Business World

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Worst Chinese industrial data in years raises new fears about economic health

Winni Zhou and Sue-Lin Wong

Published 01/09/2015 | 08:05

China manufacturing
China manufacturing

Activity in China's factory sector shrank at its fastest rate in at least three years in August as domestic and export orders tumbled, increasing investors' fears that the world's second-largest economy may be lurching toward a hard landing.

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Even more worrying, China's services sector, which has been one of the lone bright spots in the sputtering economy, also showed signs of cooling, a similar business survey said.

Hurt by soft demand, overcapacity and falling investment, the economy has also been buffeted by plunging shares and a shock yuan devaluation, in what some have called a "perfect storm" of factors that is rattling global markets and could strain relations with China's major trading partners.

Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said on Tuesday it would be beneficial for this week's meeting of the Group of 20 major economies to discuss what is going on in China's economy.

"Capital market turmoil has made Chinese businesses and consumers turn more cautious," Bill Adams, a senior economist at PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh, said in reference to a 40pc plunge in Chinese shares since mid-June.

Adams said China's economy could grow around 6.5pc in the second-half of the year, easing to 6.2pc in 2016.

Some analysts believe growth levels are already well below that, putting Beijing's official target of 7pc at risk.

News of deteriorating business conditions set off fresh selling in Chinese shares, with the blue-chip CSI300 index tumbling 4pc at one point, dragging down stocks across Asia as well as U.S. stock futures.

Analysts said the bleak readings affirmed bets that China, which has slashed interest rates five times since November, must loosen policy again soon to avert a sharper economic downturn that could weigh on global growth even as the U.S. central bank prepares to raise interest rates.

China's official manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) fell to 49.7 in August from 50.0 in July, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Tuesday. That was in line with a Reuters poll but the lowest since August 2012, and below the 50-point mark separating growth from contraction.

New orders - a proxy for domestic and foreign demand - fell to 49.7 in August from July's 49.9. New export orders contracted for an 11th straight month.

A private survey by Caixin/Markit focussing on smaller factories pointed to an even sharper cooldown, with the PMI dropping to 47.3, the worst reading since March 2009.

Both surveys showed manufacturers were laying off workers at a faster rate as their order books shrank.

The closure of factories in northern China to clear Beijing's skies for a huge military parade this week likely also hurt output, as did a giant blast in the port city of Tianjin.

China's services companies are also showing clear signs of fatigue, to the point where growth in that sector may no longer be enough to offset persistent factory weakness.

The official services reading cooled slightly to 53.4, while remaining well in expansion territory, but the private survey PMI fell sharply to 51.5, its lowest level since July 2014.

That dragged a composite PMI combining factory and services readings to below 50 for the first time since April 2014.

In another sign that economic weakness was spreading to the services sector, the Caixin/Markit services PMI showed the labour market deteriorated for the 22nd straight month in August. Employment in the services sector fell to 50.1, barely remaining in expansionary territory.


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