Archive for ‘trade war’


China buys US soybeans for first time since trade war

Soybeans coming thru siloImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionChina’s purchase of 1.13 million tonnes of US soybeans has been hailed as a wonderful, great step by US officials.

China has bought US soybeans for the first time since the trade war between the two countries started in July – a move hailed as a “great step” by US officials.

One of the biggest casualties of the US-China trade war has been the US soybean sector.

China is by far the world’s biggest importer of soybeans.

And Beijing’s high tariffs placed on US soybeans this year has been severely hurting US farmers.

A trade truce between China and the US was reached earlier this month however, and there had been much anticipation that China would soon return to the US soybean market.

But while China’s purchase of 1.13 million tonnes of US soybeans on Thursday was met with much applause from some, others said the purchase was too small, and not a sign that the trade war was cooling.

“Having a million, million-and-a-half tonnes is great, it’s wonderful, it’s a great step,” said Steve Censky deputy secretary of the US Department of Agriculture.

“But there needs to be a lot more as well, especially if you consider it in a normal, typical year, we’ll be selling 30 to 35 million metric tonnes to China.”

The sale also failed to excite traders, who said the numbers fell short of estimates, which saw a sell-off in soybean futures.

“It’s a start, but it’s not nearly enough to fix our problems in regards to soybeans and a soybean oversupply in this country,” said Joe Vaclavik, president of Standard Grain, a Tennessee-based brokerage.

Why do soybeans matter?

In 2017, soybeans were the single biggest US agricultural export to China, which accounts for some 60% of the global trade in the commodity.

And soybeans are vitally important to China because they use the product to feed livestock.

The key supplier globally is Brazil, but China has also relied heavily on the US for soybeans supplies – in part due to seasonality.

Bar chart for major soybean exporters

Chief economist Robert Carnell from ING Bank told the BBC that China’s purchase on Thursday was more about convenience than anything else.

“The simple fact is China needs a lot of soybeans and it’s been buying them from Brazil, not the US,” he said.

“But Brazil could never supply all the soybeans China needed, so ultimately [China has] been driven back to US soybeans. And I think it’s just convenient for them to do that right now.”

Mr Carnell said that the recent arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and deputy chair, was far more indicative of where the trade war between the US and China was really up to.

“[It’s] a battle for technology, a battle for 5G,” he said. “In particular, Huawei has become one of the world’s biggest suppliers of telecoms technology – and the US doesn’t really like that.

“[So that arrest] is giving you a much better, a much clearer message on where the trade war lines in the sand are really being drawn.”


Lowest retail sales growth for 15 years dash China’s hopes that consumption will offset trade war

Beijing had high hopes that tax cuts for individuals would lift consumer spending and boost an economy which is showing the effects of the trade war, but overall retail sales in November proved disappointing.

Even record spend on Singles’ Day’ on November 11 could not prevent retail sales from posting their weakest growth rate in 15 years.

November’s retail sales, which covers both corporate and consumer spending, stood at 3.52 trillion yuan, down from 3.55 trillion yuan in October, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Friday.

The growth rate fell to 8.1 per cent compared to November 2017, below the 8.6 per cent rate in October. The figure was also below the 8.8 per cent growth forecast by a Bloomberg poll of economists. Adjusted for inflation, the growth was even lower, at 5.8 per cent.

As the US-China trade war continues to weigh on exports, Beijing is counting on households and companies to spend more to stabilise growth.

However, weak consumption underscores the difficulties the Chinese leadership is having in its efforts to keep the economy stable.

The government expected that its October move to raising the threshold for taxable personal income to 5,000 yuan per month would release unlock spending power equivalent to hundreds of billions of yuan.

It appears likely that some consumers saved their extra income for the November 11 shopping festival, when they can benefit from large discounts.

Shen Li, a physical therapist from Beijing, said his monthly after-tax income increased by 1,000 yuan due to the tax cut, which he used to purchase items such as household appliances on Singles’ Day.

Singles’ Day, China’s version of the US’ Black Friday, is often seen as a gauge of Chinese consumers’ spending power, but in the past it has not been able to drive up total retail sales figures.

This year’s Singles’ Day sales across Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms totalled US$30.8 billion, dwarfing the online sale numbers for Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. But the growth rate of total transactions fell to 27 per cent, from last year’s 39 per cent.

