Asia Leading The Economic Recovery As Western World Still Hunkering Down

Asian manufacturing, led by China and India, is on the upswing as numerous restrictions remain in important U.S. states like California, and the U.K.

Last week’s manufacturing PMI data showed there is a global rebound in activity that continued into September as lockdown restrictions are lifted, primarily in Asia. Manufacturing PMIs have broadly moved higher into expansionary territory globally, and that does include here at home. Improvements in domestic and external demand are the drivers.

Business sentiment in Asia are improving more than they are in any other emerging market, supported by the reopening of India even as the coronavirus case load remains high. Death tolls and hospital rates remain manageable enough to lift restrictions, even as some have argued that India was doing so too soon.

Strong demand for goods from China, either on the export side, or from local demand, is helping with the global recovery story. China will be the only G20 nation to post positive GDP numbers at year’s end, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Continuing improvement in new orders, boosted by pent-up demand, low inventory levels and a recovery in international trade, should help keep that momentum in manufacturing for the rest of the year, says Christian Keller, an economist for Barclays Capital in London.

The health of Asian manufacturing reflects the demand for durable goods, which has been less affected by pandemic-related restrictions and in some cases has even been boosted as the unavailability of certain services redirected consumption towards goods that can be bought just as easily online. However, given the significance of the service sector, a sustained recovery can only happen when restrictions on social distancing orders are lifted.

China recently went through its massive National Day weeklong holiday. Government tourism data shows flights and passenger train traffic was down around 20% from a year ago. However, crowds are returning.

In August, Shanghai Disneyland opened to 50% capacity, up from around 25%.

In the U.S. and parts of Europe, second wave infection numbers could scare consumers, businesses and policy makers. Some are advocating for more lockdowns in the U.K. as case totals surge thanks to testing. In the U.S., cases have risen in pockets of New York City, the epicenter of the viral spread, but overall the city has not been hit by a second wave similar to European urban centers like Madrid.

Meanwhile in China, the pandemic is “well under control,” says Kellers.

Service PMIs have continued to strengthen while European services PMI continues to fall.

In the U.S., service PMIs did manage to improve in September, but the risk is a rollback of easing measures in the months ahead that could derail progress, Barclays warns.

Mainland China and Hong Kong stock markets closed higher in Monday trading in anticipation of positive policy developments. And the S&P 500, as tracked by the SPDR S&P 500 ETF, is up over 1.4% as of mid-day trading on Monday. The FTSE Europe is up 0.3%. Japan is up 0.14%.

Emerging markets, China and the U.S. are the only growth stories markets are paying attention to. The rest are value plays and distressed assets at this point, including overpriced distressed assets if that makes any sense.

According to investment managers at Glenmede, their Reopening Index suggests that 77% of economic activity that was lost due to social-distancing mandates has been regained. There are pockets of the economy that continue to struggle, and an additional round of fiscal stimulus could enable the U.S. economy to glide into 2021. That stimulus plan has been put on hold for now, and may not see the light of day barring a different stance from House leader Nancy Pelosi, or a White House Executive Order.

Glenmede’s Back-to-Spending sub-index is looking good. For example, the low-contact portion, which includes things like retail sales and gasoline purchases is back up to 96%. of pre-pandemic levels. The high-contact businesses, which includes restaurants and air travel is still struggling at 46%.

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