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.


Saudi imports from China up 17.8 percent in 2020 to $28.1 billion

Updated 24 January 2021

Saudi imports from China up 17.8 percent in 2020 to $28.1 billion

  • Bilateral trade between the two countries remains steady amid the ongoing global health crisis

RIYADH:  Saudi imports from China rose 17.8 percent year-on- year in 2020 to $28.1 billion, according to a report from Mubasher, citing figures from China Customs.

Despite this increase, the Kingdom’s overall trade surplus with China was down 63.9 percent last year to $6.2 billion, the report said.

Trading between the two nations has remained steady.
On Wednesday, Reuters news agency reported that Chinese govern- ment data showed the Kingdom was still the world’s biggest oil exporter, as well as beating Russia to keep its ranking as China’s top crude supplier in 2020.

Oil demand in China, the world’s top oil importer, remained strong last year despite the challenges brought on by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Chinese imports rose 7.3 percent to a record 542.4 million tons, or 10.85 million barrels per day (bpd).

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Saudi shipments to China in 2020 rose 1.9 percent from a year earlier to 84.92 million tons.
  • The Kingdom’s overall trade surplus with China was down 63.9 percent last year to $6.2 billion.
  • In 2020, China became the GCC’s top trading partner, replacing the EU for the first time

Saudi shipments to China in 2020 rose 1.9 percent from a year earlier to 84.92 million tons, or about 1.69 million bpd, data from the General Administration of Chinese Customs showed.

Political commentator Zaid M. Belbagi wrote in an Arab News opinion piece that, with the increased importance of land and sea routes connecting Asia with Europe and Africa, China increasingly saw relations with the Arab world as “central” to its geostrategic ambitions.

“There is, however, a disconnect between the expansion of Chinese involvement in the region across the political and economic realms and the cultural and diplomatic connectivity required to deepen ties that will not only ensure Chinese interests, but also encourage Arab states to partake in the new world China is building in its own image,” he said.

Saudi-China relations have strengthened over the years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, ties were further strengthened with the two countries offering each other assistance and staunch support.

The past three years have marked a rapid increase in Saudi- China links. King Salman visited the country as part of a six-country Asian tour early in 2017, setting the seal on a “comprehensive strategic partnership” between the two
countries when he met Chinese President Xi Jinping.

A joint high-level committee was established to guide future economic development strategy.

That was followed by a later visit by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, adding greater depth to the relationship and further aligning the two countries’ main economic development plans — the Belt and Road Initiative by which China seeks to play a leading role in regional development, and the Vision 2030 strategy aimed at diversifying Saudi Arabia away from oil dependency.

China has also become the top export destination of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) petrochemicals and chemicals, accounting for about 25 percent of GCC exports.


At $180 billion, the GCC (GCC) trade with China accounts for over 11 percent of the bloc’s overall trade. In 2020, China became the GCC’s top trading partner, replacing the EU for the first time.

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