The late October launch of Apple’s new iPhone XR, which is cheaper than the earlier iPhone XS series, did not boost telecom sales in China, which dropped 5.9 per cent in November year on year, to 48.5 billion yuan.

However, a plunge in car sales was the main culprit for weak consumption. Auto sales were down 10 per cent on a year earlier, to 345.9 billion yuan, according to the statistics bureau figures, as auto dealers struggled to clear their inventories.

This matched industry surveys from the China Passenger Car Association (CPCA), which reported this week that retail sales of sedans, multi-purpose vehicles and sport utility vehicles plunged 18 per cent to 2.05 million units last month, which makes a full-year decline very likely in the world’s largest auto markets.

Ding Shuang, chief China economist from Standard Chartered Bank, said weak auto sales were caused by the expiration of tax rebates for smaller cars, a slowdown in consumer loans partly due to the crackdown in online peer-to-peer lending platforms, and subdued property investment, since new homes are often sold together with garages.

Local commentators worried about ‘downgrading’ of consumption in 2018 as spending on premium goods slowed.

The growth of real estate investment from January to November remained stable at the 9.7 per cent rate seen in the January to October period.

“The decline of consumers’ abilities and willingness to spend is going to first cut down on big ticket items like cars,” said Jiang Chao, chief economist from Haitong Securities. “Auto accounts for two-thirds of China’s consumption of consumer durables.”

Rising household debt has given Chinese policymakers few options to boost spending other than cutting taxes. China’s household debt-to-GDP rose to 49.3 per cent in the first quarter, which was lower than in advanced economies but higher than the average 40 per cent among emerging economies, according to the Bank of International Settlements.

“Household debt will continue to rise and so debt service costs will remain a drag on consumption. But the debt service burden on households should not get much worse unless there is a big acceleration in credit growth (which we do not expect),” Ernan Cui, an analyst from research firm Gavekal Dragonomics, wrote in a report.

“Local commentators worried about ‘downgrading’ of consumption in 2018 as spending on premium goods slowed,” Cui said. “The biggest boom in products favoured by affluent households is probably over, but consumption upgrading will continue as long as income growth does.”

NBS spokesman Mao Shengyong said at a press conference on Friday that China still had the potential to maintain a stable and fast rate of consumption growth next year, given the rise in the number of middle class citizens.

Economists are eyeing new individual tax deductions that will go into effect next year and more tax relief for private companies to prevent the economy from slowing further.

A more complex tax deduction policy which takes in six types of expenses – from elderly care to medical costs- could inject an additional 80 billion yuan in consumers spend, according to Cui’s estimate.

Beijing has also indicated that it will tighten the collection of social insurance contributions that employers are required to pay, but analysts fear that this could negate the benefits of the tax deductions for employees.


Deflation threat returns to haunt Chinese economy as risks from US trade war linger

  • Both consumer price index and producer price index fell on a monthly basis due to weak demand and a steep drop in oil prices
  • Bad news follows slower than expected drop in imports and exports
  • China suffered another economic blow on Sunday with the return of the deflation threat, a day after it reported slower than expected growth in exports and imports.

    A fall in both consumer and producer price indexes was a result of weakness in demand from both Chinese consumers and investors and reflected their reluctance to spend as confidence in future growth is undermined by the trade war with the US.

    The figures add the challenge faced by the Chinese leadership in keeping economic growth on track ahead of the annual central economic work conference, where policies for next year will be determined.

    Last month the consumer price index fell 0.3 per cent from October while the producer price index dropped 0.2 per cent – the first month-on-month fall in seven months – due to the steep fall in the price of crude oil and coal, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Sunday.

    On a yearly basis, China’s PPI rose only 2.7 per cent in November, the lowest reading in two years, while China’s CPI in November rose 2.2 per cent from a year earlier, the lowest in four months, the official statistics showed.

    Analysts said deflationary pressure was set to continue as economic activities to weaken.

    Jiang Chao, an analyst with Haitong Securities, wrote in a note before the Sunday data was released that China’s PPI would drop to zero in December and fall further into negative territory in 2019, officially putting China in a deflationary zone.

    The return of deflation risks, which often associated with a contraction in economic activities, provides fresh evidence that China’s US$12 trillion economy is heading into trouble, even though China and US have agreed a 90-day truce in the trade war during which they will try to resolve their differences.

