August 21, 2009 / 2:20 PM / 8 years ago

Bull in a China shop

LONDON (Reuters) - Investors have one overarching fixation as they head into next week -- is China's volatile stock market going to trigger a global correction that will eat up many of the stock gains made since March?

They will also be keen to get the latest consumer confidence news from the U.S. economy, along with related data on house prices.

Japan, too, is likely to come into view as its general election approaches.

But it is easy to see how much of the focus next week could be on Shanghai. The bourse's Composite Index .SSEC lost more than 20 percent in 11 trading days to Wednesday. That -- at least by tradition -- takes it into a bear market.

Fund trackers EPFR Global calculates that jitters about China during the latter part of that period pushed net outflows from Asia ex-Japan and global emerging markets to 24-week and year-to-date highs, respectively.

The fear among investors is that a further fall could be contagious and nudge other risk assets into a correction after so many weeks of gains.

Concern may be overblown, however. For one thing, the Shanghai index bounced back more than 6 percent in the last two sessions of the week, underlining just how volatile it is.

Then there is the issue of low August volumes exaggerating moves.

China's economy is also in relatively good shape, especially when compared with developed ones. Factory output and capital spending are both rising and the authorities continue to hold to a cherished eight percent GDP growth target.

Jeremy Beckwith, chief investment officer at wealth managers Kleinwort Benson, reckons the fall on the Shanghai bourse has more to do with the freewheeling style of domestic Chinese investors than on anything fundamental.

"It hasn't led to too much weakness in the Western markets," he said.

He is backed up by the numbers. The U.S. S&P 500 .SPX and pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 .FTEU3 each lost less than 1 percent during the period of Shanghai's tumble.

Whether this remains the case will probably hinge on continued support for growth in China and for improvement in the United States and Europe.

"The risk is that the Chinese think that they have got things back where they want to be ... and tighten up (rates) a bit," Beckwith said.

The link between Chinese economic growth and Shanghai stocks, meanwhile, has been tightening over the past three years, with the bourse as something of a leading indicator.

CONSUMER WATCH

The reason China is so important to global investors is that its economy has become one of the main drivers of world growth. Hurt less by the global recession than others, many are banking on it pulling the world out of trouble.

The other big driver, of course, is the battered U.S. economy, so investors remain on the look out for any signs that it is poised to follow the likes of Germany, France and Japan out of formal recession.

Consumer sentiment -- how prepared Americans are to spend -- is a key to that and next week will provide a number of guideposts.

Personal spending data and the final University of Michigan confidence reading close off the week on Friday, but only after house price data on Tuesday, new home sales on Wednesday and the Conference Board's consumer confidence report on Tuesday.

Many are expected to show some stabilization or improvement.

"Pressure (on U.S. consumers) is fading slowly," Sarasin bank said in its latest outlook, predicting that house prices could be bottoming out and new home sales showing signs of revival.

If the U.S. economy can provide some of the upside surprises that have been seen elsewhere, Chinese stock volatility may cease to be quite as worrying for investors.

(Additional reporting by Jason Subler and Simon Rabinovitch, editing by Mike Peacock)

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