4 Min Read
* Caterpillar, Komatsu, Sany post strong China Q1
* Industry sales to rise 21 pct vs 1 pct rise in 2016-forecast
* Fast growth in H1 on gov support, slower in H2 - execs
By Adam Jourdan
SHANGHAI, April 28 (Reuters) - Chinese demand for trucks, cranes and diggers is gaining momentum after bottoming out last year, driven by a Beijing-backed infrastructure push, a housing boom and increased investment linked to China's modern-day "Silk Road".
Chinese and global machinery makers, including Caterpillar Inc, Japan's Komatsu Ltd and Sany Heavy Industry, posted strong profits this week for the first quarter of the year, citing growing strength in the Chinese market after years of decline.
The performance was boosted by China's faster-than-expected economic growth of 6.9 percent in the first quarter, the fastest pace in six quarters. Economists say Chinese policymakers have leaned on property investment and infrastructure spending, including their plan to build a modern "Silk Road" trading route, to help support the economy.
"The strong demand in China resulted in a reduction in Asia-Pacific dealer inventory, as demand outpaced our sales to dealers," Caterpillar Chief Financial Officer Bradley Halverson told analysts this week.
"If policy remains supportive we expect strong market conditions in China to continue at least through mid-year," he added. The U.S.-listed firm posted stronger-than-expected first quarter sales on Tuesday.
Sales of construction equipment, including dump trucks, excavators and mobile cranes, are set to shoot ahead by 21 percent this year after a slight 1 percent increase last year and 42 percent slump in 2015, forecasts by industry consultant Off-Highway Research, show.
Industry revenues peaked in 2011 at $35 billion and then fell as activity slowed down.
Investors have been looking hard for signs of a broader economic revival. A team at BlackRock Inc started picking up increased signs of building activity on the ground in China in the second half of last year by using satellite imagery.
Revenues at Zoomlion jumped 74.5 percent in the first quarter, its fastest quarterly growth since the start of 2011. Net profit hit 18.6 million yuan, swinging from a 660 million yuan loss a year earlier.
Sany Heavy Industry Co Ltd said on Thursday net profit for the first quarter rose 727 percent to 745.7 million yuan. Sales increased almost 80 percent.
Executives and analysts, however, cautioned that the upturn would likely lose pace in the second half of the year as measures to rein in a hot property market take greater effect and there is also no clear policy certainty longer term.
"In China there is the Communist Party Congress in the autumn, so after that there is some uncertainty about policy," said Mikio Fujitsuka, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Komatsu Ltd.
Komatsu has forecast a drop in operating profit this year, but said it had seen signs of improvement in China.
"We think the first half of the year should be fine but are more cautious about the second half of the year."
Shi Yang, a consultant at Off-Highway Research, said the year would be divided by a fast start and a slower second half, and that there were even signs of a bubble.
"Since the third quarter of last year til now, the recovery has been pretty strong - but it has its limits," he said.
"The big peaks we saw before are certainly behind us and there are some signs of overheating. In fact, already the market has started to slow."
Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Additional reporting by Maki Shiraki in TOKYO, Brenda Goh in SHANGHAI and SHANGHAI newsroom; Editing by Neil Fullick