September 19, 2020

Strong Chinese Manufacturing Data Points to Turnaround

HSBC’s manufacturing purchasing managers index — a survey that takes the temperature of China’s important factory sector — rose to 51.2 in September, from 50.1, topping analysts’ expectations. The index HSBC released on Monday was based on a preliminary assessment of survey responses. A final reading will be published on Sept. 30. A separate index compiled by the authorities in Beijing, more focused on larger, state-owned enterprises of the kind that benefit from state-led investment, will be released on Oct. 1.

Readings above 50 indicate expansion, so the September figure provided more evidence that the Chinese manufacturing sector was growing again after several months of contraction, while the economy as a whole had stopped decelerating.

The firmer reading “was supported by simultaneous improvements of external and domestic demand conditions,” Qu Hongbin, chief China economist at HSBC, said in a note accompanying the data release.

Faced with slowing growth, the authorities in Beijing have in recent months announced a series of measures aimed at increasing economic activity.

Although China has avoided a repeat of the sweeping, large-scale stimulus of late 2008 and 2009, the smaller-scale, more targeted support measures of the last year or so have helped to put a floor under the economy, analysts have said.

Measures announced this year have included tax cuts for small businesses and measures aimed at speeding up railroad construction in inland and poor areas. In a bid to raise the economy’s efficiency, the authorities have also issued instructions to more than 1,400 companies in 19 industries to cut excess production capacity this year.

“We expect a more sustained recovery as the further filtering-through of fine-tuning measures should lift domestic demand. This will create more favorable conditions to push forward reforms, which should in turn boost mid- and long-term growth outlooks,” Mr. Qu wrote.

Improving demand in the beleaguered United States and European economies also is helping activity in China. New orders for exports picked up speed in September, the HSBC poll showed, echoing a trend seen in trade data for August, released this month.

“Looking ahead, we expect the cyclical pickup to be consolidated in the coming quarters, benefiting from the strengthening global demand outlook, which supports growth directly via stronger exports and by improving sentiment and profitability in industry and thus the willingness to invest,” wrote Louis Kuijs, a China economist at RBS in Hong Kong.

The latest signs of China’s resilience on Monday helped push Chinese stocks higher; the Shanghai composite rose 1.33 percent.

Still, many analysts continued to caution that the upturn may not last into next year, given that the leadership in Beijing will have to step up its efforts to combat issues — like overcapacity in some major industries, often poor allocation of capital, and a buildup in debt over the last few years — that haunt China’s economy.

“The third plenary session of the Central Committee, which is to be held this November, will lay out the agenda of economic reform going ahead,” said Zhu Haibin, chief China economist at JPMorgan Chase. “Addressing these problems in the coming years implies that the economic recovery tends to be limited.”

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Manufacturing Data Points to an Economy Gaining Speed

The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, said Tuesday that its manufacturing index rose to 55.7 in August from 55.4 in July. That was higher than the index’s 12-month average of 52. A reading above 50 indicates growth.

A gauge of new orders rose nearly five points to 63.2, the highest level in more than two years. However, production increased more slowly than in July, and factories added jobs at a weaker rate. Despite the drop, production reached its highest level in two-and-a-half years.

The overall improvement contrasted with other recent reports that had pointed to a slowdown in manufacturing. The institute’s survey found broad-based growth, with 15 out of 18 industries reporting expansion and only one reporting contraction. That suggested that factory production could accelerate.

“The data unambiguously point to a pickup,” Jim O’Sullivan, an economist at High Frequency Economics, said in a note to clients.

The Federal Reserve will closely examine the report, released two weeks before Fed policy makers will decide whether to slow their bond-buying program. The Fed chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, has said the central bank would scale back its purchases this year if the economy continued to strengthen. The monthly bond purchases worth $85 billion have been intended to keep interest rates low.

The jobs report for August, to be released Friday, is the most important remaining economic report the Fed will consider.

Orders from overseas also rose, a sign that improving economies in Europe and China may be bolstering American manufacturers. The economies of the 17 countries in the European Union that use the euro grew in the April-June quarter after six quarters of recession.

