Investors sit in front of an electronic stock board at a securities brokerage in Shanghai, China
Chinese blue-chip stocks in Shanghai have risen 14 per cent since the start of November © Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Global fund managers are becoming increasingly nervous about the durability of the rally in Chinese equities, with one in five of the view that it has become the market’s “most crowded trade”.

Allocations by global fund managers to emerging market equities, including China, increased for a third straight month in February, according to a widely watched monthly Bank of America survey, which canvassed the views of 262 participants who oversee combined assets of $763bn.

Chinese blue-chip stocks in Shanghai have risen 14 per cent since the start of November as investors warmed to Chinese president Xi Jinping’s decision to drop the country’s economically disruptive zero-Covid policy.

But fund managers have become concerned about the rapid increase in the popularity of Chinese stocks, a potential warning sign that momentum could flag.

It was the first time a “long China equities” position featured as the most crowded trade in the survey’s history, which dates back to 1985.

The reopening of the Chinese economy is expected to push up inflation globally, adding to uncertainty over the outlook for monetary policy in the US and Europe.

Just over two-thirds of the survey’s respondents said they believed inflation would rise as a consequence of China’s reopening and the biggest “tail risk” for fund managers was that inflation would stubbornly remain “higher for longer”.

On Tuesday, US consumer price data came in higher than expected, increasing investors’ concerns that the Federal Reserve would have to raise rates further.

“It is clearly good for global economic growth that China’s economy is reopening but if this does translate into higher inflationary pressures, as we have seen on other parts of the world during the post-pandemic recovery, then that could pose problems for central banks [outside of China],” said Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at Bank of America global research.

The Bank of America survey found that a net 46 per cent of fund managers had moved to an “overweight” allocation in emerging market equities in February, helped by increased optimism about the outlook for the Chinese economy and growing confidence that the rise of the US dollar had peaked.

Some strategists argued the rally in Chinese equities still had further to run. Société Générale estimates the Shanghai market is trading on a price to earnings multiple for this year of 11.6 times, with earnings growth forecast at 18.8 per cent. That compares with a multiple of 12.4 times and earnings growth of 6.7 per cent for emerging markets.

Pramol Dhawan, managing director at US fund manager Pimco, said valuations for emerging markets were cheap compared with history and that emerging markets were “under-owned” as an asset class following big investor withdrawals during 2022.

“We are becoming increasingly positive on EM more broadly and select EM local debt in particular,” said Dhawan.

Robert Buckland, chief global equity strategist at Citigroup, said cash-rich Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds could also stoke the rally in China.

“This is a good time for energy producers to invest these riches given their purchasing power in financial markets has risen sharply,” he said. “Petrodollar investors will use their riches to cement long-term economic and business relationships, most notably with other emerging markets.”

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