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This week’s market watch list: China, Australia data

After two weeks of holiday-shortened trade, markets in Asia resume regular trading this week, with attention likely to remain on fluctuating oil prices and a raft of regional economic data.

China: Inflation eyed

On Friday, the mainland is scheduled to put out its key inflation gauge for December.

Moody's Analytics expects the consumer price index (CPI) to rise 1.6 percent from the year-ago period, a tick higher from November's 1.4 percent rise – which was a five-year low.

Weakening inflation numbers, along with a string of soft data, have fanned concerns about a deeper-than-expected slowdown in the Asian economic giant. A rebound in December's inflation rate, however, would not indicate that things are looking up.

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"CPI will accelerate year‐on‐year because of a weak result last December," analysts from Moody's Analytics wrote in a note. "Low commodity prices due partly to weak domestic demand, have put downward pressure on consumer prices. China will remain beset by disinflation pressures."

Meanwhile, the wholesale sector is seen entrenched in a deflationary spiral. The producer price index (PPI) will likely fall 2.8 percent on-year in December, worse than the 2.7 percent decrease in the preceding month and chalking up a drop for the 34th consecutive month.

Annual import and export figures for the same month will also be announced on Friday.

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Australia: Are consumers ready to spend?

Australia will release retail sales for November on Friday; the monthly indicator could rise 0.3 percent from the month before, Goldman Sachs said in a note. The estimated reading is a touch lower than October's 0.4 percent rise and far below September's upwardly revised 1.3 percent increase.

"We expect modest gains in the lead-up to Christmas but remain wary that key surveys will still highlight poor levels of consumer sentiment," analysts wrote.

Also in focus is the weekly Roy Morgan consumer sentiment for December, due on Tuesday, which will "be a barometer for how retail has performed over the Christmas period," added Goldman Sachs.

Among other data, trade and building approvals for November, along with the Australian Industry Group's (AIG) performance of manufacturing survey (PMI) for December, will be closely watched.

Keeping an eye on oil

While the previous week saw sharp bouts of short-covering rallies, experts remain bearish on the outlook for oil in the year ahead. On Friday, Brent crude was down 91 cents at $56.42 a barrel while front-month U.S. crude for February delivery settled down 58 cents a barrel at $52.69.

The ongoing six-month slide in energy prices has led Iran's deputy foreign minister to urge Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest crude exporter, to take action. In an interview with Reuters last Thursday, the Iranian minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said Saudi Arabia's inaction is a "strategic mistake."

"If Saudi Arabia decides to change a bit of its rhetoric then prices will rebound. But at the moment, we can look forward to prices continuing to be soft," Jonathan Barratt, chief investment officer at Ayers Alliance Securities, told CNBC Asia's "Squawk Box" last week.

While a U.S.-led global recovery can support energy prices, the rebound will be gradual, said Jack Bouroudjian, CIO at Index Financial Partners.

"If a growth story reignites, we will some upside pressure in oil but remember, it will be fighting against a big glut of supply. While we may see a bounce back in prices, it will be gradual," Bouroudjian said.

Meanwhile in the U.S., minutes from the Fed's previous policy meeting, together with non-manufacturing PMI, nonfarm payrolls and unemployment rate for the last month of 2014, will provide clues to the timing of the Fed's first interest rate hike.