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Worries about the health of industries with massive overcapacity have many banks cutting lending to certain sectors by up to 20%, reports Reuters. At the same time, Beijing has asked banks to include loans linked to derivative products and debt financing along with regular reports of outstanding loans by sector.
The specific sectors facing audi are steel, cement, aluminum, smelting, flat-glass, and shipbuilding, says a bank source, and one area of particular concern is the common practice of bank loans backed by commodities like steel and copper.
The moves come in the wake of last week's landmark bond default by Chaori Solar as well as the default of a coal-related high-yield trust product, but is it the real deal? Stories of Beijing cracking down on industrial sectors with excess capacity have been floating around for a decade, but the train has kept on rolling (or bubble inflating, depending on your point of view). FXI -2.2%
China's industrial production growth slowed to 8.6% on year in January and February from 9.7% previously and missed consensus of 9.5%.
Retail sales softened to +11.8% from +13.6% and vs +13.5%.
Urban fixed-asset investment +17.9% vs +19.6% and +19.4%.
The disappointing readings add to other data that indicate that China's economic growth is moderating, including plunging exports.
However, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang became the latest member of the government to indicate that the leadership is prepared to accept slower growth. "The GDP growth target (for 2014) is around 7.5%," Li said. "'Around' means there is some flexibility and we have some tolerance."
Li also reiterated the government's increased acceptance of bankruptcy, saying that some loan defaults are "hard to avoid." He added that the government needs to "enhance oversight" and ensure that there's no "systemic and regional risks."
Meanwhile, Chinese cadres will be assessed on a range of metrics, such as the environment and improving people's lives, and not just on economic growth.
Despite the disappointing data, the Shanghai Composite rose 0.95% amid speculation that listed firms will be permitted to offer preferred shares for the first time.
Chinese exports dropped 18.1% on year in February vs growth of 10.6% in January and consensus of +6.8%.
However, the trend may have been distorted by the Lunar New Year holiday and fake invoicing that boosted the data a year earlier, while the severe winter weather in the U.S. may also have had an effect.
Imports +10.1% vs +10% and +8%.
China swung to a trade deficit of $22.98B last month from a surplus of $31.86B in January and vs forecasts of $14.50B.
"We will probably have to wait for next month's data to get a true picture of the export situation, but we shouldn't worry too much," says UBS economist Wang Tao.
As expected, inflation eased to a 13-month low of 2% on year in February from 2.5% in January. The figure is below the government's 2014 target of 3.5%.
On month, CPI +0.5% vs +1% previously and consensus of +0.8%.
PPI declined for the 24th consecutive month, sinking 2% vs -1.6% and -1.9%. "The risk of deflation is rising in the near term," say ANZ economists Liu Li-Gang and Zhou Hao.
The factors that could be dragging on producer prices include weak consumer demand and the excess capacity of some raw material-industries such cement as glass and steel.
"Whether GDP growth is to the left or to the right of 7.5%, that is not very important. What is important is job creation," Lou added.
The government aims to create 11M jobs this year.
"This flexibility allows them to flag an encouraging number to the business community but at the same time to feel free not to react with stimulus and more debt if it's missed a bit," says Credit Agricole economist Dariusz Kowalczyk.
China has kept its annual growth target at 7.5% for 2014, allaying the concerns of some but disappointing others that it would lower the goal as part of the government's focus on reforming the economy and trying to rein in ballooning credit.
However, in an address to the annual meeting of the National People's Congress, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reiterated his commitment to reform to make growth more sustainable. China will cut idle factories and encourage private investment, and it has reduced its target for growth in fixed-asset investment to 17.5%, the slowest in 12 years.
As expected, China is continuing to target inflation of 3.5% and a fiscal deficit of 2.1% of GDP.
The government also intends to wage a "war" on pollution, including by reducing capacity in the steel and cement sectors.
Meanwhile, China's HSBC services PMI rose to 51 in February from 50.7 in January. However, composite PMI slipped into contraction territory with a fall to 49.8 from 50.8. In comparison, official non-manufacturing PMI rose to 55 from 53.4. (PR)
China's HSBC manufacturing PMI fell to a seven-month low of 48.5 (flash 48.3) in February from 49.5 in January. (PR)
In contrast, the official non-manufacturing PMI rose to 55 from 53.4.
The figures come after government data showed that manufacturing PMI slipped 50.2 from 50.5.
"We are seeing a higher share of services in GDP, and we cite that sometimes as one of the signs of rebalancing in the economy," says BBVA economist Stephen Schwartz. "If that's part of a longer-term trend, that's somewhat encouraging."
The readings add to other data that paint a mixed picture of the Chinese economy. The latest numbers are also thought to have been affected by the Chinese Lunar New Year, when production tends to slow down.
China's official manufacturing PMI slipped to an eight-month low of 50.2 in February from 50.5 but topped forecasts of 50.1.
The data adds to flash HSBC PMI that showed that Chinese factory activity softened in February. The final HSBC reading is due out on Monday.
Both sets of figures were probably distorted by the Chinese New Year, so the government remains sanguine. "Based on market demand and the production situation in some sectors, we expect that future economic growth will remain generally stable," the government said.
"The slowdown in manufacturing growth is due to a deceleration in investment, especially of credit-sensitive infrastructure and real-estate investment," says RBS economist Louis Kuijs. "But there's no need to become overly concerned - the government has the policy space it needs to ensure its bottom line on growth this year while retaining financial stability." (PR)
Preparing for a wider trading range for the currency, the PBOC engineered the yuan's recent decline in order to shake out speculators, reports the WSJ, citing sources close to the bank. Among the moves made by the central bank are directing state-owned lenders to buy dollars.
