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Are markets too optimistic about China?


Just over a year ago, global markets were unsettled by concerns over China’s decelerating growth. Investors focussed on the mounting leverage in the economy. Commodity prices plummeted. Relatively minor (albeit abrupt) changes to the currency basket were viewed as precursors to a devaluation. Many fretted over the declining foreign exchange reserves, and believed that a “hard landing” of the economy was inevitable.

One year later, it appears markets have come to the opposite assessment. Economic growth surprised positively. Commodity prices rallied following some cuts in domestic supply. New prudential regulations, and a tightening of financial conditions, have been instituted to promote deleveraging in the financial system. Foreign exchange reserves increased following a tightening of capital controls. There is little talk of devaluation.

Political surprises and surprising reactions


The past year has been one of multiple surprises. The year started with fears of a sharp deceleration in China, and worries over the implications of rising Fed rates for emerging markets. Some worried that the global economy could slip into recession. Britain was expected to vote to remain in the European Union, and almost all political analysts would have named Donald Trump as the candidate least likely to win the US presidential elections.

None of these expectations proved right.  China’s economy barely decelerated. The Fed did not yet hike interest rates. Britain opted to leave the EU, and Trump is president-elect.  More surprisingly, however, is that markets moved in the opposite direction of what most analysts had expected. Emerging markets have delivered their best performance in years. The UK and US equity markets reacted positively to what was assumed to be a negative outcome.