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A busy week ahead for Asia gets under way with financial markets digesting key economic data over the weekend: An interest rate cut by China's central bank, a second consecutive month of contraction in China's February official purchasing managers' index (PMI) and the unveiling of India's annual 2015/2016 budget.
The People's Bank of China on Saturday cut its benchmark interest rate by 25 basis points to 5.35 percent, and reduced the benchmark saving rate by a similar margin to 2.5 percent. The cuts came into effect on Sunday, according to the statement.
"This combination of policy rate cuts and interest rate liberalization is in line with our expectations, but comes slightly earlier than we thought. The timing leads us to believe that policymakers have deemed the recent data weakness more than merely seasonal," Societe Generale's analysts wrote in a note.
Key highlights this week include a batch of economic numbers, alongside a central bank decision from Australia and an annual meeting of China's parliament – which should shed some insight into Beijing's outlook for the economy in the coming year.
Down under, the spotlight falls on the Reserve Bank of Australia, which is expected to announce another 25-basis-point rate cut on Tuesday. The central bank cut rates to a fresh record low of 2.25 percent last month, as widely expected, spurring a 12-session winning streak in the benchmark S&P ASX 200 index.
"To ensure maximum impact from its February cut in boosting confidence, spending growth and maintaining downward pressure on the Australian dollar, the RBA should, and most likely will, cut rates again, " Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy and chief economist at AMP Capital, write in a note.
A larger-than-expected drop in fourth-quarter business investment last week also fuelled the need for a second rate cut, AMP Capital's Oliver added.
On tap for Wednesday is Australia's fourth-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) data, which will likely show growth rising 2.6 percent, according to a Reuters poll, a tick below the 2.7 percent in the preceding quarter. However, on a quarterly basis, GDP advanced 0.7 percent, better than the 0.3 percent expansion in the July-September period.
"Business investment remains weak as the economy stutters in transitioning from mining to non-mining‐led growth. Other partial indicators of demand will confirm that weak commodity prices are also hurting Australian exports," analysts from Moody's Analytics wrote in a note.
Australia will also release fourth-quarter current account and January's retail sales on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively, at 0830 SIN/HK.
China's National People's Congress – the country's highest organ of state power – meets on Thursday and investors will be watching for comments on economic targets for 2015 and whether authorities will roll out further easing measures.
Barclays expects Beijing to lower its GDP target for the year to 7 percent, along with a reduction in consumer price index (CPI) and M2 – the mainland's broadest measure of money supply –targets to 3 and 12 percent, respectively.
Beijing will likely strike an accommodative tone for further interest rates and reserve requirement ratio (RRR) cuts, analysts say, amid a backdrop of persistent economic slowdown. The world's second largest economy expanded 7.4 percent last year, its slowest pace in 24 years.
"The overall macro policy framework will be 'prudent' in practice, with monetary easing to neutralize capital outflows and rising real interest rates with an increase in the fiscal deficit to support social spending," Barclays' analysts wrote in a note.
HSBC's final reading of China's manufacturing sector in Febuary came in at 50.7 early Monday, much higher than the flash reading of 50.1 and the official February reading announced over the weekend. The services PMI for February will be released on Wednesday at 0945 SIN/HK.
In South Korea, a raft of monthly indicators in the form of CPI and trade numbers for February, as well as industrial production and retail sales data for January, are due early in the week.