After a summer lull, China’s economy is likely to have picked up, if only slightly, in August, according to economists.
The stirring in business activity, while lackluster, points to stabilization in the world’s second-largest economy, a survey of 15 economists by The Wall Street Journal showed. August data numbers to be released in coming days are expected to show that factory output improved marginally and new bank credit picked up, while investment and retail sales slowed, though not by much, the survey said.“We expect the upcoming August data release to show China’s economic activity finding a slightly firmer footing after July’s more-than-expected weakening,” said economists at UBS Securities Asia Ltd.
A surprising rise in a key gauge of manufacturing activity earlier this month buoyed the outlook for many economists.Industrial output, a rough proxy for economic growth, likely grew 6.2% in August from a year earlier, compared with a 6.0% increase in July, the survey showed. Fixed-asset investment outside rural households, a key gauge of construction activity, likely expanded 7.9% for the January-to-August period, slightly slower than an 8.1% increase over the first seven months.
Retail sales likely climbed 10.1% in August, a tick down from July’s 10.2% growth.
Among the other positive signs, the consumer-price index, a main gauge of inflation, moderated, likely rising 1.6% from a year earlier last month and slightly slower than the 1.8% growth in July, the survey found. Meanwhile, the producer-price index, a gauge of factory gate prices, likely dropped 0.9% from a year earlier last month, improving from a 1.7% decline in July and continuing a march out of deflationary territory where it has been for more than four years.
The better performance should give policymakers confidence to stay the course and refrain from interest-rate cuts or other aggressive easing measures, economists said.
At the same time, the faint improvements are largely the result of better performance of large firms that benefit more from policy support, economists said, while growing piles of debt and percolating bubbles in the property market are a looming concern for policymakers.
“At this moment, the key constraint faced by China’s monetary policy is not inflation, but the property market and the financial market,” said economists at Macquarie Capital Ltd.
Chinese banks probably gave out 792.5 billion yuan ($118.69billion) in new credit last month, well above July’s 463.6 billion yuan, the survey of economists showed. The economists mainly attributed the rebound to seasonal patterns, since banks tend to pick up the pace of lending at the end of each quarter.
In July almost all the new credit went to medium- and long-term household loans, predominantly mortgage lending. Lending to corporate borrowers, however, recorded a net drain of 2.6 billion yuan, the first negative growth in 11 years.
Household mortgage loans may have continued to surge in August. Recent data show a jump in housing transactions in many cities, and housing prices continue to rise. Credit demand from the corporate sector likely remained sluggish, though may have improved mildly, economists of Standard Chartered Bank.
Trade also remained anemic. Outbound shipments likely declined 4.0% from a year earlier in August, compared with July’s drop of 4.4%, while imports likely dropped by 5.0%, improving notably from July’s 12.5% dip, the same poll showed. Improvements in imports reflect last year’s low base, likely slightly better industrial production activity, and continued easing of import price deflation, UBS economists noted.
That would bring the country’s trade surplus to $59.40 billion last month, widening from July’s $52.31 billion. A large trade surplus should lend support to the country’s hoard of foreign currencies, which is expected to have dropped only slightly last month. The nation’s total reserves likely fell by about $2 billion last month to $3.199 trillion, the survey showed.