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China economy reflating as producer prices rise at fastest pace in five years
December 9, 2016 / 2:37 AM / in 10 months

China economy reflating as producer prices rise at fastest pace in five years

A coal-fired power plant is pictured near a construction site in Beijing, China, December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s producer prices rose at the fastest pace in more than five years in November as prices of coal, steel and other building materials soared, boosting industrial profits and giving firms more cash flow to pay off mountains of debt.

The stronger-than-expected 3.3 percent surge in prices, along with upbeat factory readings from China, the United States and Europe, add to views that the global economy may be slowly reflating again thanks to a pick-up in industrial activity.

“This (the PPI jump) confirms our view that China has emerged from a multi-year deflationary trap,” ANZ said in a note.

While some heavy industries such as coal mining, steel mills and metal processors saw the biggest rebound, official data on Friday showed the price recovery was also becoming more broad-based, with more sectors emerging from deflation.

Consumer inflation also picked up more than expected to 2.3 percent from a year earlier, the highest since April, due to higher food prices.

Though the price gains were modest, they reinforced views that the central bank will be in no rush to loosen monetary policy again any time soon, and even fueled speculation as to when the People’s Bank of China may start tightening conditions.

China’s central bank has not cut interest rates since October 2015, when worries about deflation were more pressing, opting instead for regular injections of funds into the financial system and targeted infusions of cash into the weakest parts of the economy, such as rural areas.

“While there remains no immediate pressure on the central bank to raise interest rates, the uptick in inflationary pressures in November, combined with downward pressure on the renminbi-exchange rate, highlight the risk that monetary policy tightening may begin earlier than The EIU currently expects,” said Dan Wang, China analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Wang currently expects the PBOC will start to raise interest rates from the fourth quarter of next year.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected producer prices to rise by a more modest 2.2 percent, up from 1.2 percent in October, while consumer prices had been expected to pick up marginally to 2.2 percent from 2.1 percent.

“Today’s data shows future (PBOC) easing is even less likely. I don’t see any need for a RRR cut,” Capital Economics’ China economist Julian Evans-Pritchard said, referring to a cut in banks’ reserve requirements.

“With what is going on with China’s declining foreign reserves, if PBOC injects liquidity to replenish it, it is already kind of tightening without having to resort to such high-profile measures,” he said, adding that the PBOC has plenty of tools at disposal to adjust liquidity in the market.

The central bank said in its third-quarter monetary policy implementation report it will maintain ample liquidity in the financial system while taking steps to prevent asset bubbles in an increasingly leveraged economy.

REFLATION GAME

A coal-fired power plant is pictured near a construction site in Beijing, China, December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee

China’s producer prices rose in September for the first time in nearly five years thanks to a rebound in commodity prices.

A construction boom led by higher government spending and a blistering housing market rally have boosted prices for materials from steel and copper to glass and cement, with speculators adding fuel to a months-long rally in China’s commodity futures markets.

Government efforts to reduce excess capacity in industrial and mining sectors have also buoyed prices by creating shortages in some areas, such as coal. That helped boost industrial profits 9.6 percent in October from a year earlier.

Chinese steel and iron ore futures rose for a sixth straight session on Friday, spurred by upbeat trade data on Thursday and worries over tighter supply as Beijing intensifies efforts to cut excess steel capacity.

Customers shop at a supermarket in Shanghai March 8, 2013. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

Futures prices for steel reinforcement bars used in construction have surged to 31-month highs, while iron ore is at its strongest since late 2014.

China’s November imports expanded 6.7 percent on-year, the fastest in more than two years, as factories replenished inventories of raw materials, helping to lift commodity prices globally.

HOW LONG WILL PRICE RECOVERY CONTINUE?

ANZ estimates that higher prices of metals, mainly steel, and coal account for nearly half of the PPI changes, and says prices could continue to rise well into 2017.

ANZ market economist David Qu in Shanghai said PPI will rise by 2.5 percent next year, though momentum will wane in the second half.

Qu said the government has shown that it is more determined to cut excessive capacity than people thought, and the property market, while cooling, would still support demand for a while longer.

“While (home) sales may have already cooled, construction starts and property investment will still be strong in the first half of 2017, which would continue to boost steel prices,” Qu said.

ANZ maintains the broader-based producer price index has a higher correlation with economic activity and interest rates than consumer prices, which are primarily driven by food prices and underestimate housing costs.

China’s economy expanded at a steady 6.7 percent in the third quarter and looks set to hit Beijing’s full-year target, fueled by stronger government spending, record bank lending and a red-hot property market that are adding to its growing pile of debt.

But the world’s second-largest economy is expected to slow next year, as effects from previous stimulus start to fade.

Reporting by Yawen Chen and Nicholas Heath; Editing by Kim Coghill

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