,SHANGHAI - China is getting close to a southbound leg for its Bond Connect programme, the general manager of the programme's joint venture operator said on Wednesday, as authorities seek to ease capital inflow pressures behind a soaring yuan. A southbound leg would give Chinese investors access to foreign bond markets through the scheme. A northbound leg launched in July 2017 eased foreign access to Chinese bonds. "Southbound trading will happen when northbound trading is extremely successful, insofar as we see so much 'capital in' that there will be need for 'capital out'," Julien Martin, general manager of Bond Connect Co. Ltd, told an online briefing. "I think we are getting close to this time, and I think this is a place that should be watched...for this year." Bond Connect Co Ltd is a Hong Kong joint venture between the China Foreign Exchange Trade System (CFETS) and Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Co. International involvement in China's bond market, the world's second-largest, has surged in recent years. Foreign holdings of Chinese government bonds topped 2 trillion yuan ($307.64 billion) for the first time in February, about 10.6% of outstanding issuance. Offshore investors held about 3.5% of outstanding yuan bond issuance at the end of February. Martin said Bond Connect aims to reach international participation of 15% in China's bond market. Steady portfolio inflows have helped to boost China's yuan currency, lifting it more than 10% from lows last May. That has prompted authorities to seek ways to rein in its strength. At least one major state-owned Chinese bank is conducting large currency swaps in mainland markets, possibly as part of efforts to cap the yuan, as domestic banks deal with a heavy influx of dollars, eight sources told Reuters. China's central bank also lifted net foreign exchange purchases in February to their highest level since October 2015, according to Reuters calculations based on central bank data. REUTERS
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