Despite the novel coronavirus sweeping through China at break-neck speeds, the country has numerous things going for it. The phase one trade deal is barely one of them.
External factors aside, here is what will keep China an economic power impossible to ignore for years to come, according to Nordea Asset Management, one of the biggest wealth management firms in the Nordic countries of Europe, with over 9 million clients and $224 billion in assets under management.
In particular, Nordea outlines five things China investors consider positives in the short-to-medium term as 2020 gets underway.
1.Monetary easing, particularly the reductions in the Required Reserve Ratio for banks, has “done the job” and should help China over the next 12 to 24 months. The monetary mechanisms are actually different in China as quantity can be redirected where the central government desires (including into the stock market). China’s largest companies have a direct line to the government policy banks, which means that the economy can benefit from that stimulus faster than in Western countries.
2.Inflation should start to fade as the pork health crisis fades away. Direct and indirect evidence on consumption suggests that it is holding well in the mid to higher tier segments. The performance of the MSCI Consumer Discretionary shows a gradual rebounding since October before it fell last month once the coronavirus made headlines.
3.The phase one deal means lower tariffs for now and lowers the extreme degree of uncertainty that was plaguing China since President Trump’s election. Nordea recognizes that some of the damage is permanent. U.S. multinationals have become dependent on China, and that is now changing as manufacturing slowly leaves China. The consequence of this has been some cost cutting and this is likely to feed into consumer inflation.
4.The government said it would improve the effectiveness of fiscal policy and there are some suggestions of some expansion ahead.
5.Finally, the effort of deleveraging should not be under-estimated and as the two economic shocks fade away — trade war uncertainty and the coronavirus outbreak — China headlines will improve and the credit story, always a bear case for China, should see signs of improvement, Nordea analysts believe.
Longer term, China faces no threats of losing its spot to the European Union as the world’s No. 2 global economy. Shanghai has surpassed Hong Kong as one of the largest financial markets in the world and is expected to overtake Tokyo. Shanghai’s stock exchange is already bigger than London’s. It is only a matter of time before the Shanghai or Shenzhen exchanges attract the likes of multinationals like Disney to list their shares there.
China has long proved its cache as being the new “Peoria” for big brands like Nike and Apple, as well as Hollywood. Not only do Disney flicks and the Marvel Universal play well in Peoria, Illinois, as that old saying goes, they also have to play well in Guangzhou. That’s not changing, barring an order from Washington for companies to abandon business with China.
Moreover, unless Washington also bans major indexes like the MSCI from including an ever-increasing number of Chinese securities in their benchmarks, then more American capital will flow into Chinese corporations — whether from savvy bond traders in New York looking for fast money, or school teacher pension plans investing globally. They will all hold an increasingly large number of Chinese stocks and bonds.
China Bonds Go Bust?
China’s record number of defaults is starting to worry investors. Though this is mainly something the bears like to tout as the reason to avoid China. Bulls still buy, even as private and state-owned Chinese companies are now essentially offloading their risk to foreign lenders as this bond market expands globally.
The recent series of policy decisions in China will “eventually lead to a significant rebound in economic activity in the second half of 2020,” Nordea analysts wrote in a report published late last week.
They may be good for companies in trouble, though Beijing is also more willing to let them fail.
China’s economic model is under strain from its own growing number of entrepreneurs who are more in favor of a Western-style free market, and the Communist Party who has billions of people to worry about and have spent years stifling competition to allow for local markets to grow and hire people. The focus has been on manufacturing for export. That’s changing. China is undergoing a structural shift in its economy, while trying to avoid the dreaded middle income trap. There are still many provinces in China grappling with the kind of poverty people are accustomed to seeing in places like Brazil.
Meanwhile, the credit issue is one that China bears love to point out, both at the government level and in the private sector.
Chinese companies are more than ever in a position of owing money to the rest of the world; a world increasingly hungry for China bonds.
In a worse case scenario, a blow up of major China corporates could send shockwaves across the investing universe, hitting the big Western banks that go balls-to-the-wall on China debt and won’t get thrown a life boat from the People’s Bank of China.
All of the short and medium-term positives can be wiped out if the novel coronavirus, first found in the city of Wuhan and believed to have spread from bats or snakes to humans — not to mention a worsening trade war scenario — will send shock waves through the economy.
Barclays Capital is already forecasting a .2 percentage point reduction in first quarter GDP because of the virus, which hit during the popular Lunar New Year holiday.
The Economist Intelligence Unit is forecasting as much as a 1 percentage point decline in global GDP if China is dealing with a SARS-like outbreak that infected around 8,000 people, killing over 700 of them.
From Nordea: The trade war shock is reverting and if we had a guess, Chinese financials are a mix of what would be core Europe, semi-core and the defunct periphery. There are broken bits but they are far less broken than they used to be and in a directed economy it matters far less than it does in Europe.
If they are right, markets will let the junk bonds in China fail and take their lumps like they would anywhere else. In the mean time, if all goes well with the ongoing health crisis there, and if Trump does not impose more tariffs later this year, which is not entirely out of bounds for him, then China should do well in 2020. And beyond, as more corporations look to China as a market driver.
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