Economy Jun 15

China's industrial output continues slow recovery

Consumer spending is crucial for the economy as leaders look to shift from one driven by exports and investment, but today's data shows people are being careful about spending

by AFP
China's industrial output continues slow recovery
Migrant workers were hit hard by the Covid-19 impacts but they do not feature in official unemployment statistics. AFP pic.

China's factory output rose again in May, while official data on Monday 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), 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.

Sluggish spending

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".

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," Iris Pang, ING chief economist for Greater China, said.

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.

AFP