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Unpredictable regulation dents China's short-term appeal, global fund managers say

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A map of China is seen through a magnifying glass on a computer screen showing binary digits in Singapore in this January 2, 2014 photo illustration. Picture taken January 2, 2014. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

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Aug 6 (Reuters) - (This August 6 story corrects to add "investment strategy" to Haefele's area of speciality in paragraph 4)

The unpredictability of China's regulatory measures make the country unappealing to foreign investors in the short-term, following its latest crackdowns on the technology, property and education sectors, global fund managers said.

However, if these measures were turned into meaningful reforms that protected data and reduced monopolistic practices, they could increase China's long-term attractiveness, they told the Reuters Global Markets Forum this week.

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"I think investors just don't like the uncertainty of not knowing what's the next shoe to drop," said Mark Haefele, chief investment officer at UBS Global Wealth Management.

Haefele, who runs investment strategy for the world's largest wealth manager with $3.2 trillion in assets, said it was still early days and he would wait to see "how long this plays out."

Foreign investors will be "absolutely" circumspect about increasing their investments in China in the short term, said Yicheng Zhang, chief executive of Chinese private equity firm CITIC Capital.

Even though China's regulatory moves were expected due to the country's shifting focus to "common prosperity," the specific tactics used were surprising and have caused shockwaves, Hong Kong-based Zhang, who manages $36 billion, said.

"Fundamentally, it surprised me as well, turning some of these companies overnight into not-for-profit entities," he said, adding foreign investors' concerns about these measures' lack of respect for property rights was understandable.

China's moves to liberalise its financial markets over the last few years, along with its cheap valuations within emerging markets, are also helping retain the country's long-term appeal.

"China wants to continue to open up its financial markets, and they recognise that to do so effectively, they need to move more cautiously as they institute these reforms," Haefele said.

"That could be a very positive narrative," he added.

Haefele said his exposure to China was in line with a broad long-term emerging market allocation, and was bullish on various sectors, including fintech, health tech, sustainability and 5G. read more

Justin Onuekwusi, LGIM's head of retail multi-asset funds, said his firm continued to hold Chinese stocks as they represented better value at current levels than their European and U.S. peers.

Meanwhile, financial company AIA's group CIO Mark Konyn, who manages $230 billion, viewed the crackdowns as only a transitionary phase.

Zhang believed China was "investable" in the long term as the actions were not a shift in policy direction. "People will understand that this is more an accident than a trend."

The actions have in fact cooled-off some of the market "frenzy," making valuations in some sectors quite cheap, he said.

Zhang said CITIC Capital's investment strategy was focussed on buyout-related traditional sectors, including business services, consumer, healthcare, and non-internet technology.

However, the education sector has hit "rock bottom," Zhang said, adding that with the short-term policy outlook looking uncertain, "it's best to be on the sidelines for now."

(These interviews were conducted in the Reuters Global Markets Forum chat room on Refinitiv Messenger. Join GMF: https://refini.tv/33uoFoQ)

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Reporting by Divya Chowdhury in Mumbai, Aaron Saldanha and Lisa Pauline Mattackal Additional reporting by Supriya Rangarajan in Bengaluru Editing by Mark Potter

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