Why China’s Central Bankers Are Still Worried
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Why China’s Central Bankers Are Still Worried

China’s economy grew 4% from a year earlier in the fourth quarter—faster than expected.

By Nathaniel Taplin
Tue, Jan 18, 2022 11:08amGrey Clock 2 min

After a tumultuous 2021 marked by near-disaster in the property sector and a widening crackdown on other previously fast-growing industries such as internet technology, China’s economy demonstrated a bit of spark Monday. New figures showed fourth-quarter growth at 4% year over year, slower than the third quarter’s 4.9% but still well above the 3.3% consensus estimate among economists polled by FactSet.

Still, policy makers clearly don’t see much to celebrate: On Monday the People’s Bank of China also announced a 0.1 percentage point cut to two of its key policy rates.

The upbeat data shouldn’t be so surprising, particularly for October and November. Although China’s economy still struggled in the fourth quarter, it benefited from the absence of two big problems from the third quarter: the midsummer Delta variant outbreak and late summer power shortages. Resilient exports supported manufacturing investment, and the slow trickle of monetary easing since July appears to have helped stabilize weak infrastructure investment.

Single-month December data released alongside gross domestic product was largely bad, however, particularly for consumers and the all-important housing sector. Retail sales rose just 1.7% year over year, the weakest growth in over a year. And with China still fighting multiple Covid-19 outbreaks in mid-January—including some linked to the hyper-contagious Omicron variant—the prospects for January and February look bleak too.

More worrying, mortgage lending appears to have retreated in December, after a noticeable bump in November: Growth in seasonally adjusted medium- and long-term loans to households slowed to 9.5% from 14.3% month on month annualized, according to Goldman Sachs. Housing sales also fell back. With infrastructure investment still struggling to accelerate and consumers hunkering down, it is difficult to imagine a floor for overall Chinese growth without more definitive signs of a bottom in real estate.

Even after today’s modest policy rate cuts, monetary easing so far still looks conservative compared with past cycles—and many market rates are still relatively high. More help will be needed to head off a deeper slowdown in the first half of 2022.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: January 17, 2022.



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Surveys point to a fresh acceleration in the U.S., even as growth in the eurozone strengthens

By JOSHUA KIRBY
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Global economic growth is becoming more broad based, with surveys indicating that business activity in both the U.S. and the eurozone gained momentum in May.

The eurozone economy contracted in the second half of 2023 following a surge in energy and food prices triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the subsequent rise in interest rates intended to tame that inflation.

By contrast, the U.S. economy expanded strongly over the same period, opening up an unusually wide growth gap with the eurozone. That gap narrowed as the eurozone returned to growth in the first three months of the year, while the U.S. slowed.

However, surveys released Thursday point to a fresh acceleration in the U.S., even as growth in the eurozone strengthened. That bodes well for a global economy that relied heavily on the U.S. for its dynamism in 2023.

The S&P Global Flash U.S. Composite PMI —which gauges activity in the manufacturing and services sectors—rose to 54.4 in May from 51.3 in April, marking a 25-month high and the first time since the beginning of the year that the index hasn’t slowed. A level over 50 indicates expansion in private-sector activity.

“The data put the U.S. economy back on course for another solid gross domestic product gain in the second quarter,” said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Eurozone business activity in turn increased for the third straight month in May, and at the fastest pace in a year, the surveys suggest. The currency area’s joint composite PMI rose to 52.3 from 51.7.

The uptick was led by powerhouse economy Germany, where continued strength in services and improvement in industry drove activity to its highest level in a year. That helped the manufacturing sector in the bloc as a whole grow closer to recovery, reaching a 15-month peak.

By contrast, surveys of purchasing managers pointed to a slowdown in the U.K. economy following a stronger-than-expected start to the year that saw it outpace the U.S. The survey was released a day after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a surprise election for early July, banking on signs of an improved economic outlook to turn around a large deficit in the opinion polls.

Similar surveys pointed to a further acceleration in India’s rapidly-expanding economy, and to a rebound in Japan, where the economy contracted in the first three months of the year. In Australia, the surveys pointed to a slight slowdown in growth during May.

Businesses reported that they were raising their prices at the slowest pace since November, which should reassure the European Central Bank. However, the eurozone continued to add jobs in May, suggesting that wages might not cool as rapidly as the ECB had hoped.

The ECB released figures Thursday that showed wages negotiated by labor unions in the eurozone were 4.7% higher in the first quarter than a year earlier, a faster increase than the 4.5% recorded in the final three months of 2023

The ECB has signalled it will lower its key interest rate in early June, while the Fed is waiting for evidence that a slowdown in inflation will resume after setbacks this year.

Nevertheless, eurozone businesses and households shouldn’t bank on successive cuts to borrowing costs, ECB Vice President Luis de Guindos said. “There is a huge degree of uncertainty,” he said. “We have made no decisions on the number of interest rate cuts or on their size,” he said in an interview published Thursday. “We will see how economic data evolve.”

Continued resilience in the eurozone economy would likely make the ECB more cautious about lowering borrowing costs after its first move, economist Franziska Palmas at Capital Economics wrote in a note. “If the economy continues to hold up well, cuts further ahead may be slower than we had anticipated,” she said.

– Edward Frankl contributed to this story.

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This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

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Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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