    The official purchasing managers index, a leading indicator of economic growth, showed activity in China’s vast manufacturing sector stalled in November for the first time in over two years as new orders shrank.

    The country’s exports decelerated rapidly last month, although China’s trade surplus with the US widened to a record level, the Chinese customs administration said on Saturday.

    The Chinese government has been trying to shore up confidence in the country’s economic prospects since the summer and shifted its policy priority from cutting debt to bolstering growth.

    However, signs of stress continue to mushroom in the economy.

    Economic data from the first three quarters of the year has suggested that as many as 19 provinces have fallen behind their annual GDP targets and many local governments are scrambling to spur investment so that they can meet their growth targets for 2018.

    The Chinese government has expressed its concerns about unemployment and promised to give cash subsidies – in the form of a partial refund of unemployment insurance payments – to employers if they do not cut their labour force.

    China’s economic growth also slowed to 6.5 per cent in the third quarter of this year from 6.7 per cent in the second quarter of this year


China takes steps to support jobs as trade war starts to hit employment

  • Cabinet unveils measures including unemployment insurance refunds for firms that do not lay off staff and subsidies for all jobless young people aged 16 to 24
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 4:15pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 4:17pm


Beijing is now officially worried about unemployment, as the US-China trade war continues to weigh on the world’s second largest economy.

On Wednesday, the State Council unveiled policies ranging from refunding unemployment insurance payments to companies that do not lay off staff to giving subsidies to jobless young people aged 16 to 24 rather than only to college graduates without jobs, according to a document on the government’s website.

The cabinet’s policy paper, which was drafted on November 16 but only made public this week, had already been passed down to local governments last month. The local governments were told to draft their own versions, taking account of local conditions, within 30 days.

Beijing has prioritised employment stability over other economic targets in various meetings, but the document offers the first sign of unease within the central government leadership over whether it can fight off unemployment pressure, as the trade war continues to reduce corporate hiring demand, particularly from export manufacturers.

While the official survey-based unemployment rate remained stable at 4.9 per cent in October compared to September, other indicators point to a weakening jobs market. The employment sub-index in both the official and Caixin purchasing managers’ index for the manufacturing sector showed factories have started to cut their workforces during the past few months because of weak overseas demand.

In the export sector, hiring demand fell by more than half in the third quarter, according to the China Institute for Employment Research, with the supply of new jobs declining even more in coastal cities such as Ningbo and Suzhou that rely heavily on international trade.

“Employment is facing new challenges this year, particularly since the start of the trade conflict,” Zhang Yizhen, vice-minister of human resources and social security, said at a press conference on Wednesday. “These [firms] operating mainly in import and export trade, particularly those exposed to and concentrating on US trade, are facing greater pressure [on employment].”

According the State Council policy paper, companies that do not lay off staff or only scale down their workforce mildly can get a 50 per cent refund of unemployment insurance payments made on behalf of their employees last year. And for firms that face temporary operational difficulties but have had few lay-offs, the refunds could be higher.

Companies in China are required to pay 2 per cent of their total payroll in unemployment insurance every month.

Beijing also called for local governments to increase their financial support for individual entrepreneurs and small private-sector enterprises, which are the main driver of urban employment in China. These entrepreneurs and firms should be offered government-guaranteed loans of between 150,000 yuan (US$21,900) and 3 million yuan (US$438,200).

Southern Guangdong province, a major hub of China’s export economy, is one of the first regions to heed Beijing’s call to lay out a detailed subsidy plan to stabilise employment, based on a notice dated last Friday but published on the government’s website on Monday this week.

In the Guangdong plan, third-party recruitment agencies will get a subsidy of up to 800 yuan from the provincial government for each rural worker they help find a job, through which the worker contributes to the social security fund for more than six months.

A small company that was registered within the last three years can get up to 30,000 yuan in total subsidies depending on the number of workers they hire. The government also offered subsidies – from hundreds to thousands of yuan – to encourage people who start new business in rural areas, college graduates who go to work for rural governments, and small enterprises that hire workers living below the poverty line.

At least for now, Beijing remains confident it can keep the job market under control.

“Even though key indicators have shown that employment remains stable, of course, we are concerned about the uncertainty surrounding the domestic economy and external markets,” Zhang said. “These new measures from the State Council will further stabilise and stimulate employment. We are confident [that they will do that].”


