China April industrial profit growth rebounds to six-month high

Employees working at a factory in Huaibei in China's eastern Anhui province. (AFP)
Updated 27 May 2018
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China April industrial profit growth rebounds to six-month high

  • Employees working at a factory in Huaibei in China's eastern Anhui province. (AFP)
  • Higher factory prices and stronger demand help rebound

BEIJING: Profits earned by Chinese industrial firms in April rose at their fastest pace in six months, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed on Sunday, as factories benefited from higher prices and strong demand.

Profits in April rose 21.9 percent year-on-year to 576 billion yuan ($90.14 billion), the quickest since October, bringing gains for the first four months of 2018 to 15 percent.

The data suggests China’s industrial sector is still seeing solid growth momentum despite curbs on pollution and rocky trade relations with the US.

Last month’s rebound was helped by lower comparison figures for April 2017, higher factory prices and stronger demand, He Ping, head of NBS’ industrial division, said in a statement.

It was a significant improvement over March’s 3.1 percent growth that was the slowest in over a year and which government officials had blamed on the timing of the Lunar New Year holiday.

The higher April data should help ease concerns of slowing momentum in China’s economy as the country implements tougher pollution controls on “smokestack” industries and cash-strapped regional governments cut back on big investment projects, curbing demand for building materials.

Profit growth for Chinese industrial firms has softened from last year’s strong pace as factory gate price gains weaken. In the first four months of 2017, profits rose 24.4 percent.

China’s producer price inflation picked up to 3.4 percent in April from March but was much lower than 6.4 percent in the year-ago period.

Weaker profit growth suggests companies may be reluctant to invest and hire new staff, while making it harder for debt-laden firms to service their debt, especially state-owned enterprises that account for the bulk of the country’s high leverage.

A Reuters analysis showed that debt growth for Chinese companies has slowed to the lowest rate in more than a decade, but companies have also seen profit margins squeezed to their lowest level in two years.

April economic data had shown signs of slowing momentum as investment growth touched a near 20-year low and retail sales growth weakened.

Despite stronger-than-expected first-quarter economic growth, economists polled by Reuters still expect a gradual slowdown to around 6.5 percent this year from 6.9 percent in 2017, as rising borrowing costs weigh on consumption and investment.

Beijing continues to call for tighter controls on risky investments and speculation in the property sector, but does not want to cut off funding to firms in the “real economy” such as manufacturing firms that are a key source of jobs.

There have also been signs that policymakers have moved to a slighter looser stance as they look to ensure growth doesn’t slow too much, while also keeping financial risks under control.

No industrial sectors recorded year-on-year losses over January to April, the data showed.

But earnings in the computer and telecommunications sector fell 5.3 percent over the four months, though that was a slight improvement from an 11 percent decline in the first quarter.

Liabilities of industrial firms rose 6.1 percent year-on-year as of end-April, according to the statistics bureau.

Profits at China’s state-owned firms rose 26.2 percent to 627 billion yuan for Jan-April, compared with a 23.1 percent rise in the first quarter.


France’s Total has officially left Iran: oil minister

Updated 20 August 2018
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France’s Total has officially left Iran: oil minister

  • Total said it would be impossible to remain in Iran unless it received a specific waiver from Washington, which was not granted
  • Total would have been highly vulnerable to US penalties for remaining in Iran
TEHRAN: French energy giant Total has officially quit its multi-billion-dollar gas project in Iran, Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said on Monday, following the reimposition of US sanctions.
“Total has officially left the agreement for the development of phase 11 of South Pars (gas field). It has been more than two months that it announced that it would leave the contract,” he told parliament’s news agency ICANA.
Zanganeh also appeared before parliament to underline the dire state of Iran’s oil and gas facilities, which he said were “worn out” and in need of renovation that Iran could not afford.
The United States said in May that it was abandoning the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions on Iran in two phases in August and November.
The second phase will target Iran’s oil industry.
The other parties to the nuclear deal — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — have vowed to stay in the accord but their companies risk huge penalties if they keep doing business in Iran.
Total had already said it would be impossible to remain in Iran unless it received a specific waiver from Washington, which was not granted.
Total signed up in July 2017 for the $4.8 billion project to develop the field off Iran’s southern coast, as the lead partner alongside the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and Iran’s Petropars.
It was due to make an initial $1 billion investment, but the company said in May that it had spent less than €40 million on the project to date, as uncertainty over US actions mounted.
Total would have been highly vulnerable to US penalties for remaining in Iran.
The company has $10 billion of capital employed in its US assets, and US banks are involved in 90 percent of its financing operations, Total said in May.
It remains unclear whether CNPC will take over Total’s stake in the project.
Iran remains wary of relying on Chinese firms after bad experiences in the past. A previous contract for CNPC to develop the field at South Pars was suspended in 2011 after it failed to make progress.
The urgent need for investment to upgrade Iran’s dilapidated energy infrastructure was a key motivator behind its decision to join the 2015 nuclear deal.
Zanganeh appeared in parliament on Monday to answer questions on safety concerns following a number of recent fires at refineries.
“A big part of the oil industry has been worn out and the necessary renovation has not taken place,” he told parliament, according to the official IRNA news agency.
He said there were 10 cases per day of tubes perforating in Iran’s southern facilities, and that some refineries were as much as 80 years old, “whereas the useful life of an industrial unit is 30 years.”
“We have no resources for renovating them,” he added.