.84 per cent.