And a private survey of purchasing managers in China found that manufacturing in that country expanded after shrinking for the three previous months.

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China Service Sector Shows Expansion

BEIJING — Activity in China’s service sector defied the cooling of the country’s economy and expanded modestly in July, a private survey showed Monday. New business orders recovered from a multiyear low in a rare sign of resilience.

But that rise was tempered by a decline in prices charged by companies to a nine-month low, suggesting that demand was still too weak for them to raise prices, while business expectations hovered near their lowest level since 2005.

The HSBC/Markit purchasing managers’ index for the service industry stood at 51.3 in July, unchanged from June and just a whisker above a 20-month low of 51.1 struck in April.

It echoed data China’s National Bureau of Statistics had released over the weekend, which showed a reading of 54.1 last month, up from 53.9 in June.

A reading above 50 suggests business has grown from the previous month, while an outcome below 50 points to contraction.

Crucially, service companies are the biggest employers in China, at a time when the government is worried that the downturn could threaten social stability by driving up unemployment as Beijing tries to shift the economy away from a focus on manufacturing.

China’s economy is set to grow this year at its weakest pace since 1990, as flagging foreign and domestic demand weighs on exports and factory production. A slowdown in investment has further dragged on growth.

“China’s service sector has stabilized at a relatively low level of growth,” said Qu Hongbin, an economist at HSBC. “But profit margins continue to be squeezed. Without a sustained improvement in demand, services growth is likely to remain lackluster, putting downside pressures to employment growth.”

The subindex for new orders rebounded to 52.3 from the reading in June, which was the lowest reading in more than four years.

Financial markets have grown increasingly nervous about China’s economic health, despite reassurances from Beijing that it is on track to meet its growth target of 7.5 percent this year.

A pair of P.M.I. surveys of Chinese manufacturers last week showed a contradictory picture of factory production; the official figure was slightly stronger than expected in July among larger Chinese manufacturers, while the HSBC/Markit survey came in at an 11-month low.

“I am more worried about manufacturers. I don’t think the worst is over,” said Zhang Zhiwei, a Nomura economist in Hong Kong.

He said the service sector was holding up better than manufacturing, as it was not saddled with excess capacity and debt and was supported by demand intrinsically less volatile.

“Policy will continue to be tight, and growth will continue to slow in the second half of the year,” Mr. Zhang said.

The HSBC survey showed the employment subindex had slipped in July, although it remained above a four-year trough touched in April.

HSBC said 6 percent of survey respondents had increased their payrolls, with a particular focus on hiring graduates. In contrast, 2 percent of companies had shed jobs.

The service sector accounted for 46 percent of China’s economy in 2012, so a sharp slowdown in the industry would exacerbate concerns about slackening economic growth.

Service firms created 35 percent of all jobs in China in 2011, overtaking manufacturers, who accounted for 30 percent of hiring.

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Manufacturing Gains Strength, But Hiring in Sector Stays Weak

A separate report on Monday showed that construction spending neared a four-year high in May, a sign that it has regained some strength after having collapsed in the 2007-2009 recession. Even with consumer and housing data pointing to a steadily improving recovery, pockets of concern remain, particularly jobs.

The Institute for Supply Management said its index of national factory activity rose slightly more than expected in June, to 50.9 from 49, with a reading above 50 indicating expansion. The gauge for new orders rose to 51.9 from 48.8, while production jumped to 53.4 from 48.6, helping the overall index bounce back from a contraction in May — the first in six months.

“It’s nice to see manufacturing moving back into growth territory from contraction,” said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pa.

But a measure of employment fell to 48.7, the lowest reading since September 2009. It was 50.1 in May. That could feed concern about the strength of the recovery, particularly since the Fed has said it could begin to wind down its stimulus this year.

“The employment issue is key,” Mr. Naroff said. “If those jobs are not there, you are not going to get consumer demand.”

A separate index from Markit, also showed modest growth in manufacturing, but recorded sharp slides in hiring and new orders from abroad.

