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China policy and market round-up: Trump, Xi hold call on coronavirus epidemic, PBoC prepares Rmb30bn bill sale, regulators ease onshore, offshore bond issuance pressure

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By Addison Gong, Rebecca Feng
07 Feb 2020

In this round-up, the presidents of China and the US held a phone call amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the Mainland central bank is on track to issue its first renminbi bills of the year in Hong Kong next week, and regulators are giving issuers more time to prepare for their bonds.

Chinese president Xi Jinping held a phone conversation with US president Donald Trump on Friday morning Beijing time, state media Xinhua news reported.

Xi said that China has started a “people’s war” against the coronavirus and the country has the confidence and ability to win it. He added that the long-term growth of the Chinese economy will not dip because of the epidemic.

Xi then thanked Trump for praising China’s efforts in controlling the outbreak and also thanked the American general public for providing medical supplies.

Trump noted how impressive it was for China to build field hospitals in an extremely short time.

Both sides said they would keep in touch.

Beijing is separately also planning to speak with the US about having greater flexibility in fulfilling the phase one US-China trade deal promises, Bloomberg reported on Monday, citing people familiar with the situation.

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China has cut tariffs by half on $75bn of US goods, the Ministry of Finance announced on Thursday. Tariffs on these items were initially imposed last August.

Products including soybeans and raisins will see their tariffs halved from 10% to 5%. Tariffs on products such as crude oil and pork will be lowered from 5% to 2.5%.

The cuts will go into effect on February 14.

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The latest update from the National Health Commission showed that a total of 31,161 people in mainland China had contracted the coronavirus by the end of Thursday, with 636 deaths.

The confirmed cases included 19 foreigners, two of which have been released from hospital, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said by that Wednesday, 21 countries as well as the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) had donated medical supplies to the Chinese government. The General Administration of Customs said it cleared Rmb1.2bn ($172m) of supplies since January 24.

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Some 84% of employees in China are yet to go back to work, according to data published on Wednesday from a survey conducted by 58.com, an online classifieds and listings company. Nearly 200m people have been working from home across the country in the past couple of days, the national broadcaster, CCTV, said on Thursday.

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Hong Kong has shut down four more checkpoints connecting the city to the Mainland starting Tuesday, leaving open only the Shenzhen Bay checkpoint, the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge and the Hong Kong International Airport for travellers between the two destinations. The special administrative region (SAR) had previously already closed six checkpoints.

It plans to further reduce or suspend cross-border shuttle bus services through Shenzhen Bay and the bridge from Saturday.  

Hong Kong has so far reported 24 confirmed cases including one death as of Friday morning. From Saturday, the SAR will impose a 14-day quarantine on anyone arriving in the city from the Mainland. 

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The SAR government will set up an over HK$10bn ($1.29bn) fund to help employers and employees in the city fight the virus. More details are yet be announced.

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Hong Kong has slid further into recession, with advanced estimates from the Census and Statistics Department on Monday pointing to a gross domestic product (GDP) of negative 2.9% for the fourth quarter of 2019, shrinking by a seasonally adjusted 0.4% compared to the previous quarter.

For the full year, Hong Kong’s GDP is expected to fall to negative 1.2%, from 2018’s 2.9%. This would be its first annual contraction since 2009.

The final fourth quarter GDP will be released on February 26.

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The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) is encouraging the banking industry to help mitigate the financial consequences of the novel coronavirus outbreak, according to a circular on Thursday.

“The outbreak of the novel coronavirus is adversely affecting the Hong Kong economy,” the HKMA said. “The impact is being felt by both personal and corporate customers of authorized institutions (AIs), and especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).”

It said it was informed by some AIs of their plan to roll out temporary relief measures to “help tide their customers over during this difficult time”. These include principal moratorium for residential and commercial mortgages, fees reduction for credit card borrowing, and restructuring of repayment schedules for corporate loans, the HKMA said. It calls for a “proactive response” from the banking industry.

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The People’s Bank of China (PBoC) will sell renminbi bills through the HKMA’s Central Moneymarkets Unit on February 13, according to a statement.

The bills will have a Rmb20bn three month portion and a Rmb10bn one year portion. Bank of China will be the issuing and lodging agent.

This is the first time the PBoC will be issuing bills in Hong Kong this year. The last transaction was conducted on December 20, 2019.

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The Caixin manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), which focuses more on small and medium-sized enterprises, fell by 0.4 percentage point to 51.1% in January. The production sub-indices declined by 0.8 percentage point to 52%. New orders and employment sub-indices also declined by 0.4 and 0.5 percentage point respectively to 51.9% and 49.5%.

“The Caixin manufacturing PMI survey was collected over the second half of the month so the hit to economic growth from the Wuhan virus outbreak was likely not fully reflected in the January data,” Maggie Wei, an economist at Goldman Sachs, wrote in a Monday note.

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The Ministry of Finance and the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) jointly issued a series of four statements about eliminating administrative fees and government funds contributions for companies, individuals and products related to combating the coronavirus.

Medical equipment and medicines developed to fight the virus will have zero a registration fee. Further, domestic airline companies will no longer be required to pay contributions to the Civil Aviation Development Fund.

Enterprises and individuals’ donations to the cause will be tax exempt. Charity donations by enterprises and individuals to the hospitals accepting coronavirus patients should also be deducted from the donors’ taxable income.

Doctors and nurses directly involved in fighting the disease do not need to pay income tax on the subsidies and bonuses provided by the government.

All tax exemptions went into effect on January 1.

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The China Securities Regulatory Commission issued a notice on Wednesday, extending the deadline for companies to respond to the regulator’s inquiries regarding their bond issuance plans. The extension went into effect on February 1 and is valid until further notice.

The regulator also extended the valid period of bond issuance approvals already given to companies.

The same extensions apply to private placement enterprises bonds and asset-backed securities.

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Chinese corporate issuers could get a six-month extension on their offshore bond issuance, the NDRC said on Tuesday.

In a notice, the regulator asked companies with existing offshore bond quotas but that have failed to complete the issuance before the deadlines due to the coronavirus outbreak to submit written applications. Qualified issuers can have their quotas extended by six months, the NDRC said.

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Cash-strapped Qinghai Provincial Investment Group Co announced a tender offer for three of its dollar bonds. The company last missed a $9.6m coupon on a $300m 6.4% 2021 bond in January.

According to a Thursday afternoon filing on the Singapore Exchange, the issuer is offering to purchase for cash $850m of its outstanding bonds, all three of which are in default or cross-default. Guozhen International Trade Consulting Co, which is helping Qinghai Provincial manage its offshore debt, will be purchasing the notes from bondholders. It is a subsidiary of local government-owned Qinghai State-owned Assets Investment and Management Co.

The tender price was $36.75 for each $100 of the 6.4% 2021 notes, the same for a $250m 7.875% paper also due in 2021, and $41.19 for its $300m 7.25% 2020 bond that matures on February 22.

The offer expires at 4pm London time on February 17. China International Capital Corp, appointed the adviser to the company’s debt management in mid-January, is the sole dealer manager of the tender.

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The China Real Estate Association (CREA) said in a Thursday notice that it encourages the sale of commercial houses through online platforms to help contain the coronavirus outbreak. A number of property websites in China are able to support online sales, including Leju.com, which can provide services including apartment viewing through virtual reality, the CREA added.

By Addison Gong, Rebecca Feng
07 Feb 2020