Picture: BLOOMBERG/SOICHIRO KORIYAMA
Picture: BLOOMBERG/SOICHIRO KORIYAMA

Sydney — Asian shares crept higher on Monday as Chinese economic data surprised on the high side, challenging assumptions the giant economy was locked into in a downturn though falling mainland house prices remained a nagging worry.

Annual growth in retail sales and industrial output handily beat forecasts, with the bounce in consumption a positive given pandemic restrictions.

On a negative note for the stressed housing market, new home prices in China fell 0.2% month on month in October, the biggest decline since February 2015.

Economists at CBA argued there is a chance the People’s Bank of China will cut bank reserve requirements (RRR) this week to support activity.

“We estimate a 50 basis point cut to the RRR can release CNY 1-billion of liquidity,” they said in a note “In our view, mild easing measures can help meet funding requirements for property developers and offset downside risks to the economy.”

Chinese blue chips were a fraction lower after the data, while MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.3%.

Japan’s Nikkei gained 0.5% as data showing economic activity shrank more than expected in the third quarter only reinforced the case for aggressive fiscal stimulus.

Watering down

S&P 500 futures firmed 0.1%, while Nasdaq futures added 0.2%. Euro Stoxx 50 futures and FTSE futures were both off 0.1%.

Elsewhere, the UN climate conference in Scotland managed to hammer out a deal on emissions, but only by watering down a commitment to phase out coal.

Wall Street eased last week to break a string of gains, though the major indices were only a shade off all-time highs.

A key release this week will be US retail sales on Tuesday for any impact from the drop in consumer sentiment to a decade low reported for November as people fretted over higher prices, particularly for petrol.

There are also doubts about whether firms have the pricing power to maintain margins in the face of rising costs.

Analysts at BofA noted 75% of US companies had beaten earnings estimates in the latest reporting season but forecasts for the fourth quarter are only flat, breaking more than a year of rising expectations.

The grim survey helped Treasuries steady a little, but yields were still up a hefty 11 basis points for the week as the market priced in a greater risk of an early tightening by the Federal Reserve.

BofA economist Ethan Harris suspects the market still has not priced in enough given the high starting level of inflation means rates need to rise more to reach neutral.

Higher yields

“If inflation stays high and comes in above the planned overshoot, the Fed will need to become much more hawkish and either accept a market correction or deliberately induce such a correction,” warns Harris.

Higher US yields have combined with general risk aversion to benefit the dollar, which boasted its best week in almost three months. Against a basket of currencies, the dollar was firm at 95.017 and just off its highest since July 2020.

It was holding at ¥113.85, preparing for another challenge of the October top at 114.69.

The euro looked vulnerable at $1.1455, having broken decisively lower last week.

“Covid-19 infection curves moving in the wrong direction are part of the reason, while renewed restrictions are being imposed in Austria and the Netherlands,” said Ray Attrill, head of FX strategy at NAB.

“The implications or both growth and ECB policy are not being lost on currency markets.”

European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde will appear before the European parliament later on Monday.

Inflation concerns kept gold in demand at $1,857 an ounce after notching its biggest weekly gain since May.

Oil prices had a tougher week, hit by a strengthening dollar and speculation that President Joe Biden’s administration might release oil from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Brent reversed early gains on Monday to lose another 75c to $81.42 a barrel, while US crude fell 68c to $80.11.

Reuters

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