Previous to the recent quick decline, the yuan had been on a steady rise - attracting a flood of money into the country trying to benefit from a one-way bet. The PBOC and the country's banks had to mop up $45B of foreign exchange in December, the 5th consecutive month of net purchases. One-way no longer, the yuan has slipped to its lowest level since last summer.
Analysts expect the PBOC to expand the allowed trading range of the yuan to 2% daily, up from 1% now (it was 0.5% in April 2012).
The move to widen the trading band and perhaps weaken the currency comes, of course, as China's economy is slowing down. "I'm more concerned about foreign demand and my customers' ability to pay me these days," says a businessman in Shenzhen.
The Chinese yuan has fallen for the sixth day in a row and hit its lowest level in a year, with currency analyst Kenix Lai believing that the People's Bank of China has been engineering the fall, possibly to "change the perception of the one-way bet on yuan gains."
Lai says the PBOC may also be "introducing two-way volatility as it prepares the renminbi for a wider trading band." The PBOC said last week that it plans to expand the range in an "orderly" manner.
The yuan's direction has generally been upwards, but since touching a record high against the dollar in mid-January, the currency has dropped over 1%.
Today, the PBOC set the renminbi's daily reference rate at 6.1184 to the dollar. The yuan is allowed to trade 1% either side of the rate.
The average price of a new home in China rose 9% on year in January, although that represents the first slowdown for a year. December's increase was 9.2%.
The slight deceleration comes amid attempts by the People's Bank to cool the property sector and rein in lending by tightening monetary policy.
Prices increased in 62 out of 70 cities on a monthly basis and dropped slightly in six.
Of China's largest metropolises, Guangzhou's prices gained 18.6%, Shenzhen's 17.8%, Beijing's 15% and Shanghai's 17.5%.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Lou Jiwei has played down the fall in the yuan and the risks from the shadow banking sector, while PBOC Governor Zhou Xiaochuan has indicated that the economy can sustain growth of 7-8%
Forty-six percent of fund managers surveyed by BAML view a sharp slowdown in China as their biggest worry, up from 37% last month, and 26% in December.
"China is getting serious about deleveraging,” wrote SocGen earlier this week in a report nicely summarizing the conventional wisdom. “This should make economic growth slower, but more balanced. There is a risk, however, that deleveraging gets out of control and leads to a hard landing, in which growth slows to 2% Y/Y at the trough.”
Paul Chan, CIO for Asia ex-Japan at Invesco, isn't buying it, noting predictions of a hard landing in China have been going on for several years. “A hard landing in 2014 for a country with the largest foreign-exchange reserves and the lowest government debt-to-GDP among major economies is highly unlikely ... Based on trade, capital flows and liquidity data, investors so far are willing to fund loan growth in China.”
This just in: After a sizable decline to start off 2014, the Shanghai Composite has been headed higher for the last month, up 1.1% last night and now in the green for the year.
The People's Bank of China has drained $7.9B from the country's financial system by selling 48B yuan in repurchase contracts, the first such transaction since June.
The PBOC made the tightening move after weekend data showed that aggregate financing soared to a record 2.58T yuan ($425B) in January from 1.23T yuan in December despite the bank's attempts to rein in lending.
Meanwhile, foreign-direct investment in China climbed 16.1% to $10.76B in January in an indication of continued confidence in the country's economy despite recent cooling,
Separately, the difference in the reported economic output between the national government and China's 31 provinces fell to 10.7% in 2013 from 11% in 2012. The regions' combined output was 62.9T yuan, topping the national figure by a still substantial 6.06T yuan. "Regional authorities are showing more realistic data," says Credit Agricole's Dariusz Kowalczyk. The figures "may reflect the change in emphasis in the assessment of regional authorities away from growth towards other factors, which reduced the incentive for them to inflate the numbers."
The Shanghai Composite ends -0.8%, while a financial index drops 2.1%.
Chinese aggregate financing, the broadest measure of credit, grew to a record 2.58T yuan ($425B) in January from 1.23T yuan in December and topped forecasts of 1.9T yuan.
New local-currency lending soared to 1.32T yuan, the highest level since 2010, from 482.5B yuan in December and vs consensus of 1.1T yuan.
New trust loans, which are receiving much focus due to the risk of defaults, halved to 106.8B yuan from 210.8B yuan a year earlier.
The continued expansion in credit should help the economy keep its momentum, although it contrasts with the People's Bank of China's attempts to rein in the soaring debt and protect the stability of the financial system.
"The PBOC is trying to take the punch bowl away but the banks are continuing to lend and keep the party going," says Société Générale's Guy Stear.
M2, China's widest measure of money supply, +13.2% on year in January, in line, vs +13.6% in December.
China's exports accelerated to +10.6% on year in January from +4.3% in December and slayed consensus for a rise of just 2%.
Imports increased 10% vs +8.3% and +3%.
The trade surplus grew to $31.86B from $25.6B and vs forecasts for a drop to $23.65B.
However, analysts are skeptical: they had expected that the long Lunar New Year holiday would drag on trade last month, whilst other economic data has been disappointing. They warned that the trade figures, as in the past, could have been boosted by fake transactions by traders looking to avoid capital controls and bring cash into China.
"We find this strong level of export growth puzzling," says Nomura economist Zhang Zhiwei. "It is unclear to what extent the strong export data reflects the true strength in the economy." (PR)