Chinese factory activity shrinks for fourth month as trade woes deepen

Growing trade frictions with the US and slowing global demand are wreaking havoc on China’s factories, with export orders falling for the 15th straight month. (AP)
Updated 31 August 2019

Chinese factory activity shrinks for fourth month as trade woes deepen

  • Beijing tipped to cut major lending rates amid rising job losses, falling export orders and weakening domestic demand

BEIJING: Factory activity in China shrank in August for the fourth month in a row as the US ramped up trade pressure and domestic demand remained sluggish, pointing to a further slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy.

Persistent weakness in China’s vast manufacturing sector could fuel expectations that Beijing needs to roll out stimulus more quickly, and more aggressively, to weather the biggest downturn in decades.

The Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to 49.5 in August, China’s National Bureau of Statistics said on Saturday, versus 49.7 in July, below the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis.

A Reuters poll showed analysts expected the August PMI to stay unchanged from the previous month.

The official factory gauge showed growing trade frictions with the US and cooling global demand continued to wreak havoc on China’s exporters.

Export orders fell for the 15th straight month in August, although at a slower pace, with the sub-index picking up to 47.2 from the 46.9 reading recorded in July.

Total new orders — from home and abroad — also continued to fall, indicating domestic demand remains soft, despite a flurry of growth-boosting measures over the past year.

“Frontloading of exports to the US ahead of higher tariffs supported trade and overall activity growth, but this effect will likely fade in the next few months,” said analysts at Goldman Sachs in a note.

Manufacturers in consumption-oriented industries such as the auto sector have been especially vulnerable. Carmakers including Geely and Great Wall have slashed expectations for sales and profits.

The data showed that activity at medium and small-sized firms contracted, even as large manufacturers, many backed by the government, managed to expand in August.

Factories continued to shed jobs in August amid the uncertain business outlook. The employment sub-index dropped to 46.9, compared with 47.1 in July.

August brought a dramatic escalation in the bitter year-long Sino-US trade row, with President Donald Trump announcing early in the month that he would impose new tariffs on Chinese goods from Sept. 1, and China letting its yuan currency sharply weaken days later.

After Beijing hit back with retaliatory tariffs, Trump said that existing levies would also be raised in coming months. The combined moves now effectively cover all of China’s exports to the US.

Trump said late on Friday that trade teams from both sides continue to talk and will meet in September, but tariff increases on Chinese goods set to go into effect on Sunday will not be delayed.

The US president had said earlier in the week that China wants to reach a deal “very badly,” citing what he described as increasing economic pressure on Beijing and job losses.

But most observers are highly doubtful of an end to the dispute any time soon, and some analysts have recently cut economic growth forecasts for China in coming quarters.

The sudden deterioration in trade ties has prompted speculation over whether China needs to roll out more forceful measures to keep growth from sliding below 6 percent this year, the bottom end of its target range of around 6-6.5 percent.

Analysts widely expect Beijing will cut some of its major lending rates in September for the first time in four years to help stabilise growth.

But sources had told Reuters before the latest trade escalations that big benchmark rate cuts were considered a last resort since policymakers worry that such a move could fuel a further build-up in debt and squeeze banks’ profit margins, heightening risks to the financial sector.

So far, Beijing has relied on a combination of fiscal stimulus and monetary easing to deal with the economic slowdown, including hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure spending and tax cuts for companies.

But analysts note infrastructure investment growth has remained subdued despite the earlier pump-priming measures, underlining the need for additional support.

Growth in China’s services sector activity picked up for the first time in five months in August, with the official numbers from a separate business survey rising to 53.8 from 53.7 in August.

Beijing has been relying on a strong services sector to cushion some of the economic impact from trade uncertainties and sluggish manufacturing activities.

However, despite the higher overall figure, activity in the property industry contracted, the statistics bureau said.

The services sector has been propped up by Chinese consumers’ rising wages and robust spending power in recent years. However, the sector softened late last year amid a broader slowdown.


Lebanon plunged into ‘deliberate depression’: World Bank

Updated 01 December 2020

Lebanon plunged into ‘deliberate depression’: World Bank

  • The fall 2020 edition of the Lebanon Economic Monitor predicted the economy will have contracted by 19.2 percent this year
  • Lebanon’s economy started collapsing last year as a result of years of corrupt practices and mismanagement

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s economy is sinking into a “deliberate depression,” the World Bank said Tuesday in a damning report stressing the authorities’ failure to tackle the crisis.
The fall 2020 edition of the Lebanon Economic Monitor predicted the economy will have contracted by 19.2 percent this year and projected a debt-to-GDP ratio of 194 percent next year.
“A year into Lebanon’s severe economic crisis, deliberate lack of effective policy action by authorities has subjected the economy to an arduous and prolonged depression,” a World Bank statement said.
Lebanon’s economy started collapsing last year as a result of years of corrupt practices and mismanagement.
The crisis was made worse by a nationwide wave of anti-government protests that paralyzed the country late last year and the Covid-19 pandemic this year.
The August 4 Beirut port blast, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, brought the country to its knees and further fueled public distrust.
“Lebanon is suffering from a dangerous depletion of resources, including human capital, with brain drain becoming an increasingly desperate option,” the World Bank warned.
In 2020, Lebanon defaulted on its debt, banks imposed capital controls and inflation has reached triple-digit rates, dragging the country into its worst ever economic crisis.
Instead of taking emergency measures to rescue the economy, Lebanon’s political elite has continued to dither and bicker.
The previous government headed by Hassan Diab failed to adopt ambitious policies to tackle the crisis. It resigned under pressure over the blast nearly four months ago and a new cabinet has yet to be formed.
“Lack of political consensus on national priorities severely impedes Lebanon’s ability to implement long-term and visionary development policies,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank regional director.
He called for the quick formation of a new government capable of implementing short-term emergency measures and addressing long-term structural challenges.
“This is imperative to restore the confidence of the people of Lebanon,” he said.
An annual index compiled by Gallup that tracks people’s experience of stress and sadness said “no other country in the world saw negative experiences skyrocket across the board as much as Lebanon.”
The Negative Experience Index’s data was collected before the Beirut port blast, Lebanon’s worst ever peace time disaster.