China Stocks Outperform On Unexpected COVID Shift
Update (0920ET): China's move to ease quarantine rules for inbound travelers from three weeks to just one week has bolstered sentiment for Chinese equities.
Bullish calls are rising on Chinese stocks as the CSI 300 Index inches near a bull market.
Fred Hu, the founder of China-based investment firm Primavera Capital Group, told Bloomberg that he believes Chinese tech firms have turned the corner after a $2 trillion rout sparked by Beijing's yearslong technology crackdown.
NASDAQ Golden Dragon China Index plunged more than 76% since its peak in early 2021, coinciding with Beijing's crackdown start. The index hit a low in March and has since bounced 67% -- because the crackdown fears show signs of softening.
Hu believes "this could be the beginning of a new era for China tech ... There's a lot of value to be discovered," adding that investors still need to be selective in picking stocks.
Adding to support is the People's Bank of China's accommodative monetary policy, which is the opposite of global central banks that aggressively tighten interest rates to prevent the surge in inflation from turning into dreaded 1970s-style stagflation. Today's quarantine reduction news, tech crackdown abating, and PBOC easing have produced a more optimistic outlook for Chinese stocks.
However, a lingering threat of a US slowdown could be problematic for all investors.
Lorraine Tan, director of equity research at Morningstar, told Bloomberg TV: "Even if we do get some China recovery in 2023, which could be a buffer for this region, it's not going to offset the US or global recession."
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China unexpectedly slashed quarantine times for international travelers, to just one week, which suggests Beijing is easing COVID zero policies. The nationwide relaxation of pandemic restrictions led investors to buy Chinese stocks.
Inbound travelers will only quarantine for ten days, down from three weeks, which shows local authorities are easing draconian curbs on travel and economic activity as they worry about slumping economic growth sparked by restrictive COVID zero policies earlier this year that locked down Beijing and Shanghai for months (Shanghai finally lifted its lockdown measures on May 31).
"This relaxation sends the signal that the economy comes first ... It is a sign of importance of the economy at this point," Li Changmin, Managing Director at Snowball Wealth in Guangzhou, told Bloomberg.
At the peak of the COVID outbreak, many residents in China's largest city, Shanghai, were quarantined in their homes for two months, while international travelers were under "hard quarantines" for three weeks. The strict curbs appear to have suppressed the outbreak, but the tradeoff came at the cost of faltering economic growth.
The announcement of the shorter quarantine period suggests a potentially more optimistic outlook for the Chinese economy. Bullish price action lifted CSI 300 Index by 1%, led by tourism-related stocks (LVMH shares rose as much as 2.5%, Richemont +3.1%, Kering +3%, Moncler +3%).
"The reduction of travel restrictions will be positive for the luxury sector, and may boost consumer sentiment and confidence following months of lockdowns in China's biggest cities," Barclays analysts Carole Madjo wrote in a note.
CSI 300 is up 19% from April's low, nearing bull market territory.
Jane Foley, a strategist at Rabobank in London, commented that "this news suggests that perhaps the authorities will not be as stringent with Covid controls as has been expected."
"The news also coincides with reports that the PBOC is pledging to keep monetary policy supportive," Foley pointed out, referring to Governor Yi Gang's latest comment.
She said, "this suggests a potentially more optimistic outlook for the Chinese economy, which is good news generally for commodity exporters such as Australia and all of China's trading partners."
Even though the move is the right step in the right direction, Joerg Wuttke, head of the European Chamber of Commerce in China, said, "the country cannot open its borders completely due to relatively low vaccination rates ... This, in conjunction with a slow introduction of mRNA vaccines, means that China may have to maintain a restricted immigration policy beyond the summer of 2023."
Alvin Tan, head of Asia currency strategy in Singapore for RBC Markets, also said shortening quarantine time for inbound visitors shouldn't be a gamechanger, and "there's nothing to say that it won't be raised tomorrow."