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Jun 11, 2012, 11.27 AM IST
China's inflation, industrial output and retail sales all flagged in May for a second straight month of sluggish growth that galvanised policymakers last week into taking their boldest action yet to combat a sharpening slowdown.
A flurry of data over the weekend explained China's surprise cut in interest rates on Thursday - its first since the global financial crisis - by showing the extent of the domestic economy's weakness. The rate cut followed a number of measures designed to get money flowing back into the economy.
Beijing could offer more support if needed to combat risks from the euro zone debt crisis, which claimed Spain this weekend as the fourth country to seek financial support, and to promote stability in a year of leadership change, analysts said.
"Monetary policy should continue to lean towards loosening," said Wang Jun, an economist at the government-backed think tank China Center for International Economic Exchange.
Premier Wen Jiabao and other policymakers appeared to be jolted by dire economic figures for April, released a month ago. In recent weeks they have approved languishing investment projects and launched a number of reforms to allow private investment into sectors previously dominated by the state.
Thursday's quarter point rate cut briefly lifted financial market sentiment, although that gave way to suspicions that the timing of the reduction meant May's data would be worse than expected. The suspicions were right.
Industrial output rose 9.6% in May from a year ago, below expectations and further entrenching concerns the world's second-largest economy faces its worst slowdown in years.
Retail sales were short of expectations, growing at their slowest pace since February 2011, while investment in the likes of real estate, infrastructure and factories increased at its weakest year-to-date pace in close to a decade.
Consumer price inflation eased to 3.0%, below expectations and the lowest level since the middle of 2010.
Producer prices fell 1.4% from a year ago, marking the third straight month of producer price deflation.
"The slide in PPI... points to considerable sluggishness in domestic manufacturing activity," said Xianfang Ren, economist at IHS Global in Beijing.
China is not alone in slowing down. India reported its weakest quarterly growth in nine years and Brazil almost stalled in the first quarter, raising doubts as to how much emerging markets can drive the world economy as industrialised nations struggle with debt.
While manufacturing-related data pointed to domestic economic weakness, China's exports and imports figures were much stronger than expected.
Exports rose 15.3% in May from a year earlier, more than double expectations, and up from April's 4.9% rise. A record monthly decline in the yuan against the dollar in May could have helped exports.
Imports gained 12.7%, also more than double expectations, and well above April's 0.3% rise. That left a trade surplus of USD 18.7 billion, the biggest since January.
Some imports may reflect optimism that the China's stimulus measures will translate into a revival of economic momentum. Copper imports - normally an indicator of economic activity - were surprisingly strong and crude oil imports hit a record high of 6 million barrels a day.
External demand was not nearly as dire either. Exports to the United States rose 23% in the first five months of this year compared with a year earlier, the strongest year-to-date pace in 2012.
Shipments to the European Union - China's biggest foreign customer - grew 3.4% on the same basis, the highest since January. The pace of exports to Southeast Asia hit a three-month high.
Still, China can not count on exports alone. The government has set a more modest target of boosting exports and imports by 10% this year compared with the pace of more than 20% that characterised 2010 and the early part of 2011.
"The trade situation is still relatively grim," the official Xinhua news agency paraphrased China's Commerce Minister, Chen Deming, as saying. "If lucky, we will be able to keep annual growth of around 10 percent.
Concerns are growing that the euro bloc may slip back into recession and even break up. China's two-way trade with Europe grew by a lackluster 1.3%, showing that Europe can't look to Chinese buyers for much of a boost either.
Reflecting the harder times, some struggling Chinese exporters are offering clients steep discounts in return for bulk orders upfront, trade and investment lawyer Dan Harris of Harris & Moure in Seattle wrote recently in his China Law blog.
Beijing should be ready to launch more stimulus measures to counter "intensifying external weakness", HSBC researchers said.
May 25 2013, 16:36
- in Technicals
May 25 2013, 16:36
- in MARKET OUTLOOK