If you’re waiting for China to roll over, it’s going to take a while.
Some of the latest trade and investment data show China’s economy is chugging along, with U.S. corporations nearly doubling their investment in the mainland.
January Trade Data in USD
Trade Balance: $39 billion versus estimate $34 billion, but much lower than December’s $57 billion
Exports: 9.1% versus estimate -3.3% and Dec.’s -4.4%
Imports -1.5% versus estimate -10.2% and Dec.’s -7.6%
Foreign direct investment in China also accelerated last month, rising 4.8%. That’s a decline from December’s unusual increase of 24.9%.
“The importance for China is many Chinese exports are U.S. companies that own or rent factories in China. Investments into China from U.S. companies increased 124.6% year over year,” says Brendan Ahern, CIO of KraneShares, citing a South China Morning Post story based on data from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.
December and January data also shows that both U.S. and non-U.S. global companies continue to invest in China. Since the opening of the financial services market to foreign firms without the need for a joint venture, firms like BlackRock and JPMorgan are heading to China to set up shop to capture the local investor market, as well as tapping the growing need for equity analysts and fundamental research of the China A-shares market.
Inflation is coming down, suggesting weak demand, with PPI essentially flatlined. PPI is one of indicators that is rolling off from last year’s tariff front-running, which might get worse before it gets better due to the year-overyear comparisons.
On the credit front, aggregate financing rose to 4.6 trillion yuan versus estimates of 3.3 trillion and Dec.’s 1.59 trillion. New loans rose twofold to 3.23 trillion, beating market estimates of 3 trillion and up from 1 trillion in December.
“The only silver lining at the moment is that China’s leading indicators and credit impulse have stopped falling as fast as they were in the second half of last year,” says Ed Al-Hussainy, an analyst with Columbia Threadneedle Investments. He still doubts China will overstimulate, as much of Wall Street has been begging for this year.
China is still an important market for U.S. companies and exporters who still have better economies of scale there despite increased labor and regulatory costs.
The ongoing trade war is not quite as red hot as it was, with the governments working on a memorandum of understanding and more talks scheduled in Washington next week.
There are two weeks left before the March 1 deadline to increase tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods, now at 10% and going to 25%. Those tariff hikes are still on the table even with next week’s meeting.
Investors can surely find negative economic data in China, from higher debts and defaulting bond issues to a slowdown in real estate. It’s hard to decipher what’s going on in the world’s no. 2 economy.
“The truth with China is always somewhere in between of these emotional ups and downs,” says Jin Zhang, portfolio manager and senior analyst for Vontobel Quality Growth, a boutique investment firm within Vontobel Asset Management. “A prolonged trade war can hurt both economies if you go crazy on the tariffs. You won’t be able to time that. Increasing tariffs next month is still a possibility.”