China's economic activities ended last year with a strong tone. GDP growth expanded +6.8% y/y in 4Q17, beating consensus of +6.7%.Serctor-wise, growth in the services sector accelerated to +8.3%, from +8% in the third quarter. By contrast, growth...
Two issues happened in China have roiled the market over the past two days. While the adjustment of renminbi fixing mechanism has resulted in a weaker currency, a news report citing an anonymous Chinese official as recommending to trim or halt purchases of US Treasuries has sent the longer-dated US Treasury (UST) yield higher, thus steepening the UST yield curve. While the former reveals that the Chinese government continues to actually intervene the FX market, putting its commitment to internationalize the currency in question, the latter is merely an act to maintain currency stability and a response as the US-China trade friction once again heats up.
Overshadowed by a series of central bank meetings last week, China's macroeconomic data were mildly disappointing. Yet, this should not affect the country's growth to reach its full-year growth target of +6.5%. Indeed, the PBOC's monetary tightening on December 14, closely following the Fed's rate hike, is a manifestation that the government remains confident over the economic outlook. The three-day Central Economic Work Conference (CEWC) beginning today (December 18) would reveal China's economic policy and the closely-watched GDP growth target for 2018. We expect the politburo might revise lower the target from this year's +6.5%, and/ or adopt more flexibility in it language.
The Caixin manufacturing PMI for China slipped to 50.8 in November, from 51 in October. The reading also missed expectations of 51. Looking into the details, production and new orders increased at modest rates, while purchasing costs rose sharply. However, confidence towards the business outlook dropped to joint-lowest on record. As the agency noted, the manufacturing sector remained stable for most of November, despite 'some signs of weakness'. It forecast that the economy would remain stable for 4Q17. While growth should improve this year, when compared with 2016, it should decelerate in 2018. By contrast, the official manufacturing PMI rose +0.2 point to 51.8 in November this also beat expectations of a drop to 51.5. Non- manufacturing PMI increased +0.5 point to 54.8 last month. Divergence between official and private PMIs is nothing new. Part of the reason for the divergence is that the official data focus on large enterprises, while Caixin's focus on SMEs. This interpretation appears contradicting this month. Indeed, the official report suggests that SME PMI improved, while that for large companies slipped -0.2 point to 52.9 in November.
Notwithstanding disappointing headlines, China's economic activities and credit conditions in October were a result of the government's regulatory tightening and the “neutral and prudent” monetary policy with a tighter bias. China's 10 year yields jumped to a 3-year high, approaching 4%, while 5-year yields breached 4% the first time in over 3 years, on Tuesday. The surge in yields can be attributed to a confluence of factors, including a selloff of sovereign bonds after softer-than-expected macroeconomic data and a reflection of tightened liquidity in the financial system. However, we believe the most critical factor is the rallies in US yields, on expectations of a December rate hike, and UK yields, amidst BOE's rate hike earlier this month.
China inflation, both upstream (PPI) and downstream (CPI), surprised to the upside in October. Headline CPI accelerated to +1.9% y/y, from +1.6% in September, beating consensus of +1.7%. Food deflation improved to -1.4% y/y in October, from September's -1.4%, whilst non-food price steadied at +2.4% y/y. Core CPI also steadied at +2.3% last month. PPI stayed unchanged at +6.9%, beating expectations of a slowdown to +6.9%. The set of data indicates gradual but smooth pass-through of inflation (from PPI to CPI), thanks to stable wage growth and improved capacity utilization. Headline CPI has a chance of rising to +2% by year-end and exceeding it in 2018. Note, however, that the upper bound of PBOC's inflation target is +3%.
The 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party culminated with the announcement of the new Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) - the group of officials leading the country in the coming five year. Five out of seven members of the previous PSC were replaced, with only President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang staying in power. The five new members are Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji and Han Zheng.
