(Bloomberg) -- A four-week rally in Chinese equities is set to culminate in a bull market when trading resumes Monday, as a rebound in consumption galvanizes the shares.
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The CSI 300 Index may extend its 19% rise from an October low when traders return after a week-long Lunar New Year break, with travel and box office data signaling that consumer spending is on the mend. Hotel operators and restaurant chains will benefit, as well as travel firms and entertainment-related names.
A sustained uptrend may dispel any lingering doubt that the worst is over for Chinese equities, after previous rebounds were cut short by surging Covid cases. The rollback of virus curbs and a policy pivot by Beijing have won over Wall Street banks such as Morgan Stanley which expects China's equities to beat global peers in 2023.
The gains are likely to "sustain as the economic recovery will continue throughout 2023 and investor positioning has yet to be replenished after the capitulation sale last fall," said Redmond Wong, strategist at Saxo Capital Markets HK Ltd. The rally in the first half will be underpinned by easing US inflation, a potential pause in Federal Reserve tightening and a better-than-expected European economy, he added.
The CSI 300 Index has climbed almost 20% since the reopening rally began in November, lagging a 57% gain in the Hang Seng China Enterprises Index, which tracks Chinese stocks listed in Hong Kong. The return of overseas buyers has been a key driver for onshore equities, with northbound inflows capping the longest daily streak through Jan. 20 since May 2020.
Mainland shares could get a further boost when Stock Connect flows resume on Monday, according to Marvin Chen, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.
"There may be some catch-up gains," said Chen. "Holiday spending has recovered somewhat and there is maybe some carry over from global market sentiment as the rate hike cycle approaches the end."
The upswing is fueled by optimism that China's outlook is improving after data from December industrial output to retail sales highlighted the economy's resilience. Earlier this month, Vice Premier Liu He said growth will likely rebound to its pre-pandemic trend this year.
Spending patterns during the Lunar New Year break are reinforcing the optimism. Travelers swarmed China's scenic destinations during the holiday, box office sales rose and bookings of hotels, guest houses and tourist spots exceeded the comparable period in 2019.
China Holiday Travel, Box Office Rebound After Covid Zero (1)
In tandem, movie-related stocks such as IMAX China Holding Inc. and Maoyan Entertainment jumped in Hong Kong when trading resumed in the city on Thursday. Sports apparel maker Li Ning Co. and hotpot chain Haidilao International Holding Ltd. also rallied.
Other assets have also climbed, with the offshore yuan on track to rise for a third straight month amid bullish calls from the likes of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Commerzbank AG and HSBC Holdings Plc.
Still, some investors caution that a new wave of virus cases may cloud the outlook.
"We would like to see Covid infections quickly fall in China after what is likely to be an increase in cases caused by Chinese New Year travel, clearing the way for more robust economic growth," said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco Ltd.
But in the near term, demand for Chinese equities may hold up as traders ready for more pro-growth policies to be announced at annual political meetings in March, according to Steven Leung, executive director at UOB Kay Hian (Hong Kong) Ltd.
The MSCI China Index, which includes both onshore and offshore shares, trades at 10.4 times forward price-to-earnings ratio. That's still lower than the historical average of 11.6 times.
"You can argue that the market is a bit expensive now after a sharp rally, but I don't think all the good news has been fully priced in yet, especially on the regulation front," Leung said.
--With assistance from Jeanny Yu and Tania Chen.
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