Source: WSJ — The departing head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority would like to see shares traded in the territory using both the Chinese yuan and the Hong Kong dollar as part of a vision in which the two financial markets become more “interactive.”
In an interview Thursday, HKMA Chief Executive Joseph Yam spoke of Hong Kong as a “laboratory” in which China can experiment with financial liberalization and reform.
His comments come as China takes new steps to promote the use of its tightly controlled currency internationally. China’s central bank has set up currency-swap agreements with six foreign counterparts, from Indonesia to Argentina.
Most recently, Hong Kong banks have begun allowing businesses to settle their trade deals in yuan instead of dollars. Several banks operating in China, including a unit of HSBC Holdings PLC, have begun issuing yuan-denominated bonds in Hong Kong.
Besides overseeing Hong Kong’s currency and regulating its banks, Mr. Yam, who is stepping down Oct. 1, has been an influential voice in the discussions surrounding financial liberalization in China.
Mr. Yam said he supported the idea of having certain Hong Kong stocks denominated in China’s yuan, also known as the renminbi, as well as Hong Kong dollars.
The proposal is one of many aimed at further integrating the financial systems of Hong Kong and China more effectively, Mr. Yam said, though not necessarily one that was likely to be implemented soon.
In mid-2007, some Chinese officials proposed allowing mainland Chinese residents to invest directly in Hong Kong stocks. The plan was later shelved, reversing a speculative run-up in Hong Kong stock prices, after concerns were raised about its feasibility and the readiness of China’s investors for the potential risks involved.
Mr. Yam suggested that stock markets in Hong Kong and China could eventually become “interactive, so that the same financial instruments issued by the same company could trade with the same price” in the two different markets. Chinese depositary receipts or Hong Kong depositary receipts could be used, acting much like American depositary receipts used to trade foreign-listed stocks on Wall Street, Mr. Yam said.
“When you are talking about interaction between two financial systems,” Mr. Yam said, then “these are the sort of things that flow out of that concept.”
Even as the yuan becomes more commonly used in Hong Kong, Mr. Yam said he didn’t see that as incompatible with continuing confidence in the Hong Kong dollar as the city’s legal tender. Speculation has long been rife about whether Hong Kong might eventually move away from its 26-year-old peg to the U.S. dollar.
Mr. Yam said he “wouldn’t exclude the possibility” that the yuan becomes a de facto day-to-day currency in Hong Kong. He cited Macau, like Hong Kong a special administration region of China, where the Hong Kong dollar and its own local currency are commonly used.
Mr. Yam came under attack in recent months after thousands of retail investors have lost money investing in risky structured finance products.
Most criticism has focused on so-called minibonds backed by the now defunct Lehman Brothers and distributed by a number of Hong Kong banks.
He said despite these losses, he felt “there was a need for modification” of how financial institutions are regulated in Hong Kong, “but I have doubts about the need for major surgery.”
While “not trying to belittle the pain” of people who lost money in these products, he said the general health of Hong Kong’s banks “points to the appropriateness of our regulatory system.”
A successor hasn’t yet been publicly named for Mr. Yam, who has been the HKMA’s sole head since it was founded in 1993. However, Norman Chan, a former deputy to Mr. Yam and currently a top aide to Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang, is expected to take the post, according to people in government familiar with the situation.
Mr. Yam said he had “no idea” what he would do after retirement and declined to comment on a report in a mainland Chinese publication that he might become an adviser to China’s central bank.