Asia factories find demand lacking, in further blow to commodities

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asia's factories appeared to have stepped down a gear last month as a glut of supply met a dearth of global demand, piling pressure on prices of manufactured goods and the commodities used to make them.

Oil sank to its lowest in over five years on Monday, with the industrial bellwether copper not far behind. The rout spread to gold and silver while the U.S. dollar cleared seven-year peaks on the Japanese yen.

Both U.S. crude and Brent have now fallen for five straight months, the longest losing streak since the 2008 financial crisis.

With domestic and export demand softening and production growth weak, many Asian manufacturers were more reluctant to stock up on raw materials, activity surveys on Monday.

While lower commodity prices are a boon to consumer spending power, they have damaging side effects in a world where official interest rates are already at historic lows in many countries.

Slowing inflation acts as an unwanted tightening of policy as it pushes up real interest rates, one reason China and Japan surprised with new stimulus measures in recent weeks.

It was clear in HSBC's survey of Chinese businesses which found input costs fell for a fourth straight month in November while its overall index of activity touched a six-month trough of 50.0.

China's official Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) was scarcely better, slipping to 50.3 in November from October's 50.8.

After saying for months that China does not need any big economic stimulus, the central bank wrong footed markets by lowering rates in late November.

China's troubles were felt broadly across the region, with South Korea reporting exports to the Asian giant fell for the first time in three months, while its measure of manufacturing activity stayed stuck in contractionary territory.

In Indonesia, the HSBC Markit PMI reached the unwelcome milestone of the lowest since the survey began in April 2011 at 48.0. That was down from 49.2 in October.

In Japan, the Markit/JMMA version of the PMI eased to 52.0 in November, from 52.4 the month before. The economy slipped into recession in the third quarter as the baleful impact of a hike in sales taxes lingered longer than anyone expected.

Still, the extent of the contraction may have been overstated, given figures out Monday showed business investment was stronger than thought.

India was a rare bright spot, as it has been for a few months now, with its PMI climbing to a 21-month high of 53.3 last month.

A host of European and U.S. surveys are yet to come on Monday. The euro zone measure is expected to be barely positive at 50.4, woefully short of the U.S. ISM which is forecast to come in at 58.0.

The European Central Bank releases its latest economic estimates this week when inflation is back at a five-year low, adding to the case for more aggressive stimulus in the bloc.