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China's US$4b fund liquidation leaves traders guessing

Beijing

TWO funds linked to the Chinese government sold all their holdings of stocks and bonds in the third quarter without explaining why, leaving investors to guess at the implications for the country's turbulent financial markets.

Withdrawals from the CM Fengqing Flexible Allocation Fund and E Fund Ruihui Flexible Fund caused their combined assets to shrink to 296 million yuan (S$59 million) at the end of September, from the equivalent of US$4.5 billion in June, according to quarterly statements dated on Wednesday.

What remains are bank deposits and other unspecified assets. Both funds, described by state media as vehicles for China's 2015 stock-market rescue, said that 99 per cent of their units were redeemed during the quarter.

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The sparse disclosures prompted a flurry of speculation about the government's response to this year's US$3 trillion sell-off in Chinese shares. Do the redemptions represent a net reduction of state support for the market? Analysts couldn't say with any certainty. Some or all of that the money could have been moved to other investment vehicles.

One sign that the government hasn't retreated: sources told Bloomberg on Thursday that China's "National Team" of state investors has been buying stocks in a targeted fashion over the past week.

"The outflow in the two state funds might signal that the National Team is adjusting its investment strategy," said Liu Wu, an analyst at China Development Bank Securities Co. "It's unlikely to mean the National Team will exit from the stock market. One possibility is that the National Team might intend to reduce their exposure in mutual funds, so as to better allocate their ammo."

The two funds were among five set up with government money in the summer of 2015, according to the official China Securities Journal. While their statements didn't mention liquidation, the remaining values would automatically trigger termination of contracts under Chinese rules. Both funds held no shares at the end of the quarter, the statements showed.

Some of the money may have flowed into exchange-traded funds, said Dai Ming, a Shanghai-based fund manager at Hengsheng Asset Management Co. The Shanghai-listed China 50 ETF, which tracks large-cap stocks, has attracted about US$1.19 billion of net inflows so far in October, on course for the biggest monthly influx since mid-2015, Bloomberg data show. "It's likely the National Team will switch from active funds to ETF funds," Mr Dai added. BLOOMBERG