Global Investing

China data: Lessons from Yongzheng

 Is China’s data reliable? With official figures showing the Chinese economy grew by 7.7 percent in the first quarter of 2013, a so-called slowdown or ‘soft patch’ in the Chinese economy has concerned some marketeers. Whether gross-domestic-product calculations involve macro data or micro data, the overall picture is not so clear, though some say a focus on regional numbers, cement, oil and gas usage would help complement official statistics. Kang Qu, assistant vice president of research at the Bank of China, said at a panel discussion earlier this week organised by the centre for the study of financial innovation, and supported by NowCasting, on calculating official Chinese data there is not so much government focus as in other countries on business confidence indicators but more on GDP prints, which are still under some doubt:
This is a reference when the People’s Bank of China makes big decisions.
Difficulty in collating accurate data is perhaps not so surprising, given the rapid urbanisation of the world’s second largest economy. Off-beat labour statistics (employing dissimilar methodology to the ILO) are partly skewed due to a large number of temporary registrants that slip the official statistics net. The solution? Jinny Lin at Standard Chartered, who thinks China’s real GDP level is more likely around 5.5 percent, suggested this could be taken from the history books. Emperor Yongzheng, China’s ruler in the late Qing dynasty, set up an independent body to look at data at the local level, and successfully stemmed tax evasion.

If local data is reliable enough, we should use local data.

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Source: Flikr creative commons

Problems are found at a local level too, however. While the current system sets local government officials’ bonuses for better GDP growth, there is no penalty for supplying incorrect data, neither are local government officials assessed on the jobs they create but via a points system. Instead local governments have ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ targets to attain, according to the panellists, some of which include environmental targets.

Then there is the issue of language. Some say data is more detailed in the Chinese language than in English, though official translations help bridge this gap. Quandaries remain, the resolution is still far from clear.

Weekly Radar: Draghi returns to London

ECB chief Mario Draghi returns to London next week almost 10 months on from his seminal “whatever it takes” speech to the global financial community in The City  – a speech that not only drew a line under the euro financial crisis by flagging the ECB’s sovereign debt backstop OMT but one that framed the determination of the G4 central banks at large to reflate their economies via extraordinary monetary easing. Since then we’ve seen the Fed effectively commit to buying an addition trillion dollars of bonds this year to get the U.S. jobless rate down toward 6.5%, followed by the ‘shock-and-awe’ tactics of the new Japanese government and Bank of Japan to end decades.

And as Draghi returns 10 months on, there’s little doubt that he and his U.S. and Japanese peers have succeeded in convincing financial investors of central bank doggedness at least. Don’t fight the Fed and all that – or more pertinently, Don’t fight the Fed/BoJ/ECB/BoE/SNB etc… G4 stock markets are surging ever higher through the Spring of 2013 even as global economic data bumbles along disappointingly through its by now annual ‘soft patch’.  Looking at the number tallies, total returns for Spanish and Greek equities and euro zone bank stocks are up between 40 and 50% since Draghi’s showstopper last July . Italian, French and German equities and Spanish and Irish 10-year government bonds have all returned about 30% or more. And you can add 7% on to all that if you happened to be a Boston-based investor due to a windfall from the net jump in the euro/dollar exchange rate. What’s more all of those have outperformed the 25% gains in Wall St’s S&P 500 since then, even though the latter is powering to uncharted record highs. And of course all pale in comparison with the eye-popping 75% rise in Japan’s Nikkei 225 in just six months!! Gold, metals and oil are all net losers and this is significant in a money-printing story where no one seems to see higher inflation anymore.

But with both Fed and BoJ pushes getting some traction on underlying growth and the euro zone economy registering it’s 6th straight quarter of contraction in the first three months of 2013, maybe Draghi’s big task now is to convince people the ECB will do whatever it takes to support the 17-nation economy too and not only the single currency per se. Last year’s pledge may have been a necessary start to stabilise things but it has not yet been sufficient to solve the economic problems bequethed by the credit crisis.

Crisis? What crisis? Global funds grow stronger

Global funds are having a good year.

According to a report by financial services lobby TheCityUK, pension funds,  insurance funds and  mutual funds are on track to finish the year with $21 trillion more of assets under management than when they hit rock bottom in 2008 with the Lehmann collapse.

