China’s painful economic woes spread across Asia

Early indicator shows China’s economy slowed further this month, while today’s PMI is set to show another output decline

SINGAPORE • China’s weakening economy is roiling export markets in the rest of Asia — and there’s more pain to come.

From Hong Kong to Japan, exports data for December showed a marked downturn as supply-chain disruptions triggered by US-China tensions and a cyclical slowdown in the world economy, led by China, hit the trade-reliant region.

More bad news is in store for January: Bloomberg Economics’ early indicator shows China’s economy slowed further this month, while today’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) is set to show another decline in factory output.

Nikkei PMIs for seven of the region’s economies are due tomorrow, with four of them already in contraction or less than half a point from contraction. A separate business survey yesterday showed South Korea manufacturers’ confidence for February is at the most depressed level since the global financial crisis a decade ago.

Hong Kong’s worse than expected plunge in exports was telling for its broadly subdued demand from the rest of Asia, especially mainland China. Trade-dependent Singapore posted its biggest fall in exports in more than two years, while in Indonesia, the biggest economy in South-East Asia, the drop in shipments was the worst since mid-2017.

South Korea and Taiwan had a pair of ugly exports reports last week, and Japan followed with the second decline in four months. January data for Vietnam, where trade accounts for twice the nation’s GDP, showed a 1.3% contraction in exports from a year ago, the worst performance in five years.

Even in Malaysia, where export growth surprisingly picked up in December, shipments to China fell 0.5% from a year ago.

China’s growth has been steadily weakening over the years, reaching 6.6% last year, the slowest pace since 1990. As the world’s second-largest economy, it contributes about a third of global growth.

Beyond China, exports in the region are also being hit by a cooling technology sector, which had buoyed powerhouses like Taiwan and Singapore for much of the past couple of years.

Bloomberg Intelligence (BI) analysts point to other economic data showing worsening conditions. Smaller dry bulk ships, which are “workhorses of global trade and not just China-dependent”, are signalling an unprecedented decline in activity, which probably means a deepening global industrial slowdown, according to BI analysts Rahul Kapoor and Chris Muckensturm. — Bloomberg