Bad News for China's Tech Bubble As Exports for March Disappoint

04/13/2015 5:36 pm EST

Focus: GLOBAL

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

The global financial markets’ worries that Wednesday’s GDP numbers will show economic growth in China dropping to 7% or less were compounded by Monday’s negative news on Chinese exports for March, and now MoneyShow’s Jim Jubak thinks another cause for concern is China’s technology sector.

Today’s news on Chinese exports is a very negative set up for Wednesday’s release of data on first quarter GDP. Exports fell 15% in March, according to China’s customs administration, while imports dropped at their fastest rate since the 2009 financial crisis. The country’s monthly trade surplus hit its lowest level in 13 months.

Not good news, certainly, as global financial markets worry that Wednesday’s GDP numbers will show economic growth in China dropping to 7% or maybe even less. That would be the slowest growth since the global recession of 2009. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg are projecting a drop to 7%. Industrial production for March will be released at the same time as GDP. Economists are also looking for a drop in that measure to 7%.

With skepticism about manipulation of GDP data by the Chinese government rampant in the financial markets, other data that provides a check on the official GDP numbers will get an in depth look after Wednesday’s release. The big check here is with electricity output since it’s hard to grow China’s industrial economy without comparable growth in electricity output. For the combined January-February period, electricity output rose just 1.9% from the same months in 2014. (Chinese data typically combines January and February, since, by lumping the two months together, economists avoid statistical problems that would otherwise result from the changing date of the Lunar New Year holiday in China.)

The other number that investors—especially investors in Shanghai and Hong Kong—will be watching closely is the inflation/deflation rate used to calculate the real rate of GDP growth. People’s Bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan warned last month that deflation risks needed watching. And there’s some chance that the inflation rate may turn negative—meaning deflation—for the first time since 2009. Another inflation measure, the consumer price index, rose just 1.4% year over year in March.

Stocks in Shanghai broke above the 4,000 mark on the index on Friday for the first time since early 2008. The huge rally in Shanghai stocks—up 68% in the last six months—has been fed by expectations that the People’s Bank, which has already cut its benchmark interest rate twice since November, will cut rates again and reduce reserve requirements on banks if the economy looks like it’s slowing and if inflation looks like it is dropping further.

From that perspective, then, a slower rate of GDP growth might be seen by speculators in Shanghai as good news, unless, of course, additional interest rate cuts are already priced into the rally in these shares.

Even at 4,000, the Shanghai market is well below the record high of 6,124 set in October 2007. From there, unfortunately, the index plunged to 1,800 in the global financial crisis and the Great Recession. A replay of that Super Bear seems unlikely unless growth in the rest of the world collapses too. But there is little doubt that the Shanghai market isn’t cheap anymore with the index now trading at 15 times projected 2015 earnings. That’s up from a forward PE of 7.5 in the summer of 2014. The biggest bubble, though, is in China’s technology sector where ChiNext, the country’s equivalent to the US NASDAQ market now trades at 49 times forward earnings. That’s frothy enough to make me worry about a huge correction in that market, even if GDP doesn’t plunge and the People’s Bank does cut interest rates again.

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