China Slowdown Could Be a Blessing in Disguise

10/18/2011 3:35 pm EST

Focus: GLOBAL

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

Asia stock markets weren’t amused, but if you’re waiting for evidence that the People’s Bank of China is about to stop raising interest rates—and maybe even start cutting them—then the third-quarter drop in China’s economic growth rate to 9.1% is good news.

A slower growth rate brings the central bank closer to saying it’s done with increasing interest rates to slow the economy and lower inflation. That announcement, in my opinion, would set off big rallies in Hong Kong and Shanghai. (The People’s Bank has raised its benchmark interest rate five times in the last 12 months.)

That’s the future. For today, investors are worried about slower growth becoming too-slow growth. Economists had projected a drop to 9.3% for the quarter, from 9.5% in the second quarter and 9.7% in the first quarter.

The below-forecast 9.1% growth rate rattled Asian markets today. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index closed down 4.2%. The Shanghai Composite closed down 2.3%.

There’s nothing in the underlying numbers, though, to suggest it’s time to worry about China’s economy coming in for a hard landing.

Retail sales for September grew at a 17.7% annual rate, above the 17% growth rate for August and above economists' expectations for 17.1% growth. Industrial production increased at a 13.8% annual rate. Again, that was above the 13.4% growth rate in August, and above projections for 13.4% growth.

I think an actual reversal of central-bank policy will have to wait for the official inflation rate to come down further from September’s 6.1%. (That’s down from what looks like a peak of 6.5% in July.) But some economists are now projecting that inflation will take a big step down in the last months of the year. Deutsche Bank, for example, is projecting that inflation will drop to a 4% annual rate by December.

Full disclosure: I don’t own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this post in my personal portfolio. The mutual fund I manage, Jubak Global Equity Fund, may or may not now own positions in any stock mentioned in this post. The fund did not own shares of any stock mentioned in this post as of the end of June. For a full list of the stocks in the fund at the end of June, see the fund’s portfolio here.

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