March Winds of Hope About China Blow Through Markets

Written by: Susannah Streeter | Hargreaves Lansdown

  • China’s growth snaps back in February providing more cheer on markets 
  • Hong Kong’s Hang Seng jumps 4% and FTSE 100 expected to open higher  
  • Brent crude rises above $83 on expectations of higher demand 
  • Wall Street futures indicate lower open after a feeble February 
  • UK housing market in focus as Nationwide data shows price falls continue 

March winds of hope are blowing through markets that China’s reopening will offset weakness in other countries which are beset with stubborn inflation and a worsening cost of living crisis. 

The vast Chinese economy is snapping back from the pain of the pandemic with the latest reading of the closely watched survey on factory activity showing better-than-expected growth in February. The Caixin General Manufacturing PMI rose to 51.6, exceeding forecasts of 50.2, up from 49.2 in January. A level above 50 indicates expansion and this is the best result since May 2021 before the onerous effects of the rolling lockdowns took effect, and the first jump in activity since July, with new orders, increased staff levels and higher output all showing up.  
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng roared higher, on a wave of positivity with the outlook for the year ahead particularly well received, given that optimism has increased to a two-year high.  The Covid crisis is receding rapidly in the rear-view mirror and demand for raw materials to keep factory lines rolling is expected to be brisk. Brent Crude has ticked up on the news heading towards $84 a barrel, amid expectations that industry hunger for energy in China will mount.  

Sterling has given up a chunk of yesterday’s gains, which were prompted by fresh expectations that the Bank of England will have to keep raising rates and possibly keep them elevated for longer. Supply concerns also persist with Russia reducing oil exports further. But worries about the slowdown of the US is keeping a ceiling on the price for now, with concerns lingering about the lagging impact of rate rises on the world’s largest economy. Over the month benchmark has fallen by around 3%, highlighting the extent to which worries about a global slowdown are still front and centre despite a more positive picture emerging in terms of economic growth in China. 

After a feeble February, Wall Street looks set to start the new month on another downbeat note, with futures edging lower, as investors await the latest US PMI manufacturing and construction data. Th initial reading for February had continued to showed declines. There will be a close eye trained on any clues as to whether, in the final readings, the level of business activity proved more resilient and any change to the upside could add fresh worry about inflation proving far too sticky. 

The UK housing market is back in sharp focus today with Nationwide’s house price index showing falls for the sixth consecutive month. Buyers are bossing it in the market right now. They know they have the upper hand, given overall interest is so weak so they are clearly bullish about getting reductions from sellers. There are some hopes that the lower deals now on the market, compared to awful Autumn’s mortgage mayhem may see increased demand going forward, but it’s still far too early to just how far prices will fall.

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