Predominantly the most important political event in China, the twice-in-a-decade National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party began on October 18. As a kick start, President Xi delivered a Party Work Report which reviewed the achievements in his first five years and outlined the challenges and goals for the next five years and beyond. Xi outlined his thoughts on the 'new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics' On the economic reform, he suggested further developments in the "advanced manufacturing industry", which includes medium and high end consumption, green and low carbon industry, sharing economy, modern logistics and human capital services. He has also pledged to deepen interest rate and exchange rate reforms, develop a comprehensive financial regulation system and reduce systematic financial risk. These are nothing new as the key aspects of the monetary and fiscal policies have already been lain down at the National Financial Work Conference in July.
China's trade surplus surprisingly narrowed to a 6-month low of US$28.5B in September, from US$42B a month ago. The market had anticipated a milder drop to US$39.5B. Growth in exports improved to 8.1% y/y from 5.5% in August, while growth imports accelerated significantly to +18.7% from July's +13.3%. Notwithstanding a disappointing headline, the report continued to paint a healthy picture on China's economic outlook. A stronger-than-expected imports growth underpinned domestic economic strength. Exports growth, despite missing consensus, still picked up from the same period last year. More importantly, a narrowing trade surplus could tame the US' complaint of China's currency manipulation. This should help the government maintain a stable and modestly strong renminbi as CCP's 19th national congress approaches.
PBOC announced to adopt targeted RRR cut in 2018 in some banks to 'encourage inclusive financing, such as credit support for small and micro-sized enterprises (SMEs), startups and agricultural production, as well as small business owners, impoverished groups and students. All of the large and medium sized commercial banks, 90% of municipal commercial banks, and 95% of agriculture commercial banks are eligible for this measure. Banks with inclusive financing exposure higher than 1.5% of loans would be eligible for 50 bps RRR cut from benchmark ratios. Banks with exposure higher than 10% would qualify for additional 100 bps RRR cut. We believe the move is a fine-tuning of PBOC's other tightening measures, rather than a shift towards a loosening monetary stance. Indeed, by choosing a targeted RRR cut, instead of a broad-based cut or a rate reduction, the central bank is sending a signal that it has not changed the monetary policy stance which remains 'prudent and neutral”.
August data further evidenced that China's economic growth has peaked in the first quarter. Following the sharper-than-expected slowdown in growth in July, the latest set of macroeconomic data also surprised to the downside. The moderation was a result of the government's tighter monetary policy in an attempt to curb excessive investment in certain areas, such as real estate. Renminbi's appreciation against US dollar since the beginning of the year probably has weighed on exports. This leads the PBOC to loosen capital control which has been adopted over the past years to prevent renminbi from severe depreciation.
USDCNY continues to recover after the pair slumped to the lowest level since December 2015 last Friday. The rebound, long-awaited as the broad-based USD weakness has caused the pair to decline over the past 4 months, is facilitated by PBOC’s announcement to remove the requirement for banks to hold the equivalent of 20% of clients' FX forward positions as reserve for a year at 0% interest. For more than a decade, China has been implementing reforms in its currency, with the ultimate goal of achieving a floating exchange rate regime and convertibility for renminbi – a movement widely described as renminbi internationalization. However, this report seeks to explain that the government has only been moving back and forth, without making significant progress in transforming renminbi into a market-oriented exchange rate.
The two key phenomena, tightening in liquidity condition and renminbi strength, in the Chinese market have persisted. Last week, PBOC auctioned RMB 80B of 3-month Treasury deposits at 4.51%, the highest since December 2014. This came in after another auction of 3-month Treasury deposits on August 18, at 4.46%. Higher interest rates signaled that the government is trying to increase the borrowing cost, tightening money supply.
Chinese macroeconomic activities showed sharper than expected slowdown in July. Retails sales grew +10.4% y/y in July, down from +11% a month ago. The market had anticipated a milder moderation to +10.8%. Industrial production expanded +6.4% y/y in July, decelerating from +7.6% in the prior month. This came in weaker than consensus of +7.1%. Urban fixed asset investment expanded +8.3% in the first 7 months of the year, slowing from +8.6% in the first half of the year. The market had anticipated a steady growth of +8.6%. The slowdown in economic activities in China has been widely expected as the government pledged to deleverage in at attempted to defend and prevent systematic risks. However the abovementioned three major indicators came in even weaker than expectations. We expect Chinese economic growth to moderate in the second half of the year. Yet, the strength in the first half (GDP growth: +6.9%) signals that the government's full year target of 'around +6.5%' should be able to achieved.
