Business / Economy

China's investment growth slows to record low

Bloomberg, Reuters

China’s economy slowed further in October, according to data from its National Bureau of Statistics, signaling that policymakers’ piecemeal stimulus is failing to boost output and investment amid ongoing trade tensions with the U.S. and subdued demand at home.

Investment grew at the slowest pace since at least 1998, that data shows, with private companies pulling back. Industrial output and retail sales growth also slowed more than expected, showing that demand continues to weaken right across the economy.

The data, released Thursday, forms further evidence that policymakers’ efforts to brake the slowdown are falling behind the curve as the nation faces structural downward forces at home and uncertainty clouding its trade outlook with the U.S.

The government and central bank have refrained from dumping stimulus into the economy, preferring to make smaller adjustments to try and boost growth without a massive expansion in debt.

“Momentum for slowdown is not yet over,” said Julia Wang, an economist at HSBC Holdings Plc. in Hong Kong. “Given the slowdown is so sharp, it is going to impact maybe the labor market at some point next year, and you are going to see further weakness in domestic demand.”

Industrial output rose 4.7 percent from a year earlier, versus a median estimate of 5.4 percent, while retail sales expanded 7.2 percent compared to a projected 7.8 percent increase.

Consumers have been hit with higher food costs over the past few months, as the prices of pork and other meat soared.

At the same time consumers have been reluctant to make big purchases, with auto sales falling for the 16th straight month in October, data showed on Monday.

Fixed-asset investment slowed to 5.2 percent in the first ten months, versus a forecast 5.4 percent. That was the lowest reading in comparable data back to 1998. Spending by the manufacturing sector was barely above the record low logged in September, while infrastructure investment growth continued to bounce along around 4 percent as it has all year.

While growth in investment has slowed, the structure is improving, according to National Bureau of Statistics spokeswoman Liu Aihua, who spoke in Beijing after the data was released. While the challenges facing the economy shouldn’t be underestimated, the overall momentum hasn’t changed, she said.

The People’s Bank of China reduced the cost of one-year funds for banks for the first time since 2016 earlier this month, reflecting the struggle to support the economy when debt and consumer prices are rising but demand remains weak.

The government announced a reduction in capital requirements for some infrastructure projects on Wednesday, signaling ongoing concern about the level of investment.

“The data reinforce the theme of economic slowdown,” said to Raymond Yeung, chief economist for greater China with Australia & New Zealand Banking Group. “The poor IP confirms our view that an industrial recession is underway,” and a phase one deal trade deal will not help as the slowdown is more to do with a lack of domestic demand, he said.

China’s Ministry of Commerce and some U.S. officials said last week they had agreed to roll back some tariffs if there is a phase-one deal. But the optimism was quickly damped as President Donald Trump said that he hasn’t agreed to anything. The trade war has lasted more than a year and has dented the global economy. Any re-escalation would further hit investor sentiment.