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Stock Markets: China, the dozing dragon

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General view of the financial district of Lujiazui in Pudong district in Shanghai on April 12, 2023.

Hector Retamal | Afp | Getty Images

This report is from today’s CNBC Daily Open, our new, international markets newsletter. CNBC Daily Open brings investors up to speed on everything they need to know, no matter where they are. Like what you see? You can subscribe here.

What you need to know today

Blinken unexpectedly meets Xi
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken ended his China visit by meeting with Xi Jinping, the country’s president. The meeting was initially unconfirmed, suggesting that it’s a small step in repairing frayed U.S.-China ties. Blinken’s meeting could pave the way for U.S. President Joe Biden to meet Xi in November.

Falling in tandem
U.S. markets were closed Monday to commemorate Juneteenth, the day when slavery in America ended, but stock futures slipped slightly. European stocks traded lower yesterday. In a worrying sign, both stocks and bonds simultaneously fell in the U.K. The FTSE 100 lost 0.71% even as the yield on the country’s 2-year government bond hit a 15-year high of 5.077%.

Buffett bets on the house(s)
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway increased its stake in five Japanese trading houses. The company now owns more than 8.5%, on average, of Itochu, Marubeni, Mitsubishi, Mitsui and Sumitomo. Berkshire really believes in Japan: Those stocks, in aggregate, are the most valuable Berkshire holds in any country outside the U.S.

UK mortgage meltdown
Two-year fixed mortgage rates in the U.K. spiked to 6.01%, the highest since November 2008 — discounting an anomalous jump in December just months after the U.K. government announced its disastrous “mini-budget.” The country’s mortgage market’s so volatile that HSBC temporarily stopped offering some home loans earlier this month.

[PRO] Riding the Asian wave
The MSCI Asia Pacific equities index has risen more than 25% from its low last October amid investor enthusiasm in the region. Morgan Stanley picks five of its favorite Asian stocks and thinks all could rise by at least 50% over the next 12 months — with one having a 67% upside.

The bottom line

Since U.S markets were closed yesterday, let’s take a quick look at the second-largest economy of the world: China. Spoiler alert: it isn’t a pretty picture.

Back in January, when China abruptly abandoned its “zero-Covid” policy, analysts were by equal measures worried and excited. Worried, because a massive economic engine suddenly roaring back to life could stoke the flames of inflation even higher. Analysts braced for higher commodities and oil prices. On the other hand, many saw China as a potential driver of a global economy that had lost its way. To quote Standard Chartered Chairman José Viñals: “The Chinese economy is going to be on fire and that’s going to be very, very important for the rest of the world.”

At approximately the halfway mark of the year, here’s how China’s stacking up against those expectations. In short: It seems everyone’s wrong about China. Instead of turning up the heat of inflation, China’s combating a potential deflationary problem domestically. The country’s consumer price index rose only 0.2% year over year, while its producer price index plummeted 4.6%. Recent economic data’s been so disappointing that Wall Street banks have started to cut their expectations of China’s economic growth this year — though their projections are, optimistically, still higher than the country’s own target of “around 5%.” Meanwhile, oil prices have been sliding despite Saudi Arabia announcing surprise cuts to production, and iron ore prices aren’t doing so hot either because China’s demand for steel is projected to fall.

China’s economy, to put it plainly, isn’t doing so well. It’s true things might turn around: The country’s central bank has started cutting rates, and analysts think fiscal stimulus is on its way. But for now, the Chinese dragon’s still dozy — and things are starting to feel a little too chilly.

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