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China shares rose as official data showed economic growth topped 8% last year

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SINGAPORE — Chinese shares rose Monday in a mixed trading session across the Asia-Pacific as official data showed the world’s second largest economy grew faster than expected between October and December.

The Shanghai composite added 0.32% while the Shenzhen component gained 0.89%.

Numbers from China’s National Bureau of Statistics showed the Chinese economy grew by 8.1% in 2021, slightly below the market’s expectation for around 8.4% growth for the year. In the fourth quarter, China’s GDP rose 4% from a year ago, topping a Reuters poll that predicted a 3.6% increase.

Industrial production also rose and beat expectations, but retail sales had a more muted growth.

China requires more policy support

Economists were expecting Monday’s data dump to underline a slowdown in growth, in part due to factors like China’s strict measures to contain the omicron Covid variant as well as problems in its property sector and sluggish consumption.

“Retail sales was a big miss,” Johanna Chua, head of Asia economics and strategy at Citi Global Markets Asia, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Monday. “This is one area where I think it really requires a little bit more policy support.”

China’s central bank also cut the borrowing costs of its medium-term loans for the first time since April 2020, Reuters reported. The People’s Bank of China said it was lowering the interest rate on 700 billion yuan ($110.19 billion) worth of one-year medium-term lending facility loans to some financial institutions by 10 basis points to 2.85%, the news agency reported.

Citi’s Chua said while the timing of the reduction was in line with the investment bank’s expectations, it was still a larger than expected cut. “Which really suggests that, I think, policymakers now are much more concerned about growth, and we should see concerted action going forward,” she added.

Chua also said she does not expect to see China abandon its zero-Covid policy anytime soon.

Last week, U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs slashed its 2022 forecast for China economic growth from 4.8% to 4.3%.

Rest of APAC mixed

The rest of Asia-Pacific markets traded mixed.

The Nikkei 225 in Japan rose 0.69% while the Topix index added 0.42%.

Australian shares also eked out gains as the ASX 200 was up 0.12%. The heavily-weighted financials subindex gained 0.32% and the energy sector was up 1.08%.

South Korean shares, however, faltered as the Kospi slipped 1.13% and the Kosdaq was down 0.95%. Hong Kong shares also struggled for gains as the Hang Seng index fell 0.72%.

The session in Asia follows a mixed finish in the U.S. last Friday, where Wall Street notched a second straight negative week to start the year.

“Markets reacted defensively to disappointing US economic data for December as retail sales fell sharply and manufacturing production declined, hit by a triple whammy of high inflation, ongoing supply shortages and Omicron,” ANZ Research analysts wrote in a Monday morning note.

“We expect the Fed will have to revise up its inflation forecasts and interest rate guidance for coming months at next week’s meeting,” they added.

U.S. markets are closed Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Currencies and oil

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar traded 0.07% higher at 95.234 against a basket of its peers, after last week climbing from levels near 94.87.

The dollar could “remain heavy this week and head down towards 94.11,” said analysts from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in a Monday note.

They noted that there are no policy-relevant economic data releases this week or any scheduled speeches from Fed officials that could influence the market pricing for the U.S. central bank’s rate hikes.

We expect interest rate markets to continue to favour a March lift-off to the Funds rate,” the CBA analysts said, adding, “At the same time, the view that omicron is unlikely to derail the global economic recovery is a weight on the counter-cyclical USD.”

Elsewhere, the Japanese yen changed hands at 114.41, strengthening from levels near 115.5 in the previous week. The Australian dollar traded near flat at $0.7207.

Oil prices advanced on Monday during Asian trading hours, but cut back on some of the earlier gains. U.S. crude added 0.49% to $84.23 a barrel while global benchmark Brent rose 0.16% to $86.20.

ANZ analysts said the release of economic data in China are set to affect commodity markets early in the week, but geopolitical tensions “and subsequent supply concerns will remain an important driver of sentiment.”

CNBC’s Evelyn Cheng contributed to this report.

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