Morning Bid: Nerves stretched, China data dump kicks off key week

By Thomson Reuters Mar 17, 2024 | 4:59 PM

By Jamie McGeever

(Reuters) – A look at the day ahead in Asian markets.

A batch of top-tier Chinese economic data releases gets Asian markets underway on Monday, with sentiment pretty fragile after last week’s global market wobble and as investors brace for U.S. and Japanese policy decisions later in the week.

Asian equity markets are on the defensive. The MSCI Asia ex-Japan index’s 1.4% slump on Friday – its steepest since January – sealed its biggest weekly loss in two months, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 lost 2.5% for its biggest weekly loss this year.

The sharp rebound in U.S. bond yields is taking its toll on risk appetite, and was probably the main catalyst for the selloff in global stocks last week.

The ICE BofA U.S. Treasuries index fell every day last week, its worst run since August resulting in the biggest weekly fall since October. The two-year yield rose 24 basis points, almost the equivalent of a quarter-point rate hike.

The Asia and Pacific calendar this week is packed with hugely important economic data releases and central bank policy meetings, none more so than the Bank of Japan’s two-day meeting that starts on Monday.

Expectations are high that the BOJ will raise interest rates for the first time since 2007, bringing the curtain down on eight years of ‘negative interest rate policy’, or NIRP.

Japan’s biggest companies agreed to raise wages by 5.28% for 2024, the heftiest pay hikes in 33 years, the country’s largest union group said on Friday, reinforcing views that policymakers will make their historic move on Tuesday.

Sources have also told Reuters that the BOJ will offer guidance on how much government bonds it will buy upon ending NIRP and yield curve control (YCC), to avoid causing market disruptions.

Policy decisions from the central banks of China, Australia, Indonesia and Taiwan are also on tap this week, as are inflation figures from Japan and New Zealand’s fourth-quarter GDP report.

The week kicks off on Monday, though, with four key indicators from China – business investment, retail sales, industrial production and unemployment.

Some green shoots of recovery in China are gradually becoming visible. There are signs that capital is no longer flooding out the country, stocks have recovered, and some economic data is improving – China’s economic surprises index is the highest since October.

But the road to recovery will be long and rocky. Figures last week showed that house prices fell at their fastest annual rate in over a year, and new bank lending growth fell to the lowest on record.

Figures on Monday are expected to show that business investment growth in February ticked up to 3.2%, industrial output growth slowed to 5.0% and retail sales also slowed to 5.2% from the month before. These are all year-on-year measures.

Here are key developments that could provide more direction to markets on Monday:

– China ‘data dump’ (February)

– Japan machinery orders (January)

– Malaysia trade (February)

(By Jamie McGeever; Editing by Aurora Ellis)