September 1, 2017 / 6:41 AM / 4 months ago

What slowdown? Factories chug along as global demand holds up

LONDON/HONG KONG (Reuters) - Factories across Asia and Europe cranked up production last month as global demand remained strong, confounding expectations growth may have peaked.

A man works in the Tianye Tolian Heavy Industry Co. factory in Qinhuangdao in the QHD economic development zone, Hebei province, China December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The strength will add fuel to an expected rollback of monetary stimulus in the West.

Since the global financial crisis, central banks have funnelled trillions of dollars into the world economy. While policymakers in China and Japan still have their feet firmly on the gas, stronger growth is prompting those in the West to start tapping the brakes on years of super-easy money.

Chinese manufacturing activity accelerated to a six-month high, and euro zone factories stepped up production with the fastest rise in export orders since February 2011. Even British factory output grew a lot more strongly than expected given the country’s recent Brexit travails.

“Global momentum has turned out to be solid in the first half of 2017 and looks favourable going forward. Generally, we see more reasons for growth optimism than we did three months ago,” said Paul Mortimer-Lee, chief market economist at BNP Paribas.

IHS Markit’s Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index for the euro zone rose to 57.4 in August, matching where it was in June, which was the highest since April 2011 and well above the 50 level that separates growth from contraction. [EUR/PMIM]

Along with evidence of slowly-rising pricing power for businesses, the data may bolster confidence in the European Central Bank to make -- and go ahead with -- plans to reel back its massive asset purchases programme later this year.

Suggesting Britain’s economy might be picking up speed after a slow first half of 2017, the UK PMI jumped to 56.9, higher than any forecast in a Reuters poll of economists.[GB/PMIM]

That could add fuel to hawkish policymakers’ calls at the Bank of England for higher interest rates.

The BoE’s rate-setters voted 6-2 against a rate hike in August with most policymakers expressing concern about the impact of last year’s vote to leave the European Union on the wider economy.

In the United States, the ISM manufacturing PMI is expected to rise to 56.5, though it is likely to be overshadowed by jobs data due later on Friday, expected to show ongoing solid hiring in August but tame wage inflation.

ROBUST CHINA

China’s private Caixin/Markit survey showed new business grew at the strongest pace in more than three years in August. The manufacturing PMI rose to 51.6, from 51.1 in July.

That echoed similarly robust official data on Thursday suggesting China’s industrial sector is continuing to prosper from a year-long, government-led building boom. In both cases, economists had expected growth rates to ease.

Prices of industrial commodities and building materials, in particular, have surged in China this year largely due to the government’s hefty infrastructure spending and its efforts to reduce excess capacity by shutting inefficient mines and mills.

The third quarter is now looking strong enough that China could sustain much of the momentum from its forecast-beating 6.9 percent growth in the first half, despite a regulatory crackdown on riskier types of financing and debt and a slew of measures to cool its overheating property market.

Resilient growth is not only a boon for the global economy but also for the Communist Party as it prepares for a once-in-five-years leadership reshuffle in October, with stability its key priority.

Ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service this week raised its growth forecasts for China, South Korea and Japan.

“The surveys point to resilient industrial activity last month,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.

But he added: “Investment growth has cooled recently and we anticipate a further slowdown as the impact of tighter monetary conditions continues to feed through. If we are right, the current strength of industrial activity can’t be sustained for long.”

Manufacturing also expanded solidly in the world’s No.3 economy, Japan, as domestic and export orders picked up. The pick-up in new business was generally more modest than in China, however, suggesting its economic growth may moderate from an eye-popping 4 percent annualized rate in the second quarter.

Other Asian electronics producers were also riding high.

Taiwan’s manufacturing survey saw the fastest growth in four months, while South Korea’s exports beat expectations and posted their longest run of growth in almost six years. South Korea is the first among major exporting countries to publish its monthly trade figures.

India’s activity also unexpectedly rebounded in August, in a sign there was light at the end of the tunnel, with the shock of last year’s demonetisation cash crunch and confusion over a new goods and services tax likely to ease in coming months.

But data on Thursday showed Indian economic growth unexpectedly cooled further to a three-year low of 5.7 percent in the June quarter from a year ago.

Reporting by Jonathan Cable, Marius Zacharia and Rahul Karunakar Editing by Jeremy Gaunt

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