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China GDP to be in focus when National Congress convenes

While the GDP forecasts in China’s new five-year plan will need to be taken with a pinch of salt, they will be important nonetheless.


China’s National People’s Congress opens in Beijing on Saturday and all eyes will be on the economic growth figures that are announced during the 10-day annual meeting of the largely ceremonial Chinese parliament that will be attended by around 3,000 people.

While the GDP forecasts in China’s new five-year plan will need to be taken with a pinch of salt, they will be important nonetheless as a slowing of the Chinese economy remains a key focus of global financial markets.

“Among the headline announcements are likely to be GDP growth targets for this year and beyond that are unrealistically high and will do nothing for policymaking credibility,” write Mark Williams and Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics.

“More positively, the Ministry of Finance is likely to reveal a looser fiscal stance in the Budget while the new five-year plan should include details of infrastructure investment plans – reminders in both cases that the government has not yet run out of options to support the economy,” they add.

The Congress comes at a difficult time for China. The unofficial Caixin purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for China’s services sector fell to 51.2 in February from January’s 52.4. Its release followed the official services PMI, released earlier in the week, which also indicated slower expansion. The PMI fell to 52.7 in February, from 53.5 a month earlier.
A reading above 50 indicates expansion while a reading below suggests a contraction in activity.

Also, the Moody’s credit-rating agency has lowered its outlook for China’s sovereign-credit rating to negative from stable although it retained China’s Aa3 rating.

“No matter how successful China’s policy makers are at rebalancing growth, the ride will prove bumpy and fresh bouts of volatility are inevitable,” write the rates strategists at Rabobank. “Such challenges will only increase in light of diminishing foreign exchange reserves, heavy handed financial market intervention and increased capital controls in response to sustained outflows that will further damage the credibility of the authorities’ commitment to liberalising the capital account,” they add.

Against this background, “China will be a key focus and many will be preparing for this weekend’s National People’s Congress,” writes Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG. “Traders, economists and investors will be primarily focused on the GDP target for 2016, where all the talk has been that they will set a 6.5% to 7% growth target,” he adds. The previous growth target for 2016 was “about 7%” and as the chart below shows China’s official targets have been missed for the last two years.