Chinese industrial profits plunge 8.8%

A coal worker in Shanxi province in China. Profits in coal mining plunged 64.9 per cent in the first eight months of this year from the same period last year, while oil and gas profits tumbled 67.3 per cent.
A coal worker in Shanxi province in China. Profits in coal mining plunged 64.9 per cent in the first eight months of this year from the same period last year, while oil and gas profits tumbled 67.3 per cent.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

BEIJING • Chinese industrial companies reported that profits fell the most in at least four years as the pillars of China's infrastructure-led growth model suffered from a devalued yuan, a tumbling stock market and weak demand.

Industrial profits tumbled 8.8 per cent last month from a year earlier, with the biggest drops concentrated in producers of coal, oil and metals, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said yesterday.

It was the biggest decline since the government began releasing monthly data in October 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

China's stock-market plunge and currency devaluation are adding new challenges for the world's second-largest economy as it struggles with excess capacity, sluggish investment and weaker manufacturing. The nation's official factory gauge slumped to a three-year low last month, while Bloomberg's monthly gross domestic product tracker remained below the government's 7 per cent goal last month with a reading of 6.64 per cent.

"Companies are facing enormous operational pressures," said Mr Liu Xuezhi, a macroeconomic analyst at Bank of Communications in Shanghai. "The momentum of growth is weak, and the downward pressure on the economy is relatively large."

Profits in coal mining plunged 64.9 per cent in the first eight months of this year from the same period last year, while oil and gas profits tumbled 67.3 per cent, the report said.

Ferrous metal smelting earnings fell 51.6 per cent. The drop in profit was attributed to falling product prices, lower investment returns and foreign-exchange losses, Mr He Ping, an NBS official, said in an analysis on the agency's website. 

The report is a gauge of earnings from industrial companies that have 20 million yuan (S$4.5 million) or more in annual "core business income", according to NBS.

Producer prices, or the price of goods as they leave the factory, slumped to a six-year low last month, according to NBS.

Prices have been declining for more than three years, the data showed. "Severe factory-gate deflation and high interest rates are dual poison for profits," said Mr Uwe Parpart, chief strategist at Reorient Securities in Hong Kong. "The message to policymakers should be perfectly clear: ease monetary policy drastically to get in line with the rest of the zero-interest-rate world."

The Shanghai Composite Index reversed earlier losses to close 0.3 per cent higher at 3,100.76, paring its loss from a June 12 peak to 40 per cent.

Contributions from investment returns fell amid China's stock-market rout, while exchange-rate losses rose "noticeably" due to yuan volatility, pushing the companies' financial costs up by 23.9 per cent last month from a year earlier, compared with a 3 per cent drop in July, according to the bureau.

Premier Li Keqiang has responded with policy-easing measures, including five interest rate cuts since last November, reductions in the amount of deposits banks must hold as reserves, a surprise currency devaluation last month and increased fiscal support.

"Old growth drivers continue to sputter and new growth drivers are still on the wish list," said Ms Pauline Loong, managing director at Asia-Analytica Research in Hong Kong. "The Chinese central bank can drop the price of money all it wants and shovel ever more cash into the banking system, but the problems facing the Chinese corporate world are more about the lack of customers than the lack of credit, more about insolvency than illiquidity."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2015, with the headline 'Chinese industrial profits plunge 8.8%'. Print Edition | Subscribe