“Firms are responding to the increasingly worrying order-book trend by pulling back on recruitment,” said Chris Williamson, Markit’s chief economist.

Construction spending neared a four-year high in May, though difficulties in the commercial real estate and factory sector subdued the pace of recovery.

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Chinese Factories Appear to Be Stabilizing

HONG KONG — Two surveys that take the temperature of China’s giant manufacturing sector showed an economy that appears to have stabilized for now but that is still struggling to recover some of the momentum it lost at the start of the year.

The two purchasing managers’ indexes — one published by the Chinese statistics bureau on Saturday, the other released by the British bank HSBC on Monday — painted somewhat divergent pictures for May, though both underlined the fact that the factory sector is still struggling with lackluster demand.

The official survey, which is more focused on large and midsize state-owned companies of the kind that benefit from state-led investment, provided a positive surprise by edging up slightly, to 50.8 in May, from 50.6 in April. Economists polled by Reuters had expected the index to slip toward the 50-point level, with figures above indicating expansion and those under showing contraction.

On the other hand, the final version of the HSBC index for May, compiled by the research firm Markit and released Monday, came in at 49.2 points. The reading was a downward revision from the preliminary number of 49.6, which had been published on May 23, and showed conditions at their weakest in eight months. The HSBC gauge is more focused on smaller companies, which have benefited less than their larger counterparts from the recent credit expansion, HSBC said in a research note.

“Overall conditions for China’s manufacturing sector were at best stabilizing at a relatively low level in May,” HSBC economists said, adding that a batch of official economic data for May, to be released this coming weekend, could provide more clarity on China’s growth outlook. “Beijing policy makers continue to face a tough challenge in striking an appropriate balance between the need to push through structural reforms versus the need to preserve near-term growth,” they said.

After years of double-digit expansion, China’s pace of growth has cooled in recent years — a slowdown that has in part been deliberately engineered by the authorities in Beijing as they try to ease a potentially worrisome flood of lending, forestall asset price bubbles and direct the economy toward higher-quality expansion.

Beijing is targeting 7.5 percent growth this year, a rapid clip compared with the rates of expansion of other leading economies but a significantly slower pace than the 9.3 percent growth in 2011 and the 10.4 percent in 2010.

“While the data may ease some concerns of rapid deteriorating of the Chinese economy, the impact may be short-lived,” economists at Australia New Zealand Banking in Hong Kong said in a research note on the official purchasing managers’ index, adding that structural reforms were needed to help sustain growth prospects.

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Ford to Close Its 2 Australian Auto Plants

Ford Australia will close its engine plant in Geelong and its vehicle assembly plant in Broadmeadows, both in Victoria state, with the loss of 1,200 jobs, Ford Australia Chief Executive Bob Graziano said on Thursday, the latest election-year blow to the struggling Labor government.

Ford, which built 37,000 vehicles in Australia last year, has been in the country since 1925 and employs more than 3,000 people. But it has been battling sliding sales, high costs and an Australian dollar trading above the U.S. currency.

“Our costs are double that of Europe and nearly four times Ford in Asia,” Graziano said. “The business case simply did not stack up. Manufacturing is not viable for Ford in Australia.”

Ford’s decision to close its local production highlights the challenges the country faces as a near decade-long mining boom begins to fade. Policymakers hope other sectors of the economy such as manufacturing, construction and retail will start to pick up the slack, but evidence has been scant so far.

The Australian dollar has traded above parity with the U.S. dollar for most of the past two years – it fell to about 97 cents only this week – making it more difficult for local manufacturers to compete globally.

Graziano said Ford had lost A$600 million ($581 million) in the last five years in Australia, and A$141 million in the last fiscal year, as customers turned to smaller imported vehicles built by Japan’s Mazda and South Korea’s Hyundai.

The country’s Performance of Manufacturing index fell to a four-year low in April, indicating continuing contraction in the sector despite record low interest rates of 2.75 percent.

