China manufacturing rebounds as power crunch, price pressures ease

The official manufacturing purchasing managers' index rose to 50.1. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - China's factory sentiment improved in November after a power crunch subsided and price pressures eased, helping to underpin an economy that's being hit by a property slump.

The official manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI) rose to 50.1, the first time in three months it exceeded the 50 mark in production. The non-manufacturing gauge, which measures activity in the construction and services sectors, fell slightly to 52.3. Both measures beat economists' expectations.

November usually sees a seasonal rebound as there are more working days compared to October when China closes for a week-long national holiday. Energy shortages, which ravaged factory production in September and October, also eased during the month as coal producers boosted output and inventories rose.

"China's manufacturing outlook remains stable as China maintains its advantage in global manufacturing supply chain amidst the ongoing disruptions and shortages," said Liu Peiqian, China economist at NatWest Group. "However, the pace of growth may normalise in coming quarters as the demand outlook softens."

Zhao Qinghe, a senior statistician at the National Bureau of Statistics, said recent measures to strengthen energy supply and stabilise prices had taken some effect. The data showed a sharp drop in input prices for manufacturing to 52.9 from 72.1, while output prices plunged to 48.9 from 61.1.

Despite the improvement in the overall PMI, the data highlighted that demand both at home and abroad remained sluggish. While the index for new export orders rose to 48.5, it's remained in contraction territory for seven months. New orders only improved slightly to 49.4 from 48.8.

More than one third of the surveyed companies said insufficient demand is their most prominent challenge, indicating "the downward pressure on the economy is still very obvious," Zhang Liqun, a researcher with the State Council's Development Research Center, said in a statement released by the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing. The federation compiles the PMI data alongside the NBS.

Mr Zhang said the priority now is to expand domestic demand by letting government investment play a better role in boosting corporate investment, employment and household consumption.

The economy has been buffeted this year by a housing market crisis and frequent Covid-19 outbreaks, risks that are weighing on next year's outlook as well. Several economists expect growth to slow to under 5 per cent in 2022, with more fiscal and monetary support likely to follow.

Policy makers are trying to moderate the sharp downturn in the property market, while providing targeted support to areas such as small businesses and green technology. More clues on policy action will likely come next month, when the Communist Party holds its Central Economic Work Conference.

The PMI survey showed a pickup in construction to 59.1 from 56.9, which suggests "activity seems to be reactivated, thanks to government relaxation measures supporting property projects," said Raymond Yeung, chief economist for Greater China at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group.

A set of early indicators showed China's economy continued to slow in November with car and homes sales dropping again as the housing market crisis dragged on. Strong export demand ahead of the year-end holiday season partly helped offset the property slump.

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.