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$A holds nerve on strong China data

This week’s resumption of business in China has so far been kind to the Australian dollar. Photo: Glenn Hunt The Australian dollar held steady for the second day running on Tuesday, as a surge in iron ore prices and more good news from China continued to prop up the local unit.

In late local trade the Aussie was fetching around US71.50¢, close to where it was at the same time on Monday.

However, it earlier climbed from an intraday low of US71.31¢ to a high of US71.77¢ after the release of better-than-expected monthly credit data from China.

China’s broadest measure of new credit surged to a record 3.42 trillion yuan ($734 billion) in January, according to the People’s Bank of China, compared with economists’ forecast of 2.2 trillion yuan ($472 billion).

New yuan loans surged to 2.51 trillion yuan ($538 billion), also a record and well ahead of the median estimate of 1.9 trillion yuan ($407 billion).

China watchers attributed the surprising surge in new lending to a seasonal credit binge, a recovery in property prices and corporate borrowing to pay back foreign currency loans.

The yuan has strengthened against a weakening dollar in recent days, but there are still concerns about ongoing devaluation among companies with greenback-denominated loans.

The sharp acceleration in credit was “consistent with our view that growth is more likely to pick up than slow over the coming quarters”, said Capital Economics’ China economist Julian Evans-Pritchard.

However, China bears are warning that although it is not headed for a hard landing, the Chinese economy is cooling rapidly, in part because of over-indebtedness and asset bubbles.

“China’s economy is slowing,” Standard Life Investments’ emerging markets economist Alex Wolf said on the sidelines of the Portfolio Construction Forum in Sydney, “and it’s slowing a little more sharply than we see in official statistics.”

“China has over-invested for many years, and now it’s suffering the aftermath – the unwind of that massive build-up in investment, in credit.

“A lot of it went into housing, where there’s now a large amount of oversupply; a lot of it went into manufacturing to build the materials for housing – cement, steel and glass – and it, too, is suffering from oversupply,” he said.

Nonetheless, Chinese shares jumped on Tuesday’s credit data, as did the Australian dollar.

The upbeat news from Beijing followed a 6 per cent leap in iron ore prices overnight, to $US46.26 ($64.76), on the resumption of trading in China after the week-long Lunar New Year break.

January trade figures, released on Monday, showed that despite a sharp drop in both imports and exports for the month, volume imports of iron ore climbed 4.6 per cent year-on-year.

Of less impact on the local unit was Tuesday’s release of the minutes of the Reserve Bank of Australia’s February board meeting, when it opted to hold the cash rate at 2 per cent.

While noting recent global turbulence and persistently low inflation, the minutes focused on the resilience of the Australian economy, with particular reference to the health of the jobs market.

Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said while the RBA reiterated its “soft easing bias”, it was still reluctant to ease monetary policy further.

“Our reading of the minutes … suggest that at the moment the board does not believe that further support will be necessary and it will take some months to determine whether that approach should change,” he said.

“Although we must be mindful of the risks of the feedback to the domestic economy of the current global financial turbulence, we continue to maintain the view that rates will remain on hold in 2016.”

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