China’s economy starts the year with a wobble


China’s economy started the year on an uncertain footing as Covid-19 outbreaks disrupted factory activity and consumer spending, according to a trio of manufacturing and service sector surveys. published on Sunday.

Two gauges of China’s manufacturing activity – one official and one private – each retreated in January, while a third measure, of the country’s service sector, shed light on the heavy toll that the latest spike in coronavirus infections coronavirus has inflicted on domestic demand.

China’s official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index fell to 50.1 in January, the National Bureau of Statistics said, from 50.3 in December and just above the 50 mark that separates the expansion of contraction activity.

The result was in line with the median forecast of economists polled by The Wall Street Journal and marked the third month in a row that the measure has been in expansionary territory.

However, the sub-index measuring total new orders contracted further, falling to 49.3 in January, while new export orders improved to 48.4 in January, still in contraction territory. . Factory output in January weakened to 50.9 and likely would have been even weaker had it not been for an acceleration in consumer goods production ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday which begins on February 1, the statistics office said. .

Meanwhile, the Caixin China manufacturing PMI, a private gauge that’s more focused on smaller private companies than the official manufacturing index – which is weighted more towards large state-owned companies – fell to 49.1 in January, its highest. low level since February 2020, at the peak of the initial Covid-19 epidemic in China.

The sharp decline in Caixin’s manufacturing PMI, from a reading of 50.9 in December, came as the production and total new orders sub-indexes fell to their lowest levels since August, said Caixin.

Overseas demand also contracted at a faster pace than usual as the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus dampened global consumer sentiment.

Weak demand prompted manufacturers to slow their pace of hiring in January to cut costs, the Caixin employment sub-index showed.

“This year, policymakers should focus on stability,” Wang Zhe, an economist at Caixin Insight Group, said in a press release accompanying the data release on Sunday.

Separate data on China’s services sector, also released by China’s statistics bureau on Sunday, showed further weakness in a part of the economy that has been lagging the broader pandemic recovery for nearly two years.

While Chinese leaders have stressed the importance of orienting the Chinese economy more towards domestic consumption, this effort has repeatedly been hampered by new Covid outbreaks and the government’s strict measures to contain them.

China’s official non-manufacturing PMI, which includes both services and construction activity, fell to 51.1 in January from 52.7 in December, the statistics bureau said on Sunday.

The sub-index measuring services activity fell to 50.3 in January, the lowest level in five months, from 52.0 in December, dragged down by coronavirus outbreaks across the country.

Sub-indices tracking sectors of the economy requiring close human contact, including hospitality and consumer services, fell below 45, reflecting lower consumer willingness to spend, Zhao Qinghe said, Senior Statistician at the Chinese Bureau of Statistics.

The sub-index measuring construction activity also weakened to 55.4 in January, from 56.3 the previous month, as weather conditions and the return trips of construction workers for the New Year’s Eve festival Lunar year have taken their toll, the statistics office said.

Economic data releases this year give a first glimpse of the health of the world’s second-largest economy, which quickly lost momentum in the final months of 2021.

For the whole of last year, China recorded gross domestic product growth of 8.1% over the previous year, but the growth profile was unbalanced. In the third and fourth quarters, year-over-year GDP growth was 4.9% and 4.0%, respectively, which is below China’s pre-Covid growth trajectory.

Late last year, Chinese leaders began to signal a move towards promoting stability rather than the structural reforms and disciplines they unleashed on a number of key drivers of economic growth, including the real estate, technology and private education sectors.

The Chinese central bank lowered its key benchmark rates twice, in December and January, while freeing up to lend a large sum of funds that it had forced banks to keep in reserve. Authorities have also recently encouraged banks to provide more home loans and made it easier for cash-strapped property developers to offload troubled assets.

However, Sunday’s release of relatively weak PMI numbers “indicates that the government’s policy easing measures have yet to trickle down to the real economy,” Zhang Zhiwei, an economist at Pinpoint Asset Management, wrote in a statement. note.

Zhang said the pandemic, combined with the collapse of the real estate sector, remained the main risks for the Chinese economy. He predicted that the government would further increase political support in the coming months, including through increased budget spending.

Last week, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reiterated his promises to give more tax breaks to companies, especially small private companies.

More broadly, economists widely expect Beijing to roll out more easing measures as leaders prioritize stability in a politically important year when Chinese leader Xi Jinping will almost certainly seek and obtain a third term in power.

Across China, provincial and regional governments have set economic targets for 2022 that are roughly in line with last year’s growth rates, despite the heightened headwinds the economy is currently facing.

With the exception of Tianjin, a directly administered municipality that has yet to release its 2022 target, the country’s other 30 provincial governments directly administered by Beijing have a weighted average GDP growth target this year of 6.1 percent. , according to China. International capital company.

a Chinese investment bank.

This matched the weighted average GDP target set by all provinces and municipalities in 2021 and close to the national target of “6.0% or more” set in March 2021 by China’s top legislature, the CICC said. . Beijing is expected to release its annual growth target for 2022 in early March.

– Grace Zhu contributed to this article.

Write to Jonathan Cheng at [email protected]

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