China’s factory, services sectors show weakness, need for stimulus

BEIJING, July 31 (Reuters) – China’s manufacturing activity fell for a fourth straight month in July while the services and construction sectors teetered on the brink of contraction, official surveys showed on Monday, threatening growth prospects for the third quarter.

Construction sector activity for July was its weakest since COVID-19-related workplace disruptions dissipated around February, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed.

The world’s second-largest economy grew at a slow pace in the second quarter, as demand remained weak at home and abroad, leading the Politburo – a top decision-making body of the ruling Communist Party – to describe economic recovery as “tortuous”.

The official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) inched up to 49.3 in July from 49.0 in June, staying below the 50-point mark that separates expansion from contraction.

That indicator last pointed to contraction for more than three consecutive months between May and October 2019, before the pandemic, suggesting that negative sentiment among factory managers had grown particularly persistent.

The non-manufacturing PMI, which incorporates sub-indexes for service sector activity and construction, dropped to 51.5 from June’s 53.2. The sub-index for construction, a large employer amid a broader unemployment crisis, fell from a high of 65.6 in March to 51.2 this month.

“The sharp fall in construction activity is a worrying sign of a potential death spiral in the property sector,” said Xu Tianchen, senior economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“Meanwhile, we’re seeing improvements in inventory levels, suggesting that with destocking nearing its end, China’s manufacturing sector bottomed out in the second quarter,” he added.

China’s top leaders earlier this month pledged to step up economic policy support, focusing on expanding domestic demand, boosting confidence and tamping down on risks, the Politburo, a top decision-making body of the ruling Communist Party, said.

China will implement macro adjustments to the economy “in a precise and forceful manner” and strengthen counter-cyclical adjustments, as the government sticks with prudent monetary policy and pro-active fiscal policy, the Politburo was quoted as saying.

Many analysts say policymakers may be reluctant to deliver any aggressive stimulus due to worries about growing debt risks, despite the urgency of the task.

China announced further measures to bolster consumption on Monday, the State Council said.

“Looking forward, policy support is needed to prevent China’s economy from slipping into recession, not least because external headwinds look set to persist for a while longer,” Julian Evans-Pritchard, head of China economics at Capital Economics, wrote in a note.

“Unless concrete support is rolled out soon, the recent downturn in demand risks becoming self-reinforcing.”

Reporting by Joe Cash; Editing by Sam Holmes and Edmund Klamann

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Joe Cash reports on China’s economic affairs, covering domestic fiscal and monetary policy, key economic indicators, trade relations, and China’s growing engagement with developing countries. Before joining Reuters, he worked on UK and EU trade policy across the Asia-Pacific region. Joe studied Chinese at the University of Oxford and is a Mandarin speaker.