“Australia’s manufacturing sector continues to under-perform other parts of the globe,” CommSec Economist Savanth Sebastian said in a research note this month.

“The main difference is the strength of the Aussie dollar, which clearly is causing businesses to markedly re-assess the viability of ongoing operations as well as strategic direction,” Sebastian said.

General Motors Holden, the local unit of General Motors Co, said last month it was cutting 500 jobs, or 18 percent of its workforce. It also cited the damage to its competitiveness from the strength of the Australian dollar.


Ford’s decision is likely to trigger a row over state assistance to the auto industry ahead of elections in September. Polls suggest the minority Labor government is heading for a bruising defeat, due largely to its perceived mismanagement of the economy.

Labor has earmarked around A$5.4 billion for car industry assistance to 2020, pointing to the sector’s importance in maintaining heavy-industry skills and employment.

The Australian automotive industry employs about 55,000 people and supports 200,000 other manufacturing jobs. Ford’s closure is likely to affect the economies of scale at other local builders, General Motors and Toyota Motor Corp.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the government’s immediate priority would be to support workers affected by the closures, likely to include parts makers already hurt by Mitsubishi Motors Corp’s closure of its Australian plants in 2008.

“The economy that we have today has many sources of strength, but the high Australian dollar is putting a lot of pressure on some industries, particularly manufacturing,” Gillard told reporters.

Australia’s Reserve Bank expects the A$1.5 trillion economy to grow slightly below trend at 2.5 percent this year, returning to average or trend rates 2014. Unemployment is expected to rise slightly to 5.75 percent.

Australia has annual sales of approximately 1.1 million new vehicles, with deliveries up 7.6 percent to 85,117 in April. But sales of locally manufactured vehicles have fallen to around 221,000 in recent years, from almost 389,000 in 2005.

At home in North America, Ford is faring better and announced on Wednesday it was adding a week of production at most of its factories to build an extra 40,000 vehicles.

(Additional reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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Business Hiring Slipped to 7-Month Low in April

Businesses added 119,000 employees to payrolls last month, according to the ADP National Employment Report released on Wednesday, short of economists’ expectations for 150,000 jobs and the smallest gain since last September.

The slowdown in hiring was caused primarily by a combination of increased payroll taxes at the start of the year and the $85 billion in government spending cuts that took effect across the board in March, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, which jointly developed the hiring report with ADP, a payroll processor.

“They are starting to bite and starting to weaken growth,” Mr. Zandi said. “It’s affecting all industries and almost all company sizes.”

The Federal Reserve also expressed its concern about economic growth on Wednesday and said it would continue to pursue its stimulus campaign, although it was ready to increase or decrease its efforts depending on the economy’s performance.

After accelerating in the first quarter, recent data suggested that overall economic growth cooled heading into the second quarter.

Two separate reports on manufacturing also showed employment slowed in April. Analysts said there was some risk that the federal April employment report on Friday could be disappointing.

Markit, a financial data firm, said its final Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index slipped to 52.1 from 54.6 in March. It was the lowest reading since October.

That was echoed by a separate report from the Institute for Supply Management that showed the sector expanded only modestly, with its index coming in at 50.7, down from 51.3. Readings above 50 indicate expansion.

Regional reports also showed a slowdown in factory activity in April in some areas while some, including the Midwest, fell into contraction.

Another report showed construction spending fell 1.7 percent to an annual rate of $856.72 billion, the lowest since August, according to the Commerce Department. The drop could cause the first-quarter economic growth estimate to be trimmed from a first reading of 2.5 percent.

Economists expect Friday’s employment report from the Labor Department to show that overall nonfarm payrolls increased by 145,000, an improvement over the paltry 88,000 seen in March. Private payrolls are expected to have risen by 160,000.

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Manufacturing Growth Slows in China

The index, which was based on a survey of purchasing managers in the manufacturing sector and was released by HSBC, was 50.5 points for April. That exceeded 50, the level that separates expansion from contraction, but fell below the 51.6 points recorded for March.

