SHANGHAI/HONG KONG: Chinese investors are rushing offshore to make dollar deposits and buy Hong Kong insurance in a signal domestic confidence is languishing and that the ailing yuan faces more pressure.
The outflows highlight deep-seated concern about the state of China’s economy as its much-awaited pandemic recovery stalls. Consumer spending is flagging, the property market and stock markets are in the doldrums and cash is piling up in savings.
Brokers say individuals are responsible for the surge and it shows no sign of letting up, which analysts warn could put further pressure on the yuan as it teeters at eight-month lows.
Mainland Chinese holdings under a nascent scheme allowing investment in Hong Kong and Macau wealth products have more than doubled since the end of last year to 814 million yuan (US$110 million). New premiums collected on Hong Kong insurance policies leapt a staggering 2,686 per cent to US$9.6 billion in the first quarter of 2023.
“More and more people realise they cannot put their eggs in one basket,” said Helen Zhao, an insurance broker busy helping mainland clients sign Hong Kong deals, citing Sino-US frictions and pessimism about China’s outlook as motivating factors.
Hong Kong insurance has long been a channel for Chinese buying assets abroad, with the policies providing more protection than what’s available on the mainland, and attendant savings and investment products mostly denominated in dollars with a global remit.
AIA Group, Prudential and Manulife all reported a jump in business, citing contributions from mainland investors.
A wealth manager at Noah Holdings said he recently arranged a group of mainland clients to sign insurance contracts in “long queues”, many unsettled by the abruptness of China’s lurch in December from COVID-19 zero-tolerance to living with the virus.
“Some clients were a bit of shocked by the policy U-turn, and they grow pessimistic about China’s economy,” he said. “The burst of insurance buying in Hong Kong reflects a gloomy domestic outlook, and worries about an uncertain future.”
Savings insurance products in Hong Kong offer a minimum yield of 4.5 per cent, he said, better than 3 per cent offered on the mainland. He requested anonymity as he isn’t authorised to speak publicly.
Noah Holdings said in an emailed statement that offshore insurance is a convenient tool for global asset allocation, while Hong Kong’s location makes it a natural destination for mainland investors.
Dollar deposits in Hong Kong, meanwhile, offer a hedge against movements in the yuan and, for a one-year term, yield 4 per cent, according to Bank of China. On the mainland, one-year dollar deposits yield 2.8 per cent, while yuan deposits yield 1.65 per cent.