They are growing for the fourth year in a row, and much more so than last year, thanks to the recovery in equity markets.

All together, the London lobby forecasts these funds will end the year with about $85.2 trillion of assets under managements globally, $5.4 trillion more than last year, while 2011 ended “only” $1 trillion higher than 2010.

Olympic medal winners — and economies — dissected

The Olympic medals have all been handed out and the athletes are on their way home.  Which countries surpassed expectations and which ones did worse than expected? And did this have anything to do with the state of their economies?

An extensive Goldman Sachs report entitled Olympics and Economics  (a regular feature before each Olympic Games) predicted before the Games kicked off that the United States would top the tally with 36 gold medals. It also said the top 10 would include five G7 countries (the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy), two BRICs (China and Russia), one of the developing countries it dubs Next-11  (South Korea), and one additional developed and emerging market. These would be Australia and Ukraine, it said.

Close enough, except that Hungary took the place of Ukraine as the emerging economy in the Top 10 and the United States actually took 46 gold medals — more than Goldman had predicted.

from Global News Journal:

Germany’s Finance Minister takes aim at the City

Has German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck finally said what many world leaders think but are afraid to say? That the British government won't sign up to meaningful reform of financial markets because it is too worried about what it would mean for the country’s most famous cash cow, the City of London.

 

The City, which accounts for around 35 percent of global foreign exchange turnover, has been a popular target for critics of capitalism for years. But it has rarely been singled out so bluntly as a problem by one of Britain’s close allies.

 

Even for a man not known for holding his tongue, Steinbrueck’s remark on Wednesday that Downing Street was impeding reform because it had “practically aligned” its interests with the City, was unusually undiplomatic. Just days before global leaders meet at a Group of Eight summit in Italy, Steinbrueck suggested the British government was plotting a “restoration” of the pre-crisis order to protect its own interests. The United States, by contrast, was now open to reform, he said.

from MacroScope:

Emerging Europe property revival

People packing their bags and flying out to St Petersburg, Warsaw, and Prague this summer may not just be seeking an exotic vacation spot.

International property investors are inching back to emerging Europe, lured by prospects of higher returns in markets such as Poland, whose economy has held up relatively well in a global downturn, and Russia, which is bolstered by rising crude oil prices.

After posting strong growth for over 5 years, commercial real estate investments in emerging Europe had been a washout after Lehman Brothers’ collapse in Sept ‘08, with first quarter sales hitting a record low.

London taking AIM at smaller companies

As investors in London’s junior AIM market know only too well, high risk does not always mean high return. Now, more than ever, the Alternative Investment Market of the London Stock Exchange needs to prove that it can offer investors high-quality companies.******The FTSE Small Cap index of smaller companies listed on the main London market has outperformed the AIM 100 index on the way down, and on the way back up. The FTSE Small Cap has gained almost 30 percent over the last couple of months, while the AIM 100 has risen 20 percent.******And that’s after the AIM 100 saw falls of over 50 percent in the past year, much more than the 27 percent posted by the FTSE Small Cap index.******While liquid companies like Advanced Medical Solutions and Cape typify the benefits of AIM, there are too many that have cut back so much that they are reduced to a CEO operating alone out of his spare bedroom.******AIM officials said on Friday that they thought the market has had its best month for a year, raising around 500 million pounds for companies, but this includes 220 million pounds raised by one company alone, Max Properties.******Fund managers say that they like some AIM companies that are making profits, or close to that point. However high-risk beta stocks that expect investors to hang around for five years or more should be happy that the winter weather has cleared, because they’re likely to spend most of their time with their caps in their hands.******If AIM wants to see its companies grow fruitfully as cash returns to the market, it will have to start out by sifting the chaff from the wheat.

from Davos Notebook:

London — warmer and cheaper

London is cheaper and warmer, at least compared with Davos, says London Mayor Boris Johnson.

"The fall in the pound is of huge value to London's exports and all sterling-denominated assets. We're seeing a very impressive effect here. We take advantage of the upside and the upside is that the pound is competitive," Johnson told Reuters.

"And everybody in Davos, once they finish this massive negotiation of egos, this complete vanity, should come to London. It's considerably cheaper and considerably warmer."