The release is one of the earliest measures of business activity available for April and appears to indicate that an unexpected growth slowdown in the first quarter may be continuing into the second.

China’s first-quarter growth data, released by the authorities in Beijing last week, surprised analysts who said they had thought that the economy picked up speed in January, February and March. Instead, expansion slowed to 7.7 percent, down from 7.9 percent the previous quarter.

The manufacturing survey released Tuesday reinforced the view that the pace of growth was unlikely to pick up again in the current quarter.

“The overall message” from the release “is that there was some improvement in the manufacturing sector” around the start of the fourth quarter of 2012, but that “the momentum then stalled” in the first quarter of this year, wrote Yao Wei, China economist at Société Générale in Hong Kong.

Investors, unnerved by the disappointing reading, sent the mainland China stock market down 2.6 percent on Tuesday. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index fell 1.1 percent.

Weakening demand for exports bears part of the blame. Orders for new exports contracted in April after rebounding in March, suggesting that external demand for China’s exporters remained weak, Qu Hongbin, an HSBC economist who specializes in China, said.

Weaker overall demand has also started to weigh on employment in the manufacturing sector and is likely to prompt Beijing to respond with efforts to increase domestic investment and consumption, Mr. Qu added in a statement accompanying the index.

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Euro Watch: Euro Zone Unemployment Rose to New Record in January

That, and new data showing a decline in inflation in the euro zone, could prompt the European Central Bank to take steps to stimulate the economy when its Governing Council meets this week, analysts said.

Unemployment in the 17-nation euro zone climbed to 11.9 percent in January from 11.8 percent the previous month, according to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.

For the 27 nations of the Union, the jobless rate in January stood at 10.8 percent, up from 10.7 percent in December. All of the figures were seasonally adjusted.

A separate Eurostat report showed price pressures easing in February. In the euro zone, the annual inflation rate came in at 1.8 percent, down from 2 percent in January and below the European Central Bank’s 2 percent target.

The jobless data “suggest that wage growth is set to weaken from already low rates” and further depress consumer spending, which has already been damped by government austerity measures, Jennifer McKeown, an economist at Capital Economics in London, wrote in a research note.

Ms. McKeown noted that the low inflation numbers and high joblessness “should leave the E.C.B.’s policy options open,” and said it was possible the central bank “might discuss an interest rate cut or other unconventional policies” when its Governing Council meets on Thursday.

There was some bright news Friday. A survey of European purchasing managers by Markit, a data and research firm, showed German manufacturing output growing in February for a second straight month, as new business levels improved.

The composite German purchasing managers’ index improved to 50.3 in February — just above 50, the level that separates growth from contraction — from 49.8 in January. And the Federal Statistical Office in Wiesbaden reported Friday that German retail sales rose 3.1 percent in January from December, when sales fell 2.1 percent.

Another bit of data this week also supports the view that the German economy will bounce back after a fourth-quarter slump. The European Commission’s economic sentiment indicator for the euro zone rose to 91.1 in February from 89.5 in January, with German confidence leading the gain.

“German industry is clearly rebounding and taking advantage from better external traction,” Gilles Moëc, an economist at Deutsche Bank in London, wrote.

Employment is sometimes seen as a lagging indicator of economic growth, because companies try to avoid adding to their costs until they are convinced that a rebound is at hand.

But despite the glimmers of hope in German industry, there are few reasons to regard a recovery as imminent. Markit’s overall euro zone purchasing managers’ index was unchanged in February at 47.9, signaling continued contraction.

Olli Rehn, the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, forecast on Feb. 22 that the euro zone would shrink 0.3 percent this year, about the same as last year. The bloc’s debt problems, and the tax increases and government spending cuts that have been prescribed as the remedy, have sapped demand and spending power, reducing business demand for labor.

In absolute terms, Eurostat estimated Friday that 19 million people in the euro zone and more than 26 million people in the overall Union were unemployed.

Spain’s unemployment rate in January was 26.2 percent, and Portugal’s was 17.6 percent. Austria, at just 4.9 percent, had the lowest rate, followed by Germany and Luxembourg, both of which had 5.3 percent unemployed.

