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    2017-01-14 09:51:01 Guangzhou Qizhong Electronic Co.,LTD. Read

    More of the same is likely for this year.

    "The US dollar will remain a strong currency," said Zhuang. "Given its robust labor market and the prospect of new fiscal stimulus measures to be introduced by the incoming government - tax cuts and infrastructure investment - there could be two to three hikes in the (US Federal Reserve) rate, each of 25 basis points."

    Oil: Where is it going?

    There is enough oil out there to keep prices low through 2017, although likely a little above the unusually low prices that marked last year. A new deal reached by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in late 2016 could shore up prices to some degree but plentiful supplies are likely to cap any hikes.

    "Oil prices could be higher in 2017," said the ADB's Zhuang. "A likely range is $50 to $60 per barrel on average."

    The move by OPEC countries to curb production alongside non-OPEC countries at the end of last year could help tighten global markets, said Christopher Haines, head of oil and gas at BMI Research.

    "If effectively implemented, we expect the global oil market to return to balance in (the first quarter of 2017), thereby accelerating the drawdown in global crude stockpiles," said Haines in a note.

    One important shift that is likely to fully catalyze in 2017 is "the adoption of higher fuel standards, with both China and the US moving toward Euro-V equivalent standard," said Haines, referring to European emission requirements.

    The sheer size of the two countries is likely to have a huge impact on fuel efficiency and the consumption of cleaner fuels. BMI expects the US and China together will account for half of all gasoline and 28.5 percent of diesel consumed around the world.

    Belt and Road picks up pace

    President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative is set to pick up further steam in 2017 as more projects are launched.

    The aim of the Belt and Road is to drive trade among the more than 60 participating countries and further afield by developing an overland and a maritime Silk Road.

    The Belt and Road got a boost at the beginning of 2016 when the China-led Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank (AIIB) kicked off operations. At a time when countries are considering more trade barriers, the Belt and Road could give global markets a much needed lift.

    "I am very encouraged by China's Belt and Road Initiative and am looking forward to supporting placing Latin America in its goals for increased trans-Pacific interaction and development," said Artaza from Banco Security.

    Latin America is at the far end of the potential scope of this massive initiative but it is hardly the only region or economy looking to benefit. For countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as well as South and West Asia, the Belt and Road could drive huge investments in infrastructure.

    Speaking in December during a China Daily Leadership Roundtable, Stephen Ng, chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, underlined the importance of the initiative.

    "Belt and Road is an ambitious initiative and promises to present a new frontier for growth at a time when growth is sadly lacking," Ng said.

    Chinese prop up property

    As 2016 came to a close, China's real estate market finally appeared to be slowing down. This is in large part due to tight foreign exchange control measures to curb capital outflows which have been in place since November. With that said, investment is likely to continue and consolidation appears to be on the cards for 2017.

    "Major local Chinese developers continue to increase their pace of acquiring existing development sites and completed buildings from smaller developers and investors, particularly those in tier-one cities," said Rico Chan, real estate partner with Baker & McKenzie.

    "Foreign investors (particularly those with shorter investment horizons) seem to be quite concerned about the RMB currency depreciation trend," Chan added.

    Foreign investors also seem to focus on profits in the near term, Chan said, "even though they are not unnecessarily gloomy about the longer-term business prospects for their projects and investments in China".

    The way Ngai from McKinsey sees it, "the real estate industry remains a very important part of the economy in China and its steady economic contribution is critical for the soft landing of the Chinese economy".

    Chinese investors are also propping up real estate prices around the world by, in O'Brien's words, "paying for condos from Luanda (in Angola) to Burbank (in California)". As long as this buying spree continues, a crash is unlikely.

    Brand China extends reach

    The ongoing global expansion that Chinese corporations have undertaken for almost two decades is likely to continue in 2017, even as China continues a grand national branding exercise.

    The year ahead should be an interesting one. China-led initiatives like the Belt and Road and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, with its $100 billion chest, are set to raise the profile of the country's global brand.

    At the same time, China's growing stable of global corporations is becoming increasingly visible overseas. Lenovo, Haier, Huawei and China Mobile are well established brands.

    Others are just as established but less well known, such as Dalian Wanda, which is making large inroads in global real estate and entertainment markets, medical device maker Mindray and vaccine maker Sinovac.

    "At a geopolitical level, everybody likes highways and high-speed railways in their stockings at Christmas time," said O'Brien.

    He noted, that at an enterprise level, Japan's Docomo and SoftBank are testing their 5G networks with Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE, not Japan's NEC or Fujitsu.

    "If the most insular telecoms market on the planet accepts Huawei's playbook, Brand China can drop the mic."

    The growth of Brand China is not only likely to continue through 2017 but expand.

    "Made in China accelerates to Owned by China as the rest of the world continues to wrestle with how to think about having Chinese owners," said Ngai of McKinsey.

    End of free trade?

    With more inward-looking governments, growing support for protectionist policies and more trade barriers, uncertainty around the benefits of free trade has increased, said Zhuang of the ADB. The impact of this uncertainty could be a theme through 2017.

    "The world needs free and open trade as well as the movement of people to bring about more opportunities and prosperity," said Artaza of Banco Security. "It is ironic that we are willing to make dozens of new friends a week through social media but are afraid at times to have their products at our table, even if these are cheaper and of a better quality."

    And yet, the distrust of free trade may continue to expand in countries like the US and the UK and some emerging markets that are unsure of their competitive ability.

    "It was always thus," said O'Brien. "Non-tariff barriers have been a fixture of technology exports for decades - and all the bilateral agreements in the world haven't dampened them."

    uav

    (China Daily USA 01/13/2017 page4)

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