Morgan Stanley upgrades China stocks as global investors cheer on COVID reopening hopes
Global traders are increasingly feeling more bullish on China, as they bet the country will gradually unwind COVID restrictions following widespread protests.
Multiple cities across China loosened COVID-19 restrictions over the weekend. Starting Monday, Shanghai residents will no longer require a negative COVID test result to enter outdoor venues including parks and scenic attractions.
Investment bank Morgan Stanley has upgraded its view of the future performance of Chinese equities for the first time in nearly two years.
"Multiple positive developments alongside a clear path set towards reopening warrant an upgrade and index target increases for China," its analysts said in a research note on Monday. They raised China equities to "overweight" from "equal-weight," a position they had held since January 2021.
"We are at the beginning of a multi-quarter recovery in earnings revisions and valuations," they said.
The bank recommended that investors increase their investment allocations to offshore Chinese equities. MSCI China, an index tracking major Chinese stocks available to global investors, will hit the 70 level by the end of 2023, according to Morgan Stanley. That would be a 14% increase from its current level.
It also raised its target for Hong Kong's benchmark Hang Seng Index to 21,200 by the end of next year. That's up 10% from its current level.
The offshore yuan, a key gauge of how international investors think about China, strengthened sharply against the U.S. dollar on Monday. It rose more than 1% to trade at 6.947 per dollar, breaking through the important level of 7 per dollar for the first time in more than two months.
In the domestic market, the yuan, also known as the renminbi, surged even more, last trading 1.4% higher at 6.957 per dollar.
The Hang Seng climbed more than 4% on Monday, after logging a 27% gain in November, its best monthly performance since 1998. Mainland China's benchmark Shanghai Composite was up 1.7%, following a 9% gain last month.
In addition to Shanghai, the nearby city of Hangzhou no longer requires people to scan QR codes or provide COVID test results when taking public transportation and entering public venues, except in some venues designated as high-risk, such as seniors homes and kindergartens.
The major cities of Beijing, Tianjin, Shenzhen, Wuhan, and Zhengzhou have also scrapped the need for a negative test to ride public transport. In the southwestern city of Chongqing, the government has asked citizens not to test for COVID "unless necessary."
Many restrictions remain in place, however. In Beijing, public venues such as malls and office buildings still require COVID test results, even as the abrupt removal of testing kiosks in the capital, and other cities, has caused long lines at remaining testing locations.
Goldman Sachs, which had a baseline scenario for China to start to reopen in April, said on Monday that the probability of an earlier exit had increased.
China's consumer stocks also advanced on Monday. Major hot pot restaurants Haidilao and Xiabuxiabu were up 6% and 7% respectively. Bubble tea chain Nayuki Holdings rallied by 8%.
In commodities markets, oil prices rose further after scoring their first weekly gain in four weeks last week. U.S. crude and Brent crude were both up 0.7% in Asian trade.
Copper and iron ore prices had settled higher last week. The gains were buoyed by hopes that the easing of restrictions and recently announced property support measures will boost demand from the world's top commodities buyer, according to ANZ analysts.
However, analysts also warned that China may still be a long way from ending its zero-COVID policy completely.
"We caution that the road to reopening may be gradual, painful and bumpy," said Nomura analysts. "A massive wave of COVID infections in the next few months may disrupt production and supply chains to some extent."
On Monday, a private business survey showed that China's services sector contracted for a third straight month. The Caixin/ S&P Global services PMI, a closely-watched business survey, slid to 46.7 in November from 48.4 in October, marking its lowest level in six months.
On the same day, Jefferies analysts said the Chinese economy had lost further momentum, with a number of indicators deteriorating.
"As we said before, the economy is so poor, 'they will need to throw everything at the economy now,'" they said.
The prospect of reopening though, according to economists, should be enough to lift growth hopes.
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