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It is often hard to get a handle on how the Chinese economy is doing. The country’s government controls information very tightly, which makes the whole nation a black box. However, with coronavirus fears in full flourish there is some additional insight available, and it is worrying. Factories across the country have been shut as part of an effort to contain the disease, and even tech workers are working remotely. All over the country, from Beijing to Shanghai, to industrial provinces, workers are not reporting to factories (following government advice to stay home). Even today, as some parts of the country were supposed to return to work, many are not.
FINSUM: The Chinese economy seems to have completely stopped. It is hard to imagine there will not be a significant recession this quarter in China, which could reverberate all over the world.
The new SARS/Coronavirus that has broken out in China has been serious enough that it has actually spooked markets. 17 people have already died and 600 more have the pathogen, which is as yet poorly understood. Now the city where it was first found, Wuhan, has been quarantined. However, the quarantine has been greatly undermined by the fact that it was instituted after the country’s biggest annual migration—the Lunar New Year, when Chinese go home to visit family. One the big worries is that the virus seems to have “superspreading” characteristics, or the kind of virus that spreads much more rapidly from person to person than normal.
FINSUM: This is a pretty scary bug, and the US already had its first confirmed case (a man in Seattle that had come directly from Wuhan).
Those of you who read our opinions on how the trade war with the US is affecting China will know that one of main concerns is about the relationship between the government and the people in China. This week, Xi has echoed that warning. The Chinese leader stressed the need to maintain political stability in the face of economic challenges. The warning, which came at an unusual meeting of Chinese leaders, shows the ruling party’s anxieties over the social implications of the slowing economy.
FINSUM: Chinese leadership is in a tight jam. On the one hand they have the US squeezing them with tariffs, and on the other, they have the need to maintain the economy’s strong growth to keep people happy. Remember that leaders are unelected, so their grip on control is very tied to keeping everyone satisfied.
Happy new year—the Dow opened down 350 points this morning on fears over a Chinese slowdown. New data is out of the country which shows that Beijing’s manufacturing sector is contracting, a sign that tariffs may be flowing through to the economy. That makes markets hope more than ever for a trade agreement between the US and Beijing, which would likely alleviate the economic strain. The S&P 500 has fallen 20.2% on an intraday basis, an official bear market.
FINSUM: The implications of a big Chinese slowdown are serious. Firstly, how does the country react politically to what they likely view (or will project) as a US-imposed slowdown? Secondly, how much does the slowdown drag down the global economy?
Beijing made a big proclamation yesterday. The country is in the midst of a brutal bear market—its benchmark Shanghai Composite has fallen 27%—but yesterday the government made a big announcement. It said that it would do “whatever it takes” to stop its falling stock market. A large pledge of support came from Xi Jinping himself, which given his grip on power, means that it can likely be counted on. One analyst thinks the bear market might be nearing its end, saying “Bottoming is a process, and we’re starting to see some evidence of reversals and lows taking shape”.
FINSUM: The big x-factor for China is that a trade war and tariffs hurt them much worse than the West, so it is very hard for us to agree that the market rout there is ending.