Greece’s unemployment rate in November, the latest month for which Eurostat has figures for the country, was 27 percent.

France, with the second-largest euro zone economy, after Germany’s, had a 10.6 percent jobless rate in January. In Britain, not a euro member, the jobless rate stood at 7.7 percent.

That compares with a January unemployment rate of 7.9 percent in the United States. In Japan, 4.2 percent of the work force was counted as unemployed in December.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 1, 2013

An earlier version of this article carried a headline that misstated the month of the data. The report was for January, not February. An earlier version of the article also misstated the name of a federal agency in Wiesbaden, Germany. It is the Federal Statistical Office, not the Federal Statistics Office.

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Message Mixed From Factories in China

BEIJING — Asian manufacturers face a challenging business climate in the coming months, surveys released Friday suggested, with China’s huge factory sector managing only a shallow rebound at the start of 2013 as feeble foreign demand dragged on sales.

Two surveys of Chinese factory purchasing managers showed that industrial output in the world’s fastest-growing major economy rose in January but that the pace of the rebound in activity was uneven.

China’s official purchasing managers’ index, or P.M.I., released by the government’s statistics bureau, showed that factory output had grown more slowly than expected in January, with a reading of 50.4 points, easing from 50.6 in December and below a forecast for a nine-month high of 50.9.

The official P.M.I. has been above 50 points, the level that separates growth from contraction, since last August, though its failure to break above 51 indicates that the economic expansion it signals is moderate.

The Chinese factory P.M.I. from the British bank HSBC, which is more focused on smaller, privately held businesses than its official counterpart, rose to a two-year high of 52.3. HSBC’s preliminary figure for the month, released Jan. 24, had put the measure at 51.9.

Trade prospects in China, the world’s biggest exporter, appeared darker than those elsewhere. The manufacturing reports showed that export orders either grew marginally or shrank in January as shoppers in the United States and Europe, the two biggest buyers of Chinese goods, cut back spending.

Domestic demand, on the other hand, was the main force behind China’s gentle economic rebound, driving growth in new orders in January to the highest in several months. The official P.M.I. showed growth in new orders at a nine-month high of 51.6, while the same measure in the HSBC survey climbed to a two-year high of 53.7.

However, price pressures were shown to be building in China, with the both surveys indicating input prices at their highest since mid-2011.

“January’s P.M.I. does raise some red flags about the state of the economy,” Alistair Thornton, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Beijing, said in reference to the Chinese economy. “Things look a little shaky.”

The patchy nature of the recovery on Chinese factory floors was repeated in other P.M.I.’s released across Asia.

Surveys showed that manufacturing output had slowed or declined in India and South Korea. Factories in Indonesia, the star emerging economy of the past year, experienced a decline in business in January for the first time in eight months, while manufacturers in Taiwan reported the fastest growth in 10 months.

Indonesian manufacturers said they had received more orders from abroad, but output at factories there still declined for the first time since last May. The P.M.I. retreated to 49.7 in January from 50.7 in December as domestic demand in the Indonesian economy, Southeast Asia’s largest, dragged.

“Strong export orders appear to have offset a moderation in domestic orders, which may have been partially impacted by the Jakarta floods,” said Su Sian Lim, an economist at HSBC, referring to widespread flooding in the Indonesian capital last month.

In Taiwan, the P.M.I. reached a 10-month high of 51.5 as factories raised output markedly. In South Korea, factories reported their first growth in export orders in eight months, but the P.M.I. edged down to a seasonally adjusted 49.9 in January from 50.1 in December.

The data released Friday showed that India was as vulnerable as China to an export slump, especially as demand from Europe crumbled. Growth in Indian factory output eased to a three-month low of 53.2 in January, retreating from the six-month high in December of 54.7 as new export orders slowed.

“The growth momentum in the manufacturing sector eased in January as a slower expansion in new orders slowed output growth,” Leif Eskesen, an economist at HSBC, said of the Indian purchasing managers’ survey.

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