Why the Price of Tea in China Matters

Furgeson Wellman by Brad Houle, CFA Executive Vice President

One of the risk factors we highlight in our 2014 Capital Market Outlook is China's growth, which is slowing more than expected.  This week China's Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) was released.  A Purchasing Managers Index is an indicator of economic health.  PMI data is collected from various industries all over the world. PMI data is collected by analyzing five major indicators: new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and the employment environment.1 The point of PMI is to indicate if an economy is accelerating or decelerating.  A number above 50 suggests improvement and a number below 50 suggests deceleration.  The latest PMI for China was 49.6 down .9 from the three month average of 50.3.  This is the fourth month in a row the Chinese PMI has declined.

Even with a decelerating economy China is expected to have Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth between 6-7 percent.  China has been able to engineer a soft landing, managing GDP growth from 11 percent to the 6-7 percent level.  A soft landing is an expression for a decelerating economy that slows down without going into recession.  However, Chinese economic data is looked upon with some skepticism by market participants. Chinese GDP is reported in a way that is not consistent with how GDP data is reported in all the world's developed economies.  There is very little transparency in the numbers not to mention an unusual stability that might suggest certain components of the data are not completely factual.  In China there is a large underground cash economy that would be difficult to measure.

The China PMI news put a downdraft in the U.S. markets and caused some minor selling in other developed markets.  Other emerging markets also had a difficult week.  Argentina's peso declined the most in 12 years due to the cumulative effect of years of the Kirchner government’s economic mismanagement. Argentina has been challenged with uncontrolled inflation and a currency black market that has undermined the government’s efforts to regulate capital flows.  In addition, Turkey has been struggling with a political crisis that has undermined confidence and led to a large drop in the Turkish lira.

Earnings season is underway and according to FactSet Research, of the 53 companies of the S&P 500 that have reported fourth quarter 2013 earnings, 57 percent have reported earnings above the mean estimate.  The blended growth rate has been 5.9 percent with financials having the best growth rate and the energy sector having the lowest growth rate.

Our Takeaways for the Week:

  • The strength of the Chinese economy is top of mind for investors and will continue to be impactful to developed and emerging markets

1Source: Investopedia