global economic


China’s Q1 GDP growth steadies unexpectedly, but too early to call clear recovery

BEIJING: China’s economy grew at a steady 6.4% pace in the first quarter, defying expectations for a further slowdown, as industrial production jumped sharply and consumer demand showed signs of improvement.

The upbeat readings, which included faster growth in investment, will add to optimism that China’s economy may be starting to stabilise even as Beijing and Washington appear to be edging towards a trade deal.

Investors have ranked China’s slowdown and the trade war as the biggest risks facing the faltering global economy.

But analysts warn it is too early to call a sustainable turnaround, and further policy support is needed to maintain momentum in the world’s second-largest economy. Many had expected a recovery only in the second half of 2019.

Beijing has ramped up fiscal stimulus this year, announcing billions of dollars in additional tax cuts and infrastructure spending, while Chinese banks lent a record 5.8 trillion yuan (RM3.59 trillion) in the first quarter, more than the economy of Switzerland.

“We need more evidence to call a full-fledged recovery. Our view for the economy is still cautious,” said Jianwei Xu, senior economist, Greater China at Natixis in Hong Kong. “We think it (the stronger-than-expected data) is somewhat linked to the stimulus, but we can’t attribute it all to it.”

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected GDP growth to slow slightly to 6.3% in January-March from a year earlier.

Share markets and most currencies in Asia rose in relief, as China’s slowdown has increasingly weighed on its trading partners from Japan to Germany. The yuan currency rose 0.4% to a seven-week high.

Government support is gradually having an effect, though the economy still faces pressure, Mao Shengyong, spokesman at the National Bureau of Statistics, cautioned today.

Quarterly growth was supported by a sharp jump in industrial production, which surged 8.5% in March on-year, the fastest in over 4½ years. That handily beat estimates of 5.9% and 5.3% in the first two months of the year.

Output of building materials such as steel and cement, as well as machinery, showed strong gains. Prices of steel reinforcing bars used in construction hit 7½-year highs this week on firm demand.

Industrial output growth will likely remain steady, with exports expected to keep expanding, Mao said.

Exports rebounded more than expected in March, but analysts say the gains could have been due to seasonal factors rather than a rebound in tepid global demand. Long holidays in February likely pushed some production into the following month.

The jump in output was also somewhat at odds with trade data last week, which showed imports shrank for the fourth straight month, suggesting domestic demand is still sluggish.

“We don’t think the strength in industrial output is sustainable, said Nie Wen, an economist at Hwabao Trust.

“At home, the huge amount of social financing might ease as the central bank is wary of reigniting property market bubbles, while abroad the global economic recovery is expected to slow down,” Nie said, pencilling in more moderate output growth of 6.0-6.5% for the rest of the year.

The OECD on Tuesday sounded a warning about the dangers of prolonged stimulus, saying China’s support measures will shore up growth this year and next but may undermine its drive to control debt and worsen structural distortions over the medium term.

Analysts polled by Reuters expect China’s growth to slow to a near 30-year low of 6.2% this year, as sluggish demand at home and abroad and the trade war weigh on activity despite support measures.

The government is aiming for growth of 6.0-6.5%.

Today’s data also helped ease fears of weakening consumer confidence in China. Retail sales rose 8.7% in March, beating estimates of 8.4% and the previous 8.2%.

Sales were led by stronger demand for appliances, furniture and building materials, reflecting a resurgence in the residential property market, a key economic driver.

Real estate investment rose slightly to 11.8% in the first three months, while construction starts jumped in March. Data on Tuesday showed March new home prices rose at a quicker pace after months of cooling.

But auto sales extended their decline in March, falling 4.4% on-year.

Fixed-asset investment expanded 6.3% in January-to-March on-year, in line with estimates but picking up from the previous period as new road, rail and port projects gathered steam.

Local governments will be allowed to issue 2.15 trillion yuan of special purpose bonds in 2019 to fund infrastructure projects, a jump of 59% from last year.

On a quarterly basis, GDP in the first quarter grew 1.4%, as expected, but dipped from 1.5% in October-December.

However, many analysts do not expect a sharp rebound in China’s economy like its recoveries in the past, which produced a strong reflationary pulse worldwide. Most say its stimulus has been relatively more restrained this time around, given concerns about high levels of debt left over from past credit sprees.

Earlier support measures will take time to fully kick in, and corporate balance sheets are expected to remain under stress if profits are slow to recover from their worst slump in more than seven years.

Some analysts such as Nomura warn there is a risk of a “double dip”, where growth appears to improve only to falter soon after. In particular, it noted there was further heavy drop in land sales for future development, which could drag on construction and local government revenues later this year.

The central bank has already slashed banks’ reserve requirement ratios five times over the past year and is expected to ease policy further in coming quarters to spur lending and make borrowing costs more affordable.

However, some analysts said authorities could be more cautious about further stimulus if data remains solid.

China has rolled out many policies to support growth – the key is to implement them, Mao said.

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Foreign fund selling on Bursa shrinks to RM289m

KUALA LUMPUR: Foreign selling on Bursa Malaysia narrowed to RM289.3 million last week from RM416.7 million in the preceding week, MIDF Research said in its weekly fund report.

This comes after the announce-ment of the revised East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project which helped stem foreign fund outflows.

Foreign selling for the week started modestly on Monday with RM12 million of stocks being sold, the lowest in 11 trading days.

“The level of foreign net selling jumped by more than four times on Tuesday to reach RM53.1 million as Bursa’s Telecommunication Index led decliners amongst the sectoral indices.”

On Wednesday, investors shrugged off the cut in the Inter-national Monetary Fund’s global economic growth outlook for 2019 from 3.5% to 3.3%. Offshore in-vestors returned to Malaysia acquiring equities amounting to RM67.7 million.

Foreign net selling resumed at a higher pace on Bursa on Thursday at RM164.5 million, due to reports of Khazanah Nasional Bhd offering the sale of Tenaga Nasional Bhd shares under a share placement to raise RM1.05 billion, causing the utility stock to drop by 4.1%. The FBM KLCI closed at the 1,624 points, the lowest since late December 2016.

On Friday, the foreign net selling level declined to RM126.4 million as the revised ECRL project will see its cost reduced by about a third.

The local bourse reacted positively to the announcement by gaining for the first time in three days to settle at 1,630 points on Friday.

Year-to-date, international funds have been net sellers in Malaysia for nine out of 15 weeks with a net selling of RM2.05 billion.

“Amongst the four Asean markets we monitor, Malaysia retains its position as the nation with the largest foreign net outflow amongst the four Asean markets we monitor.

“Meanwhile, amongst the seven Asian markets we track, India is the nation with the largest foreign net inflow worth more than US$8.5 billion or RM30 billion as the general election held in phases had began in the republic,” MIDF Research added in its report.

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