The US-China trade war: from first shots to a truce

  • Washington has agreed to hold off on new tariffs but the core conflicts have yet to be resolved
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 December, 2018, 5:44pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 December, 2018, 5:44pm
Sarah Zheng

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China and the United States agreed to a 90-day ceasefire on new tariffs in their trade war at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, allowing a reprieve after months of threats and stalled talks.

The decision for the US to hold off on planned tariff increases on US$200 billion in Chinese goods from 10 to 25 per cent on January 1 came over a grilled steak dinner in Argentina, the first face-to-face meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping since the start of the conflict.

Here is a look back at how it all began.

The first shots

The truce comes almost a year after the two countries began sparring over trade. Trump first slapped 30 per cent tariffs on solar panels and washing machines in February, prompting a complaint to the World Trade Organisation from Beijing. Then in March, the Trump administration imposed steel and aluminium tariffs across the board, including on China, which the Chinese government responded to with tariffs on 128 US products such as wine, fruit, and pork.

But the trade war began in earnest in July with the US levying its first round of punitive tariffs, triggered by an investigation under Section 301 of the Trade Act into Chinese trade and intellectual property practices.

Washington’s duties on US$34 billion in Chinese products was quickly matched by Beijing. The US imposed tariffs on another US$16 billion in August – again matched by China – and then US$200 billion in September. Beijing responded to the third round by targeting US$60 billion in US goods.

Beijing’s US$110 billion total targeted industries that analysts said were aimed at Trump’s political base, including a particularly stinging 25 per cent duty on American soybeans.

While business leaders in both countries called for a resolution, a series of trade talks – including low-level discussions in Washington in late August – failed to yield a breakthrough.

After the Chinese side reportedly cancelled scheduled talks in September, US officials signalled that they would not return to the negotiating table without a concrete proposal from Beijing.

Then just before the G20 summit, Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He, Xi’s top economic aide, called off a planned meeting in Washington at the last minute and pinned everything on talks in Buenos Aires.

Just how bad has it been?

The trade war cast a long shadow over the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Papua New Guinea in November, resulting in the leaders failing for the first time to issue a joint communique. And as the China-US conflict has rolled on, it has spilled over into a broader strategic concern, one some analysts have described as the start of a new cold war.

In October, US Vice-President Mike Pence slammed Beijing not only for unfair trade practices, but for militarisation of the energy-rich South China Sea, domestic repression including massive state imprisonment of ethnic Uygurs in Xinjiang, and expanded global influence through “debt diplomacy”. Without offering evidence, Trump also accused China of meddling in US elections ahead of the November midterms.

As tensions escalated, Washington tightened export restrictions on strategic industries, sanctioned a key department of the Chinese military for purchases from Russia, and increased visa scrutiny for Chinese academics in the US.

Meanwhile, American companies in China have reported increased scrutiny from regulators and delayed approvals for licences.

What’s next?

Xi and Trump initially appeared to hit things off with reciprocal lavish state visits in Mar-a-Lago in Florida and Beijing, but their apparent honeymoon was short-lived. A 100-day plan that outlined ways for China to open its economy failed to address the Trump administration’s fundamental concerns.

Those concerns include US complaints about Chinese intellectual property theft and industrial subsidies, centred on Beijing’s state-backed “Made in China 2025” initiative, a programme to turn China into a leader in a range of advanced technologies.

Despite the ceasefire, analysts are sceptical that a deal can be reached on the wide range of prickly trade issues. Only days before the G20 summit, Trump told The Wall Street Journal that it was “highly unlikely” he would delay the January 1 tariff increases, insisting that the brunt of the existing tariffs were being borne by China.

He also said the US was ready to levy tariffs on the remaining US$267 billion in Chinese imports, including consumer goods such as Apple products.

The White House is insisting on structural reforms to China’s economy, beyond window-dressing measures to close the trade imbalance, but Xi is unlikely to make major concessions given the inevitable domestic political backlash, analysts say.

“Both sides got the time out they wanted, to recalibrate their strategies and figur

e out what to do next,” Patrick Chovanec, managing director and chief strategist at Silvercrest Asset Management, said on Twitter.

“But the underlying issues – some due to China’s protectionist ideology, some due to Trump’s – remain unresolved.”

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