Asian markets mixed as record China data fails to impress

Hong Kong (AFP) –


Asian markets fluctuated on Friday as record Chinese economic growth figures struggled to add fuel to a Wall Street surge that came on the back of blockbuster reports on US consumer spending and jobless claims.

Officials in Beijing said the world's second-biggest economy expanded a mind-blowing 18.3 percent in the first quarter, while the data was accompanied by data showing a sharper-than-expected increase in retail sales that gave hope the country's vast army of consumers are again dipping into their pockets.

However, while the economic growth figure was the highest since records began three decades ago, it was enhanced by its chronically weak comparison figure from last year and came in slightly below forecasts.

Analysts also pointed out that the quarter-on-quarter growth was below estimates.

"China's growth will trend lower going forward," said OANDA's Edward Moya, though he did say it "will likely prevent policymakers from tightening too quickly".

Asian markets shrugged off the data, with Shanghai slightly higher, along with Tokyo, Singapore, Jakarta and Wellington but Hong Kong, Sydney, Seoul, Taipei and Manila were slightly lower.

The tepid performance at the end of the week came despite a strong lead from Wall Street, where the Dow ended above 34,000 for the first time and the S&P 500 clocked yet another record.

- 'Smooth as silk' -

The rally in New York came on the back of figures showing US jobless claims came in at their lowest level since the pandemic began, while retail sales soared 9.8 percent on-month in March as Americans began spending their $1,400 stimulus handouts, helped by the rollout of vaccines.

Traders were also buoyed by the fact that Treasury bond yields -- a gauge of future interest rates -- fell, soothing worries that the expected strong bounce in economic activity would send inflation rocketing and force the Federal Reserve to raise its record-low borrowing costs.

"US consumers wasted little time stuffing stimulus checks into starving retailer cash registers with stocks surging to cash register rings across the United States as consumers are made willing and able to spend, thanks to the US's speedy vaccine rollout," said Axi strategist Stephen Innes.

"With the Fed keeping the sugar taps open and offering up free tickets for investors to come frolic in the markets like 'kids in the candy store', the transition from policy to growth has been as smooth as silk with a benign reaction in yields suggesting that a growth tantrum is not on the cards anytime soon."

And OANDA's Moya added that the US economy would likely continue to see more healthy readings over the coming months as Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus, his planned $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan and pent-up consumer demand will send it into "overdrive".

- Key figures around 0300 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.1 percent at 29,682.66 (break)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: DOWN 0.1 percent at 28,775.41

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.3 percent at 3,407.91

Dollar/yen: UP at 108.90 yen from 108.72 yen at 2040 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3755 from $1.3784

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1951 from $1.1966

Euro/pound: UP at 86.88 pence from 86.81 pence

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.2 percent at $63.36 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.1 percent at $66.88 per barrel

New York - Dow: UP 0.9 percent at 34,035.99 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.6 percent at 6,983.50 (close)