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.


White House says Trump regrets not raising tariffs higher

US President Donald Trump arrives at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, on Sunday. Trump had been trying to use the conference to rally global leaders to do more to stimulate their economies, as fears rise of a potential slowdown in the US ahead of his reelection. (AP)
Updated 31 min 17 sec ago

White House says Trump regrets not raising tariffs higher

  • President’s comments appear at first to mark a rare moment of self-reflection by the US leader

TOKYO: President Donald Trump said Sunday that he had second thoughts about escalating the trade war with China, but the White House later reversed that message saying the president was misinterpreted and that his only regret in hiking tariffs is that he didn’t raise them higher. Trump faced a tense reception from world leaders meeting amid mounting anxiety of a global economic slowdown at the Group of Seven summit in France. During a breakfast meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Trump suggested he had qualms about the spiraling conflict. “Yeah. For sure,” Trump told reporters when asked if he has second thoughts about escalating the dispute, adding he has “second thoughts about everything.”
But hours later, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement saying Trump’s comments about US tariffs on China were “greatly misinterpreted.”
She said Trump only responded “in the affirmative — because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher.” The comments appeared at first to mark a rare moment of self-reflection by the famously hard-nosed leader. But the later reversal fit a pattern for Trump in recoiling from statements he believes suggest weakness.

HIGHLIGHTS

• President Donald Trump faced a tense reception from world leaders meeting amid mounting anxiety of a global economic slowdown at the Group of Seven summit in France.

• White House said comments about US tariffs on China were ‘greatly misinterpreted.’

Trump had been trying to use the conference to rally global leaders to do more to stimulate their economies, as fears rise of a potential slowdown in the US ahead of his reelection. Trump’s counterparts, including Johnson, are trying to convince him to back off his trade wars with China and other countries, which they see as contributing to the economic weakening.

US-Japan agreement
Trump and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on Sunday a deal in principle on a major bilateral trade deal.
“It’s a very big transaction,” Trump said after talks with Abe on the sidelines of the G7 summit.
“Billions and billions of dollars,” he said. “It involves agriculture, it involves e-commerce. It involves many things. We’ve agreed in principle.”

Amazon fires
Also on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron said that world leaders at the G7 summit have agreed to help the countries affected by the huge wildfires ravaging the Amazon rainforest as soon as possible.
“We are all agreed on helping those countries which have been hit by the fires as fast as possible,” he told journalists.