China's industrial output continues slow recovery from virus hit
BEIJING, China – China's factory output rose again in May, while official data on Monday, June 15, also showed retail sales improved further after collapsing at the start of the year, but officials warned the country faced a rocky recovery as it emerges from the coronavirus crisis.
The world's number two economy has been hammered by the disease, with strict lockdown measures to contain it causing the first recession in decades during January-March.
Industrial production expanded 4.4% last month, the Bureau for National Statistics (NBS) said, up from 3.9% in April, which was the first increase this year.
The reading was slightly short of the 5% forecast in a Bloomberg survey, but is a sharp improvement on the 13.5% collapse in the first two months of the year.
Retail sales remained in negative territory, shrinking 2.8% in May, and while it was also worse than the expected 2% estimated, it was much better than the 7.5% contraction suffered in April.
Consumer spending is increasingly crucial for the Chinese economy as leaders look to transition it from one driven by investment and exports, and has taken on more importance with overseas markets battered by the virus.
But sluggish spending indicates people are still anxious about returning to their normal lives.
Jiang Yuan, deputy director of the industry department at the NBS, noted on Monday that the recovery of some industries and products weakened in May, adding that "the external environment is complex, and the stable operation of the industrial economy still faces many difficulties and uncertainties."
Jump in home sales
China's property market saw improvement, with new home sales jumping 9.7% on-year in May owing to pent-up demand.
But fixed-asset investments shrunk 6.3% on-year in January-May – slightly more than the 6% forcast – having plunged 10.3% in the first 4 months.
During past downturns, Beijing has banked on higher infrastructure spending to lead a recovery, and cement and steel mills have already cranked up furnaces to more than 92% of capacity.
Unemployment – which has climbed this year – shrank slightly to 5.9%, from 6% in April.
Martin Rasmussen, China economist at Capital Economics, warned that "the bulk of job losses from COVID-19 were among migrant workers, who are not properly accounted for in the survey."
However, he said there are "signs elsewhere that migrant job growth picked up in May, especially in the construction sector."
Even so, analysts warned that there is still a lot of uncertainty among China's spenders.
"The retail sales could be a one-off improvement from the May Golden Week long holiday," said Iris Pang, ING chief economist for Greater China.
She warned that the "unstable job market and healthcare concerns are the main factors slowing down the recovery...[and] people were still spending carefully."
The Communist Party has long staked its legitimacy on delivering jobs and prosperity in return for public acquiescence to its political monopoly.
A fresh outbreak of the coronavirus in Beijing has raised concerns about a new wave of infections that could hurt any economic recovery.
China's economy shrank 6.8% in the 1st quarter.
The government also abandoned setting an annual gross domestic product growth target – for the first time in nearly two decades, citing "great uncertainty" caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
"With inflation falling, we also think the People's Bank of China could cut interest rates," Lu Ting, chief economist at investment bank Nomura said. – Rappler.com