China's economic woes have further to spread across Asia, latest export indicators show

China on Tuesday unveiled a flurry of measures to spur demand for items ranging from cars and appliances to information services.
Workers prepare a container at the port in Qingdao, China's eastern Shandong province, on Jan 14, 2019.
Workers prepare a container at the port in Qingdao, China's eastern Shandong province, on Jan 14, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - China's weakening economy is roiling export markets in the rest of Asia - and there's more pain to come.

From Hong Kong to Japan, exports data for December showed a marked downturn as supply-chain disruptions triggered by US-China tensions and a cyclical slowdown in the world economy, led by China, hit the trade-reliant region.

More bad news is in store for January: Bloomberg Economics' early indicator shows China's economy slowed further this month, while Thursday's purchasing managers index is set to show another decline in factory output. Nikkei PMIs for seven of the region's economies are due on Friday, with four of them already in contraction or less than half a point from contraction.

Hong Kong's worse-than-expected plunge in exports was telling for its broadly subdued demand from the rest of Asia, especially mainland China. Trade-dependent Singapore posted its biggest fall in exports in more than two years, while in Indonesia, the biggest economy in South-east Asia, the drop in shipments was the worst since mid-2017.

South Korea and Taiwan had a pair of ugly exports reports last week, and Japan followed with the second decline in four months. January data for Vietnam, where trade accounts for twice the nation's gross domestic product, showed a 1.3 per cent contraction in exports from a year ago, the worst performance in five years.

China's growth has been steadily weakening over the years, reaching 6.6 per cent last year, the slowest pace since 1990. As the world's second-largest economy, it contributes about a third of global growth.


Beyond China, exports in the region are also being hit by a cooling technology sector, which had buoyed powerhouses like Taiwan and Singapore for much of the past couple of years.


Bloomberg Intelligence analysts point to other economic data showing worsening conditions. Smaller dry bulk ships, which are "workhorses of global trade and not just China-dependent," are signaling an unprecedented decline in activity, which probably means a deepening global industrial slowdown, according to BI analysts Rahul Kapoor and Chris Muckensturm.

From Apple Inc to Caterpillar Inc, companies are feeling the pain. Caterpillar, the bulldozer manufacturer, posted its biggest quarterly profit shortfall in a decade on Monday, while Nvidia Corp, the largest maker of chips for computer graphics cards, cited deteriorating conditions in China for weaker consumer demand for its products.

A Bloomberg dashboard of 10 critical global trade indicators now shows two flashing red, with a couple more - expectations of German businesses and of China's exporters - poised to slip into below-average territory.

Other third-party gauges also offer warning signs for the world's exporters. An Asia exports index created by analysts at Nomura Holdings, which is meant to give a three-months-ahead read on export growth in Asia ex-Japan, is at its worst level since October 2016.

Malaysia's trade data are due on Wednesday, with economists projecting export growth will slow further. Thai authorities, who pinned the trade war for a sluggish export gain in November, are set to report December figures on Thursday, while the Philippines will release December trade data on Feb 12.