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ASIA MARKETS: Asia Awaits China Price Data, Toyota Earnings

By Michael Kitchen, MarketWatch LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch) -- Chinese economic data and earnings results from Toyota Motor Corp. are among the highlights in Asia for the week ahead. On Wednesday, China is due to release its key monthly economic figures, including consumer and producer inflation, industrial output and retail sales. Of these, consumer prices will hold particular interest, as investors are watching to see if further cooling in inflation will prompt some easing of Chinese monetary policy and restrictions on real-estate purchases. China's inflation has been on a slowing trend since July, when the consumer price index clocked a more-than-three-year-high of 6.5%. In the following two months, the inflation rate eased to 6.2% and 6.1%, respectively, and focus will be on whether this trend continues. Officials in Beijing have offered mixed signals on where inflation -- a key focus for policy makers -- is headed. A Dow Jones Newswires report last week cited China Banking Regulatory Commission Vice Chairman Zhou Mubing as saying inflation remains elevated, but Reuters quoted National Development and Reform Commission Vice Chairman Peng Sen as saying the government expects a further cooling for prices. On the earnings front, Toyota (TM) is slated to report its July-September results on Tuesday. Toyota is the last of Japan's top three car producers to give its earnings, with Honda Motor Co. (HMC) having posted a 56% drop in net profit for the last quarter, while Nissan Motor Co.'s (NSANY) July-September profit slipped a more modest 3%. Toyota is facing various pressures to its bottom line -- particularly a persistently high Japanese yen and flooding in Thailand that has left its own factories reportedly undamaged but has hit its suppliers. Also on the coming week's agenda is a Friday interest-rate decision from the Bank of Korea. Although South Korea's consumer inflation dipped to a 10-month low in October, a Dow Jones Newswires report said bond markets appear to see the second quarter of 2012 as the earliest time for a rate cut. The Bank of Korea paused from its cycle of rate increases after its June hike that put the policy interest rate at 3.25%, and many economists say growth concerns may prompt the central bank to begin sending rates back down, although the timing remains unclear.

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