Perspective

Six reasons China's bonds are appealing


The economic fallout from Covid-19 has, if anything, further highlighted the attractiveness of the Chinese government and corporate bond markets, and the role that Chinese bonds can play within an investor’s portfolio.

China fixed income performed relatively well during the Covid-19 market downturn earlier in 2020. Chinese government bonds provided investors with the risk hedging benefits of a defensive asset, while onshore (renminbi-denominated) Chinese corporate bonds were one of the only major credit markets to provide positive returns during this period.

Here we take a closer look at the China fixed income market and six reasons why it looks attractive.

Attractive valuations and yields with room for further price appreciation

Absolute yields on China’s onshore bonds are trading at their most compelling levels ever relative to global developed market sovereigns. We believe China government bonds at around 3.25% offer an asymmetric return profile for investors, with limited downside but potential for price appreciation. China government bonds are at their widest spread levels versus global sovereigns over the past 10 years, thanks to the strength of the Chinese economic recovery from the pandemic.

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Also, the fact that Japanese and German bonds failed to provide downside protection in the first quarter of 2020 suggests that the role of the traditional bond markets as defensive assets in the next downturn may be limited with yields at 0%. This makes China’s government bonds a compelling alternative as a high-quality defensive asset for many investors.

Chinese corporate bonds also boast attractive yields and wider spreads with lower duration risks than other global credit markets. The investment grade market has delivered relatively steady performance over the last five years. In today’s historic low interest rate environment, this additional income and carry benefit could prove to be even more valuable for investors.

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China fundamentals are strong

China is expected to be the only major economy to have generated positive GDP growth in 2020 given its relatively successful rebound from the pandemic slump.  Inflation remains subdued as global demand has stayed weak.  This favourable dynamic of positive growth with low inflation has provided the People's Bank of China with more flexibility in its monetary policy, allowing it to more effectively support Chinese companies.

The sector composition of the China credit market makes it more Covid-19 resilient

China’s corporate bond market has limited exposure to oil and gas and hospitality sectors, and greater exposure to state-owned enterprises supported by the government, as well as domestically driven sectors, with the property sector seeing continuing favourable fundamental demand. This makes the China corporate bond market less sensitive than most other credit markets to the ongoing Covid-19 shock.

While China’s bond default rates have risen in 2020, along with those of global credit markets, they have been more concentrated in select industrial issuers. We expect the combination of policy support, steady economic growth, and a more favourable market structure to lead to lower corporate default rates than those of other global companies.

Domestic ownership is a strong technical support

The fact that China’s bond market is mainly domestically held differentiates it from most other emerging markets. In particular, it makes China less vulnerable to the volatility of global capital flows and external funding pressure. 

The growing presence of Chinese bonds in global bond indices, following their initial inclusion in 2020, and the further internationalisation of the renminbi are also supportive factors.  In fact, by August 2020, year to date flows into China’s onshore fixed income market had already exceeded the total annual flows seen in any previous years in its history, highlighting the strength of global investor demand. 

Positive momentum for the renminbi

We believe the US dollar is on a long-term weakening trend due to its large twin deficits and unlimited quantitative easing (QE) programmes. 

China’s expanding economic outperformance, high rate differentials against major economies, improved current account, portfolio inflows and pent-up demand for global investors to diversify away from the US dollar should justify a stronger yuan going forward.

Chinese bond markets are deep and diverse, with low correlation to global equities and bonds

We expect onshore Chinese bonds to remain a unique asset class exhibiting low correlation to global markets. Why? The Chinese economic transition to a more domestic consumer driven market has been accelerated by both the US trade tensions and the rise of the Chinese middle class. 

This domestic focus and “decoupling” from the US implies that China’s economic and monetary policy cycles will not be perfectly synchronised with other parts of the world, but influenced by conditions in China. That ought to lead to lower correlations between Chinese assets and other markets. The People's Bank of China’s more measured approach in its monetary policy, compared to most developed markets, is an example of this.

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We expect the favourable risk-return profile, attractive valuations and the diversification benefits to persist for China’s fixed income market. It is hard to ignore this very large market, especially against a backdrop of lower interest rates and higher volatility globally. 

China’s bond market offers an appealing combination of return potential, from income and price appreciation, and downside protection, with robust fundamental support.

Issued in the Channel Islands by Cazenove Capital which is part of the Schroders Group and is a trading name of Schroders (C.I.) Limited, licensed and regulated by the Guernsey Financial Services Commission for banking and investment business; and regulated by the Jersey Financial Services Commission. Nothing in this document should be deemed to constitute the provision of financial, investment or other professional advice in any way. Past performance is not a guide to future performance. The value of an investment and the income from it may go down as well as up and investors may not get back the amount originally invested. This document may include forward-looking statements that are based upon our current opinions, expectations and projections. We undertake no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements. Actual results could differ materially from those anticipated in the forward-looking statements. All data contained within this document is sourced from Cazenove Capital unless otherwise stated.

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