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Barron's China Officials Meet for Annual Confab. The Economy Tops the Agenda.

With consumer and business confidence still flagging in China, investors are looking to this week’s annual economic and political confabs for signs policymakers may rethink their stimulus approach.Analysts caution the meetings may not do much to improve sentiment. They could even feed the recent pessimism that has left the iShares MSCI China exchange-traded fund down 15% over the past year.

The concurrent meetings of the country’s top advisory board and the National Party Congress—known as the “two-sessions”—start Monday and run about a week. Officials will highlight Beijing’s key priorities, the year’s GDP target and fiscal deficit target. Just as U.S. Federal Reserve minutes are parsed for any changes in emphasis, investors will pour over comments coming out of these meetings, including Premier Li Qiang’s first government work report.

The meetings come at a critical time for Beijing. Confidence has suffered as the property sector enters its fourth year of contraction and investors are disappointed by the incremental approach authorities are taking to stimulus.Analysts caution investors to keep the bar low.

Leland Miller, chief executive of independent research firm China Beige Book, pushed back against persistent expectations the market is just “a political gathering away from a sudden, meaningful pivot.”

“The Party has told us over and over that their goals are to manage the property sector slowdown and contain reckless credit expansion, while doing just enough to avoid a doom loop of confidence in markets and the broader economy,” Miller said.

TS Lombard Head of Research Rory Green is in a similar camp and expects a deficit target of 3.2% and growth target of around 5%, similar to last year’s growth of 5.2%.

“Anything below or significantly higher than my forecasts would be market moving. But downside surprises are more likely,” he said, noting investor expectations the confidence spiral will push Beijing to do more.

Green expects more stimulus, including vouchers, to encourage consumption of appliances and electric vehicles, as well as increased spending into strategic areas such as clean energy, semiconductors, and affordable housing. 

The risk from that approach is the economy could feel worse on the ground. The stimulus could add to recent signs of overcapacity, translating into weak pricing pressure, revenue, and profit growth.

That could make deflationary pressures stick around, doing little to encourage investors to go out and spend, said Michael Hirson, 22V Research’s head of China research.