China industrial growth slumps

Nationwide survey-based unemployment edged up in China in June, though many market watchers believe the rate could be much higher. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2019

China industrial growth slumps

  • Crude steel output down as production of motor vehicles continues to fall by double digits

BEIJING: China reported a raft of unexpectedly weak July data on Wednesday, including a slump in industrial output to more than 17-year lows, pointing to further slowing in the economy as the US trade war takes a heavier toll on businesses and consumers.

Activity in China has continued to cool despite a flurry of growth measures over the past year, raising questions over whether more forceful stimulus may be needed, even at the risk of racking up more debt.
After a flicker of improvement in June, analysts said the latest data was evidence that demand faltered across the board last month, from industrial output and investment to retail sales.
That followed weaker-than-expected bank lending and gloomy factory surveys, reinforcing expectations that more policy support is needed soon.
“China’s economy needs more stimulus because the headwinds are pretty strong and today’s data is much weaker than consensus,” said Larry Hu, head of Greater China economics at Macquarie Group in Hong Kong.
“The economy is going to continue to slow down. At a certain point, policymakers will have to step up stimulus to support infrastructure and property. I think it could happen by the end of this year.”
Industrial output growth slowed markedly to 4.8 percent in July from a year earlier, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed, lower than the most bearish forecast in a Reuters poll and the weakest pace since February 2002.
Analysts had forecast it would slow to 5.8 percent, from June’s 6.3 percent. Washington had sharply raised some tariffs in May.
Infrastructure investment, which Beijing has been counting on to stabilize the economy, also dropped back, as did property investment, which has been a rare bright spot despite worries of potential housing bubbles.
Crude steel output fell for a second straight month in July, while production of motor vehicles continued to fall by double digits.
The industry ministry said last month that the country would need “arduous efforts” to achieve the 2019 industrial growth target of 5.5 percent to 6 percent, citing trade protectionism.
China’s economic growth cooled to a near 30-year low of 6.2 percent in the second quarter, and business confidence has remained shaky, weighing on investment.
While officials have cautioned it would take time for higher infrastructure spending to kick in, construction growth has been more muted than expected.
Fixed-asset investment rose 5.7 percent in January-July from the same period last year, lagging expectations of a 5.8 percent gain, the same as January-June.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Pressure building on economy internally and externally.

• July industrial output rises at weakest pace since 2002.

• Retail sales growth hurt by lower auto sales.

But readings by sector showed a more marked loss of momentum in critical areas at the start of the third quarter.
Infrastructure investment — a powerful growth driver — rose 3.8 percent in the first seven months from a year earlier, slowing from 4.1 percent in the first half despite massive local government bond issuance, mainly to fund road and rail projects and other civic works.
Data from Japanese construction equipment maker Komatsu showed activity remained weak in China in July, with operating hours for its machines falling for a fourth straight month.
In a sign the housing market’s resilience may be waning as Beijing cracks down on speculation, property investment slowed to its weakest this year. It rose 8.5 percent on-year in July, from June’s 10.1 percent. Though home sales inched back to growth, new construction starts cooled.
Retail sales are also pointing to growing consumer caution, most evident in falling auto sales but also in property-related spending on items such as home appliances and furniture.
Retail sales rose 7.6 percent in July, well off a consensus of 8.6 percent and weaker than the most pessimistic forecast. Sales had jumped 9.8 percent in June, which many analysts had predicted would be temporary.
Job security worries may also be a factor. Nationwide survey-based unemployment edged up in June, though many market watchers believe it could be much higher.
“We maintain our view that (economic) growth has yet to bottom out and expect Beijing to maintain its easing policy stance,” economists at Nomura said in a note.
Nomura expects growth will slow to 6 percent in the third and fourth quarters — the bottom end of the government’s target range.
Authorities have already announced hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure spending and corporate tax cuts over the last year, and repeatedly cut bank’s reserve requirements (RRR) to free up more funds for lending and reduce borrowing costs.
But credit demand has been tepid, with companies in no mood to make investments given the cloudy business outlook and banks wary of rising bad loans.
Sources told Reuters recently that more aggressive action such as interest rate cuts are a last resort, as it could fuel a rapid build-up in debt and financial risks.
Recent months have been marked by a sudden escalation in the US-China trade war that has raised pressure on both economies and sparked fears of a global recession.
A brief ceasefire was shattered earlier this month after US President Donald Trump vowed to impose a 10 percent tariff on $300 billion of Chinese imports from Sept. 1.


Gulf Marine CEO quits after review sparks profit warning

Updated 22 August 2019

Gulf Marine CEO quits after review sparks profit warning

  • Tensions in the Arabian Gulf, a worrisome global growth outlook and uncertainty over oil prices have recently dampened investor confidence

DUBAI: Gulf Marine Services said on Wednesday Chief Executive Officer Duncan Anderson has resigned as the oilfield industry contractor warned a reassessment of its ships and contracts showed profit would fall this year, kicking its shares 12 percent down.

The Abu Dhabi-based offshore services specialist said a review by new finance chief Stephen Kersley of its large E-class vessels operating in Northwest Europe and the Middle East pointed to 2019 core earnings of between $45 million and $48 million, below $58 million that it reported last year.

A source familiar with the matter told Reuters that Anderson, who has served as CEO for 12 years, was asked to step down. Anderson could not be reached for comment.

The company, which in the past predominantly operated in the UAE, expanded operations and deployed large vessels in the North Sea and Saudi Arabia nine years ago and listed its shares in London in 2014.

Tensions in the Arabian Gulf, a worrisome global growth outlook and uncertainty over oil prices have recently dampened investor confidence.

The North Sea has seen a revival in production in recent years due to new fields coming on line and improved performance by operators following the 2014 oil price collapse.

Still, the basin’s production is expected to decline over the next decade, according to Britain’s Oil and Gas Authority.

“(The CFO’s) review has coincided with a pause in renewables-related self-propelled self-elevating support vessels activity in the North Sea, which will impact several of the higher day-rate E-Class vessels,” Investec wrote in a note.

Gulf Marine appointed industry veteran Kersley as chief financial officer in late May as it sought to halt a slide which has seen the company’s shares fall nearly 80 percent last year and another 23 percent so far this year.

The company said market conditions remained challenging and that it was still in talks with its financial advisors regarding a new capital structure.

“Management, the new board and the group’s advisors, have been in negotiation with the group’s banks on resetting its capital structure and progress has been made,” it said in a statement.

Last year, Gulf Marine said contracts were delayed into 2019 as the company was seen to be in breach of certain banking covenants at the end of 2018.

The company said it was still in talks with its banks and individual lenders with hopes of getting a waiver or an agreement to amend the concerned covenants.