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Major markets consolidate gains while focus shifts towards China

All of the major markets held on to their gains last week, with most actually recording further improvements.

There was also good news for the UK, with figures released confirming that the labour market has continued to perform well. Unemployment is still falling, with 31.12 million people in work, 140,000 more than the March to May quarter of 2015, and 359,000 more than a year earlier. In fact, unemployment has not been lower since early 2008.

Given the absence of inflation, for the time being, the growth in earnings can be channelled to higher living standards, allowing consumption to support the economy in coming quarters. It appears that the supply side of the economy has some room for growth too - at least for now.

For those UK companies, that are linked to the economic strength of the UK, this is positive for earnings growth and should support their share prices. However, investors need to think carefully, about how to target their exposure within the UK equity market, given the impact of international and commodity-related exposure on relative performance in recent years.

After the employment news, sterling rose slightly against the US dollar, as traders focused on the support provided by wage growth and lower unemployment, for higher UK interest rates from the Bank of England. Further evidence of wage growth and domestic inflation will certainly bolster that case, but many factors need to fall into line for the Bank to raise interest rates.

Economic growth is needed to support equity prices and the key question still facing global markets is where this growth will come from.

The global manufacturing slowdown, which has been led by China, has spread to the US and the next few weeks are likely to be more challenging for markets as a result. We should expect continued volatility. The focus will once again shift to China and no doubt the world economic environment will feature in discussions during the visit of President Xi of China to the UK this week.

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China released a range of data yesterday morning, with no obvious signs of a collapse in its economy. At 6.9%, growth came in slightly ahead of expectations, but industrial production disappointed, falling to 5.7% year on year, against consensus expectations of 6%.

Fixed asset investment also fell, more than expected, to 10.3%. However, as China seeks to develop stronger domestic demand, it was positive that retail sales showed an increase of 10.9% in September, up from 10.8% and higher than analysts' expectations. Continued improvement in domestic living standards will be needed to support political stability.

China is managing to continue to create jobs and provide growth in the service sector to compensate for weaker investment growth and industrial activity. Although the rate of growth has slowed to below the Chinese government's target, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is unlikely to be the only suitor at the Chinese door.

Many countries are now pinning their hopes on stronger links with what is now a global economic power, so as to benefit from growing Chinese consumer demand.