China's trade and inflation data surprised to the downside in July, likely drive by the government's targeted tightening monetary policy. GDP growth is expected to slow in second half of the year. Yet, given the strong readings in the first half, with the economy expanding +6.9% in both the first and second quarters, GDP growth should be able to meet government's target of “around +6.5%”. We believe the government would continue its tightening monetary policy in order to prevent and resolve systematic risks, and to curb excessive strength in property prices. Meanwhile, as ultra accommodative monetary policies across major central banks are coming to an end, with the Fed and BOC raising interest rates, while ECB will begin discussing reduction of asset purchases, it would be detrimental to the renminbi if the central bank pledges to maintain monetary easing. This would exacerbate capital outflow from China.
China's macroeconomic data for 2Q17 surprised to the upside. China's GDP expanded +6.9% y/y in 2Q17, same pace as the prior quarter but above consensus of +6.8%. Economic activities in June continued to improve. Industrial production growth accelerated to +7.6% y/y in June, beating consensus of and May's +6.5%. Retail sales expanded +11% y/y in June, up from +10.7% a month ago. The market had anticipated mild deceleration to +10.6%. Fixed asset investment in urban areas grew +8.6% y/y in the first half of the year, same pace as in the first five months of the year. The government acknowledged that the country's economy continued to improve. It appears that the country's growth is on track to meet the government target of “around +6.5%”.
The set of June data released so far has pointed to a steady growth trend in China, the world's second largest economy. Released earlier in the week, headline CPI stayed unchanged at +1.5% y/y in June, shy of consensus of +1.6%. Persistently soft food price (on deflation) continued to put downward pressure on the headline reading. For instance, pork plummeted -16.7 and egg price fell -9.3%.PPI, upstream price levels, steadied at +5.5% in June, in line with expectations. Subdued inflation offers the government room to maintain its targeted tightening measures, focusing on cracking down overheating asset prices. Yet, soft PPI suggested that growth in industrial profits would be limited.
China's headline CPI inflation accelerated to +1.5% y/y in May, from +1.2% a month ago. for the first 5 months of the year, CPI has stayed at average of +1.4%, amongst the lowest levels in history. Core inflation steadied at +2.1% in May. Non-food CPI moderated to +2.3% from 2.4% in April. Food inflation remained in contraction but the decline narrowed to -1.6% y/y in May from -3.5% in the prior month. We believe it was the low base that had helped improve the reading. PPI inflation continued to slow, falling to +5.5% y/y in May from +6.4% in April. Weakness in commodity prices is expected to weigh on PPI, sending it lower to around +5% in coming months.
China's manufacturing activities contracted for the first time in 11 months, as Caixin/Markit's PMI index suggested. The report shows that the manufacturing PMI dropped -0.7 points to 49.6 in May (a reading below 50 signals contraction), compared with consensus of a milder drop to 50.1. While the sub-indices of output and new business remained in the expansionary territory, but both fell to their lowest levels since June last year. Meanwhile, the sub- indices of input costs and output prices drifted to the contractionary territory for the first time since June 2016 and February 2016, respectively. Meanwhile, the sub-index of stocks of purchases showed renewed decline. The rebound in the sub-index of stocks of finished goods suggested that companies stopped restocking as inventory levels increased.
The Chinese government has accelerated its step to guide the renminbi higher and the immediate effect is a selloff of USDCNY to the lowest level since January, 2017. Last week, the China Foreign Exchange Trade System (CFETS) confirmed that China's central bank has added a counter cyclical adjustment factor (CCAF) to the calculation of the USDCNY daily fixing rate. The government indicated that the adjustment factor would help guide market expectations and let the fix reflect more accurately China's macroeconomic fundamentals. It is appropriate for the move to be introduced in this period of time when the US dollar is weak, as, in our view, the aim of which is to stabilize renminbi, i.e. to prevent it from weakening too much. Given the lack of the details of this adjustment factor, the movement of renminbi is getting more non-transparent, as well as government-driven, rather than market- driven.