Updated Jun 20, 2023, 5:04pm EDT

Nasdaq restarts on-the-ground hunt for precious China data

Reuters/Brendan McDermid

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The Scoop

Nasdaq executives plan to visit China this year to restart data partnership talks with companies there about access to economic data desperately sought by Western investors trying to get a window into the world’s second-largest economy, and one of its most secretive.

China is a puzzle for outsiders. Officials there are cutting interest rates at a time when every other big economy is raising them, trying to jumpstart slower growth. COVID-19 shutdowns made data even harder to obtain, and a crackdown on information-sharing with the West has further dimmed lines of sight and left investors looking for clues.

Data about, for example, how many Nikes or Teslas are being sold there before those companies announce earnings can be a major edge, similar to the insights that email receipts, credit-card data, and foot-traffic tracking provide about American shoppers’ habits.

Nasdaq was on the way to getting a hold of that kind of information in 2019, when company officials traveled to the mainland to meet with Chinese firms in different sectors to discuss obtaining data feeds for Nasdaq clients, according to Bill Dague, who oversees Nasdaq’s data offerings and was in the meetings.

Then the pandemic hit and potential Chinese partners went silent, Dague said.

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Bradley’s view

Nasdaq is taking a leap of faith given the geopolitical reality American companies face in China.

Corporations have already gotten caught in the middle of rising tensions between Washington and Beijing, such as consulting giant Bain, which had its Shanghai office raided by Chinese police in April, and chipmaker Micron, which was banned by the country last week over national security worries.

An expected executive order from Joe Biden’s administration limiting investment in certain Chinese companies could negate any minor diplomatic wins from Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The rhetoric will likely grow more heated as the 2024 U.S. presidential race gets underway, with American politicians from both sides of the aisle likely to target China.

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Room for Disagreement

Growth in the mainland is lagging behind the party’s public goals, and an injection of foreign capital could help boost economic activity. Xi struck a hopeful tone following his recent meeting with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, saying “under the current world situation, we can carry out various activities that benefit our two countries.”

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  • Hong Kong-based Sandalwood Advisors has been selling data on Asian consumers for close to 10 years, and its executives spoke at Morgan Stanley’s recent China conference about the country’s shoppers.