China's securities regulators are poised to let foreign institutional investors increase the number of brokerages they can do business with on the mainland, the latest in a string of efforts aimed at shoring up domestic stock markets.
Under current rules, a licensed qualified foreign institutional investor (QFII), such as Wall Street banks Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, must trade through a local brokerage. Each QFII is limited to using just two domestic brokerages, one to trade in Shanghai and the other on the smaller Shenzhen exchange.
Now, the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) plans to allow these investors to channel their trades through "multiple accounts", according to people in the securities industry familiar with the matter.
The change has not been announced yet because CSRC officials are still drafting the final rules.
Foreign investors have been lobbying the regulators to increase the number of brokerages they can deal with in order to have a greater choice. From the regulator's perspective, getting more local brokerages trading stocks on behalf of foreign investors could boost activity on the flagging domestic stock markets.
"It's a win-win deal for QFII investors and local securities firms," said one of the people.
"Many local securities firms are desperate to get QFII clients - as many as they can - in the hope they can get more trading commissions, and for QFIIs, now they can have more choice of brokers and more channels to learn about and invest in the mainland market," he said.
Mainland brokerages, including China Merchants Securities and Haitong Securities, are eager to expand their QFII client base, competing for that business against bigger rivals, such as Beijing-based Citic Securities, and China International Capital Corp, and Shanghai-based Shenyin Wanguo Securities.
He Min, a fund manager at China Universal Asset Management in Hong Kong said the new rule will increase the competitiveness among brokers and thus help enhance their services.
"Right now, there is almost no competition among brokers, as the number of choices is very limited for (QFII) fund houses. Lack of competition in the market often affects the quality of service they have provided," said He, adding that in the future QFIIs can also use different brokers for different products.
Unlike Hong Kong, which puts no control on foreign capital flows into its markets, foreign institutional investors on the mainland can invest in stocks and bonds only through the QFII scheme, which was launched in 2003. A total of 176 QFII licences had been issued as of August 20.