Marketmind: China Under Political, Economic Scrutiny

FILE PHOTO: An electronic board shows stock indexes at the Lujiazui financial district in Shanghai, China, March 21, 2023. REUTERS/Aly Song

A look at the day ahead in Asian markets from Jamie McGeever.

Investors’ focus on Tuesday rests squarely on China: From an economic and market perspective, eyes are on a raft of data including first-quarter GDP; while the latest twist in souring U.S.-Sino relations will do little to ease geopolitical concerns.

U.S. law enforcement officials on Monday arrested two New York residents for allegedly operating a Chinese “secret police station” in Manhattan’s Chinatown, part of a crackdown on Beijing’s alleged targeting of U.S.-based dissidents.

Also on Monday, U.S. prosecutors unveiled charges against 34 Chinese officials for allegedly operating a “troll farm” and harassing dissidents online, including by disrupting their meetings on U.S. technology platforms.

This comes amid growing tension between the world’s two superpowers, most recently over Taiwan. A U.S. warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, just days after China ended its latest war games around the island.

Investors are reacting with their feet. Big global money managers dumped Chinese equities in recent days, while adding U.S. energy shares to portfolios at a near-record pace, according to a Goldman Sachs report.

GRAPHIC: China GDP growth vs interest rates

If it were solely down to the economic numbers coming out of China, investors might be reacting differently. By many measures, the country’s re-opening from nearly three years of Covid lockdown has gone better than expected – China’s economic surprises index last week hit a 17-year high.

Figures on Tuesday are expected to show gross domestic product expanding 4.0% from a year ago and rising 2.9% from the October-December period.

The annual readings of growth in urban investment, industrial output and retail sales for March are all seen rising strongly too, especially retail sales – economists expect a 7.4% rise, more than double February’s 3.5% increase.

Indonesia’s central bank, meanwhile, is widely expected to leave its key interest rate unchanged at 5.75% for a third consecutive meeting, and for the rest of 2023.

Although inflation has been cooling since September, March’s reading of 4.97% was still above Bank Indonesia’s target range of 2%-4%. Policymakers are confident, however, that previous tightening will get it back to target later this year.

Here are three key developments that could provide more direction to markets on Tuesday:

– Chinese ‘data dump’

– Indonesia central bank policy decision

– U.S. Q1 earnings season picks up pace


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