With China’s economy slowing, many market and economic experts believe that the United States has more leverage to negotiate favorable terms to end the trade war.
They may be wrong about that.
Chinese consumers continue to spend, despite concerns about tariffs imposed on the country by the Trump Administration. Chinese companies are reporting robust earnings. Alibaba (BABA) and its top online retail rival JD.com (JD) both had record sales on Singles Day, a Chinese shopping holiday for young people. Luckin Coffee (LK), a rapidly growing rival to Starbucks (SBUX) in China, recently reported strong earnings as well.
Other Chinese e-commerce firms, such as online travel leader Trip.com (TCOM) (formerly known as Ctrip) and Pinduoduo (PDD), which offers discounts to people who buy goods online as a group, are thriving.
Trade war worries don’t seem to bother investors, either. Alibaba’s stock is up 35% so far in 2019 — more than twice the 16% gain for Amazon shares. JD stock has soared nearly 60% while Pinduodudo’s is up 85%.
“The Chinese consumer is holding up. The numbers are staggering,” said Aaron Clark, a portfolio manager at GW&K Investment Management.
The fact that Chinese consumers keep spending seems to be an expression of confidence in the overall health of that nation’s economy. More tariffs and any escalation of the trade war would surely put more pressure on China’s manufacturing sector, but that hasn’t kept its growing middle class from buying ever more gadgets and other consumer products.
No pressure on Xi to blink as long as consumers do their part
“This data suggests that, while the Chinese economy remains under pressure, it may easily tolerate the situation and may not be forced into any concessions that it is not fully comfortable with,” said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist with Invesco, in a report last week.
Erik Zipf, who heads emerging market equities at DuPont Capital, said in an interview with CNN Business that he shares that view.
“I wouldn’t consider China to be in a fragile state, but there is a good slowdown on the industrial side,” he said.
Still, the Chinese consumer, particularly those in big cites like Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen, is doing well, Zipf said, which suggests many Chinese consumer companies should continue to post solid growth.
The solid numbers from Chinese retailers show that China’s economy is not “falling off a cliff like I read in the media every day,” noted Brendan Ahern, chief investment officer at KraneShares, an investment firm that runs several China-focused ETFs, in a report last week.
He said that big US brands like Apple (AAPL) and Nike (NKE) are still doing well in China, proving that Chinese consumers have not lost their appetite for American products, despite the often heated rhetoric between the two countries.
“2019 Singles Day was clearly a major success,” Ahern said in the report.
Clark, the GW&K portfolio manager, says that as long as Chinese consumers keep spending, Chinese President Xi Jinping may hold out as long as possible for the best trade deal he can get with the United States — even if that means sitting tight until after the 2020 presidential election, when he might be dealing with a new Democratic president or an emboldened President Trump.
“China is not just a manufacturing hub anymore,” Clark told CNN Business. “They have strong consumers and are starting to look more like the US economy. Xi can wait things out and take their chances because the Chinese economy is not cratering.”