Major stock markets across the Asia-Pacific were all drifting with a narrow 1 percent range Friday, a day ahead of China releasing key data sets. The world’s second-largest economy will announce two important indicators — retail sales and industrial production — Saturday. Another event that would be keenly watched by analysts is a press conference, also on Saturday, by senior officials of China’s central bank.
Retail sales data, an indicator of domestic consumption, tend to be muted in China but as the government is shifting its economic focus from exports to consumer spending, it is becoming an important data set for the country.
The figure, to be released at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, local time, (12:30 a.m. EST), will combine January and February data to account for the spike caused by the weeklong Lunar New Year holiday in early February.
According to Bloomberg estimates, based on a survey of economists, retail sales are likely to improve by 10.9 percent from a year earlier, while a Wall Street Journal consensus estimate was 10.8 percent. The official figure for December, released in January, stood at 11.1 percent.
Industrial production is seen as a leading indicator of economic health, since production is an important driver for an economy and also reacts quickly to changes in business cycles, making it a useful reference for estimating short-term trends and adjusting policies.
The January-February combined figure of year-on-year growth is expected to be 5.7 percent, according to consensus estimates by the Journal, while the Bloomberg consensus number was a notch lower at 5.6 percent.
If official data for industrial production — to be released along with the retail sales data — matched estimates, it would mark the weakest start to the year since 2009. In December, industrial production grew by 5.9 percent.
Top officials from the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) — including its Governor Zhou Xiaochuan and his deputies Yi Gang, Fan Yifei and Pan Gongsheng — will hold a press conference earlier on Saturday, at 10:00 a.m., local time, (9:00 p.m. EST, Friday). Zhou’s comments will be closely watched for indications on the direction in which the Chinese economy is headed.
PBOC raised its daily reference rate for the yuan by 0.34 percent Friday, the highest increase in four months. The reference rate for the yuan-dollar exchange was fixed at 6.4905 by the central bank. In morning trade, the Chinese currency rose to 6.4866 in onshore forex markets, its highest level in 2016.
The Chinese economy remains a cause of worry for investors, despite varying degrees of stability seen in recent weeks in its economy, currency and stock markets, all of which exhibited volatility over the last few months. Still among the world’s fastest growing major economies, China’s 6.9 percent growth in 2015 was its slowest in 25 years, and growth in Asia’s largest economy is expected to slow further to 6.5 percent this year.