Growth in China is easing off
Investment at 18-year low
CHINA posted rare disappointing data yesterday, including its slowest growth in investment in nearly 18 years – suggesting that the world’s second-largest economy is finally starting to lose some momentum as borrowing costs rise.
Factory output and retail sales also grew less than anticipated, though a rebound in property sales and construction starts is likely to keep China’s overall growth relatively robust and comfortably on target ahead of a key leadership reshuffle next month.
“I think the risk (for China) isn’t in the next few months, but rather the next couple of years,” said Capital Economics’s Julian Evans-Pritchard.
“Progress on key structural reforms that really matter, such as boosting the performance of state-owned enterprises, has been quite slow and the structural drags on growth remain quite strong and are real risks.”
Analysts had widely expected China’s August data to show that industrial output and retail sales growth had accelerated after fading slightly in July, while investment was seen as only marginally softer.
That would have fit into a pattern of stronger-than-expected readings from China in the first half of the year and upbeat surveys on August factory activity.
A year-long, government-led construction boom has lifted demand and prices for everything from cement to steel to glass, helping offset an expected drag from property cooling measures and a regulatory crackdown on riskier types of financing.
But August’s data suggested the strong boost from Beijing’s infrastructure building spree may be starting to fade.
Fixed-asset investment, a key growth driver for the world’s second-largest economy, grew 7.8 percent in January-August from a year earlier, the weakest pace since December 1999 and cooling from 8.3 percent in January to July.
The main drag appeared to be a slowdown in infrastructure investment due to a significant drop-off in government fiscal spending over the past two months, analysts said.
China front loaded fiscal spending this year to produce rosy growth ahead of the once-in-five-years Communist Party Congress next month, Evans-Pritchard said.
But local governments are constrained by annual budgets and have had to pare back their spending in the second half of this year, he added.
That likely had a knock-on effect on industrial output, which rose 6 percent in August year-on-year, the weakest pace in nine months, statistics bureau data showed. Analysts had predicted output would grow 6.6 percent in August, up from 6.4 percent in July.
Hot and Wet
The statistics bureau said unusually hot and wet weather weighed on industrial output last month, adding that the economy remained on a steady, improving trend. On a monthly basis, output rose nearly half a percent.
China’s crackdown on pollution may have also dented industrial output, as Beijing looks to close older, smog-belching mines and factories, said Nie Wen, an economist at Hwabao Trust in Shanghai.
But economists at Nomura maintained their view that the economy would expand 6.8 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, easing only slightly from 6.9 percent in the first half. That would keep China on track to easily beat the government’s full-year growth target of around 6.5 percent, even if there is some further softening late in the year.
Overall investment may have softened further if not for an unexpected rebound in the property market, which directly affects 40 other business sectors in China.
Despite a series of government curbs which have largely succeeded in cooling red-hot housing prices, activity in the property market snapped back in August, possibly as developers turn their focus to smaller cities with fewer restrictions.
Property investment, which mainly focuses on residential real estate, but also includes commercial and office space, grew 7.8 percent in August year-on-year, versus 4.8 percent in July, according to calculations from yesterday’s data.
A man walks in a park near Beijing’s central business district. Data released yesterday showed that factory production and retail trade posted weaker than expected results, as consumers also faced higher borrowing costs.