BENGALURU/TOKYO (Reuters) - Growth in factory activity slowed across Europe and Asia in September, with export orders weakening before the latest escalation in the U.S.-China trade conflict, but was little changed in the Americas.
Some of the gloom will be offset by news that the United States and Canada clinched a deal on Sunday to salvage the North American Free Trade Agreement, removing one near-term risk to the global outlook.
But with neither Beijing nor Washington ready to compromise on import tariffs, world economic growth may be slowing.
Manufacturing growth in the euro zone slowed to a two-year low at the end of the third quarter, according to the latest IHS Markit purchasing managers’ indices.
“Overall, the picture remains for a less buoyant manufacturing sector in Q3, with not very strong signs yet of a better outlook for the end of the year,” noted Nicola Nobile, a senior economist at Oxford Economics.
“A slowdown in world trade and continuing concerns about the escalation of trade tensions between the U.S. and China continue to weigh on manufacturing sentiment.”
German manufacturing growth slowed to just over a two-year low in September, grew at the slowest pace in three months in France and stagnated in Italy, marking the first time in two years of no expansion.
Weaker export order growth was a common explanation for the slowdown across the euro zone.
And while British factory activity perked up unexpectedly in September, halting a three-month run of slowing growth, the bigger picture was subdued performance, just six months before the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union.
Two manufacturing surveys from China on Sunday pointed to weakening in its vast manufacturing sector. A private poll showed factory growth stalled after 15 months of expansion, while an official gauge confirmed manufacturing was losing steam under the weight of shrinking export orders.
The first major readings on China for September suggest the world’s second-largest economy is continuing to lose momentum as domestic demand weakens and U.S. tariffs bite. The combination is likely to prompt Beijing to roll out more growth-support measures in coming months.
However, analysts do not expect additional stimulus to start stabilizing China’s economy until at least early next year.
Elsewhere in Asia, manufacturing also faltered in Vietnam, Taiwan and Indonesia last month, with Taiwan’s factories expanding at the slowest pace in more than two years on sluggish export orders, business surveys showed on Monday.
Major economies like Japan and South Korea saw headline activity readings hold up, but also suffered declines in export orders, suggesting that increasing protectionism and concerns of slowing Chinese demand were weighing on Asia’s biggest economies.
“Global growth is now cooling, which we think is weighing on foreign demand for Chinese goods irrespective of tariffs,” Capital Economics said in a note to clients.
India was among the few bright spots in Asia. Its factory activity expanded more quickly in September on strong domestic and export order growth, a welcome sign as policymakers worry about a sharp drop in the rupee and fallout from global trade frictions.
While rising protectionism is expected to deal the world economy a relatively modest blow this year, analysts expect risks will intensify in 2019 as tougher U.S. tariffs kick in and global borrowing costs rise.
“Countries that saw their currencies slump may be suffering from rising import costs. There are also signs China’s slowdown and the trade friction are starting to hurt sentiment,” said Koji Kobayashi, senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute.
“It would take time for companies to relocate production from China to other countries. That means the initial impact of the trade friction on Asian economies would be negative.”
In the U.S., Markit’s final reading for September for its manufacturing purchasing manager’s index edged up to 55.6 from 54.7 in August, but the Institute of Supply Management’s index slipped to 59.8 in September from 61.3 in August.
ISM said that U.S. factories continued to be “overwhelmingly concerned about tariff-related activity, including how reciprocal tariffs will impact company revenue and current manufacturing locations.”
Canada’s manufacturing sector expanded in September at its slowest pace this year with growth in new business held back by global trade frictions, data showed on Monday.
In Canada, Markit’s purchasing managers’ index fell to 54.8 last month, its weakest since December 2017, from 56.8 in August. It was the third straight decline for the index, after it reached a survey-record high of 57.1 in June.
“Survey respondents noted that global trade frictions had held back export sales and resulted in more cautious spending patterns among clients,” said Christian Buhagiar, president and CEO, Supply Chain Management Association (SCMA).
In Brazil, Markit’s manufacturing PMI dipped to 50.9 from 51.1 in August, but new orders rose the most in five months, supporting activity.
Markit’s Mexico manufacturing PMI rose to 51.7 in September from a 10-month low of 50.7 in August. Mexico sends about 80 percent of its exports, which are mostly manufactured goods like cars and TVs, to the United States.
Reporting by Rahul Karunakar, Leika Kihara, and Lucia Mutikani; editing by Kim Coghill, Larry King and Clive McKeef