Global markets face possible reality check from China risks


Global markets may be failing to properly grasp the risks stemming from China, evidenced by stocks trading at near-record levels.

A major challenge is China’s Covid-zero strategy, which heralds rolling mobility curbs, supply-chain snarls and trade disruption, according to Frances Donald, global head of macro-strategy at Manulife Asset Management.

“What has failed to permeate the markets’ sensitivity is, how is Covid zero in China going to impact the global economy?” Donald said in a Bloomberg Radio interview Thursday. “That’s a global macro story that isn’t priced, even if the bad news for China is directly in Chinese assets already.”

China is currently striving to restrain any widespread virus outbreak and is the last holdout for the Covid-zero approach of closed borders and movement restrictions. If the nation continues with that kind of containment strategy to fight the pathogen, “we’re probably going to see PMIs decelerate, trade weaken and goods activity slow as well,” Donald said, referring to purchasing managers’ indexes. 

Recent company results show the challenges arising from China’s Covid stance. Starbucks Corp. and McDonald’s Corp. in their latest earnings reported drops in comparable-store sales in China amid pandemic-linked mobility curbs.  

The MSCI AC World Index is up almost 16 percent so far this year and now trades near a record high. By contrast, the MSCI China Index is down 14 percent, squeezed by Beijing’s regulatory crackdowns on an array of industries, including the indebted property sector.

Robust corporate earnings have encouraged the view that global equities can weather the pandemic-related supply-chain disruptions that are stoking inflation and pushing central banks toward tightening monetary policy.

For Jim Veneau, head of fixed income Asia at Axa Investment Managers, the headwinds from China’s property sector and wider economic deceleration are key litmus tests for investors. 

The growth slowdown is a “wild card” and is “going to have global implications,” he said. “There’s still a desire to get leverage levels in the economy down through market mechanisms—there’s a willingness to bear a little pain or spread the pain.”

Data released this month showed a sharp slowdown in Chinese growth to 4.9 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, compared with 7.9 percent in the previous three-month period.

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