On December 25 the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) hiked both the key 12-month lending rate (from 5.56% to 5.81%) and the 12-month deposit rate (from 2.50% to 2.75%). This marked the latest effort in the Chinese government’s year-long campaign to ward off inflation by cooling its overheated economy. Although these steps were widely anticipated, the Shanghai stock market immediately retreated and triggered selling in many other emerging-country stock markets.
The related issues of strong economic growth, rising inflation, restrictive initiatives implemented by policy makers, and a disappointing stock market have been building for a year and are not limited to China. A similar set of conditions has plagued the leading emerging countries of India and Brazil. At the beginning of the year, consensus 2010 GDP growth projections were 8.6% in China, 6.3% in India, and 3.8% in Brazil; economists currently estimate 2010 growth of 10.2% in China, 8.8% in India, and 5.5% in Brazil (The Economist, 1/2/10 and 12/18/10). Along the way, inflation and fears of asset bubbles have spread: inflation in China is currently running at an annual rate of 5.1%, in India at 9.8%, and in Brazil at 5.6%. In all three countries the governments and central banks have reversed the economic stimulus initiatives of 2008-09 and are now applying the brakes.
In a May 12 blog on International Stock Markets: Searching for Goldilocks, we highlighted the negative impact that these restrictive policies in China, India, and Brazil were having on their previously sizzling stock markets. Since May, the inflation threat has grown and clouds have continued to hang over these markets: The Shanghai Composite (CSEX) is down -15.1% for the year to date, the Brazilian Bovespa (BSPI) is off -0.1%, although the India BSE 100 Index has mustered a respectable 12.9% gain. For the same period, the S&P 500 Index has rallied 12.7% despite unimpressive GDP growth of about 2.8%.
At this point the consensus view, which we share, is that in early 2011 the policy makers in each of these 3 countries will escalate their war on inflation with additional measures, and the consequence could well be stalled or disappointing markets. There will be many investors who fear that the steps taken by the policy makers will be too little and too late, and the result will be destabilizing inflation and asset bubbles. Many other investors will be convinced that the policy makers will go too far and cripple economic growth. To the contrary, our view is that the policy makers will be able to pilot a soft landing, i.e. to cool their economies to healthy and sustainable growth with reduced inflation. We note that most economists predict modest slowdowns in 2011 sufficient to arrest inflation fears: the latest poll taken by The Economist forecasts slowing 2011 GDP growth to 8.9% in China, 8.6% in India, and 5.1% in Brazil. If our view is correct, then we expect a buying opportunity lies ahead for the stock markets of these leading emerging countries and the multinational companies that supply the rising demand of their mushrooming middle classes.