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China’s Economy Heading for Historic Reverse, Reflecting Virus Impact

Patrick Frater
·3 mins read

An historic shift into reverse gear for the Chinese economy could be one of the next consequences flowing from the spread of the novel coronavirus. That prospect threw Asian stock markets into reverse on Monday, despite economic stimulus measures in the U.S.

The U.S. Federal Reserve, on Sunday (Monday morning in Asia) announced a full percentage point cut in its benchmark interest rate, reducing it to close to zero. The Fed also promised to inject liquidity into the economic system by buying at least $500 billion of Treasury securities and at least $200 billion of mortgage-backed securities. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority followed the U.S. central bank’s example and cut its own base rates.

But financial markets were unimpressed. Australia’s ASX index crashed by more than 9% on Monday to 5,002. New Zealand’s NZX 50 index fell 3.6%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index, already a bear market since Friday, was down 2.2% at the lunchtime trading break. South Korea’s KOSPI index headed for a loss of more than 1%, though Japan’s Nikkei index rose 0.7%, apparently in anticipation of stimulus measures.

Mainland Chinese markets were firmly down, with the SSE Shanghai Composite benchmark down more than 2%.

Chinese data unveiled on Monday showed that industrial production in the world’s manufacturing hub fell by 13.3% in January and February. That has never happened before in the modern era.

Other data showed Chinese retail sales down by 20.5% in the same two months, and fixed asset investment down by 24.5%.

Despite China, now seeming to get back to work after new Covid-19 infections have peaked in the country, many economists are now forecasting an historic decline in China’s GDP when data for the January-March quarter is completed.

In total, China has incurred some 81,000 coronavirus infections and over 3,100 deaths. On Monday, it reported 16 new coronavirus infections and 14 deaths, numbers that are significantly down on the past trend. Since the weekend, mainland authorities have been saying that most new cases are not local infections, but are imported with foreigners arriving in China.

That pattern may also explain the latest fall in Asian stock markets. The recent decision by Apple to close its retail stores outside Greater China hurt many of its Asian suppliers. iPhone assembler Hon Hai Precision fell 4.3% to TWD71.3 per share by mid-Monday. Sunny Optical slumped 10.6% to HK$105.9. LG Display was 2.2% lower at KRW11,050. Sharp bucked the trend with a 2.2% gain to JPY989.

The pain being incurred by Chinese businesses was reflected in additional share price losses for Alibaba and Tencent. The Hong Kong-traded units of Alibaba dropped 5% on Monday to HK$182.10, while Tencent fell 4.2% to HK$349.60.

There was no new bad news for China’s media sector. But the longer that mainland cinemas stay shut, the deeper the problems become for companies including: Wanda Film (whose shares were down 4.4% to CNY17.12); China Film Co. (down 2.4% to CNY12.96); and Huayi Brothers (down 3.5% to CNY3.77). Hong Kong-traded Imax China on Monday fell 3.5% to HK$13.94.

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