With global downturn fears prompting such a rocky start to the new year for global markets, what perfect timing for the IMF’s new economist to share his predictions for 2016.
Maury Obstfeld has put China and its slowing economy high on his watchlist for 2016. He also highlights “the crisis of refugees fleeing Iraq and Syria”, climate change and international trade— “which has had setbacks in recent years”, Obstfeld says, citing the effective end of the Doha trade round.
China will remain high on the list. Its economy is slowing as it transitions from investment and manufacturing to consumption and services. But the global spillovers from China’s reduced rate of growth, through its diminished imports and lower demand for commodities, have been much larger than we would have anticipated. Serious challenges to restructuring remain in terms of state-owned enterprise balance sheet weaknesses, the financial markets, and the general flexibility and rationality of resource allocation. Growth below the authorities’ official targets could again spook global financial markets—but then again, time-honored methods of enforcing growth targets could simply extend economic imbalances, spelling possible trouble down the road.
On how 2015 turned out:
There was good news and bad news. The U.S. economy continued its solid growth and job creation, while Europe generally picked up speed and Japan remained a question mark. But with some exceptions (such as India), emerging and developing countries continued to slow in the face of falling commodity prices and tighter financial conditions, and synchronized and sustainable global growth remained elusive.
Separate date from the US construction sector also strikes a downbeat tone.
The Commerce Department said construction spending fell for the first time in nearly 1-1/2 years in November. Spending fell 0.4% after a downwardly revised 0.3% rise in October.
As Reuters reports, the government revised construction data from January 2005 through October 2015 because of a “processing error in the tabulation of data”. The revisions, which showed construction spending was not as strong as previously reported for much of 2015, could prompt economists to lower their fourth-quarter gross domestic product estimates.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast construction spending rising 0.6% in November after a previously reported 1.0% increase in October.
Unsurprisingly, this trio of disappointing releases is prompting questions over why the US Federal Reserve thought December was the right time to raise interest rates – the first increase for almost a decade.
Meanwhile, US stock markets have sold off further, with the Dow Jones industrial average down more than 2.3% at one point in its biggest one-day fall for more than four months. The Dow Jones is now down 2%, the S&P 500 is down 2.1% and the Nasdaq is down 2.7%.
US ISM report fans fears of factory slowdown
Hot on the heels of that weaker Markit PMI report on US manufacturers comes the separate Institute for Supply Management report and it makes even gloomier reading, suggesting the sector shrank again in December.
The main activity index fell to 48.2 in December from 48.6 in November, confounding forecasts for a pick-up to 49.0 in a Reuters poll of economists.
As with Markit’s PMI reports, a reading above 50 signals expansion, a reading below suggest contraction.
The new orders index in the ISM report edged up to 49.2 from 48.9 in November, but was still below the all-important 50-mark.
More details on that weaker Markit U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index:
The authors note the latest reading (51.2 in December) was much weaker than the survey average (54.2) and pointed to “only a marginal upturn in operating conditions”.
The report also shows output slowed in December and that input costs declined again.
On new orders (which expanded at the weakest pace since September 2009), Markit said there was anecdotal evidence of “softer underlying demand conditions, intense competition for new work and subdued business confidence among clients”, while export sales were also close to stagnation in December, with manufacturers noting that the strong dollar continued to act as a drag on demand from abroad.
Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit said:
“The manufacturing sector saw a disappointing end to 2015, and its plight looks set to continue into the New Year as headwinds show no sign of abating any time soon.
“Order book growth has stalled as producers report some of the toughest trading conditions since the end of the global financial crisis.
“The strong dollar is hurting exporters as well as hitting domestic sales as firms compete against inflows of cheap imports. Low oil prices are meanwhile hitting demand for goods and machinery from the energy sector. There are signs that consumers are becoming more cautious in relation to spending as interest rates lift off their historic lows, and overseas demand remains in the doldrums. All of these factors look set to continue to hurt manufacturers, and even intensify, in coming months.
“However, with the Fed stressing that the trajectory of interest rates will be data dependent, any extended period of weakness at least suggests that the rate hiking process will be very gradual.”
US manufacturing slows in December, shows PMI report
The US manufacturing sector grew at a slower pace in December, expanding at the weakest pace for more than three years, according to the latest PMI report from the world’s biggest economy.
The survey by data company Markit also pointed to a slowdown in orders, with the weakest reading since during the financial crisis in September 2009.
The headline index for manufacturing came in at 51.2 for December, down from an inital estimate of 51.3 and from 52.8 in November. That was above the 50-mark that separates expansion from contraction but the weakest reading since October 2012.
The report follows a flurry of manufacturing surveys from around the world. The picture was particularly weak in China, where the factory sector shrank for a 10th month running. Reports from Europe were slightly brighter with eurozone manufacturing activity picking up in December while in the UK, manufacturing continued to grow but at a slower pace.
Wall Street falls 350 points in early trading
Ahead of the latest US manufacturing data, American markets have joined in the global rout prompted by weak Chinese figures earlier.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average has slumped 350 points or 2% in early trading, while Nasdaq is 2.2% lower and the S&P 500 is off 1.2%.
With the FTSE 100 down 2.3%, here are the major movers. With commodity prices falling on renewed fears of a Chinese slowdown, it is no surprise that mining shares are among the biggest fallers. Standard Chartered is also down due to its exposure to emerging markets, and commodity company lending.
An exception to the mining slide is Randgold Resources, lifted by a rise in the gold price as investors seek a haven for their cash:
Germany’s Dax, now down 4.1%, has seen a broad based fall with the best performers being companies recording, not an increase, but the smallest declines:
Danny Blanchflower, former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee:
German inflation figures are one positive in a flurry of negative news, according to Carsten Brzeski at ING Bank:
With these December data, the year 2015 marks the lowest average annual inflation rate in Germany since the start of the monetary union.
Looking at the available components at the regional levels shows that the drop in headline inflation was not only driven by lower energy prices but also some tentative second-round effects on consumer goods and probably first discounts in the Christmas sale season.
Looking ahead, it should take at least until the second half of the year before German headline inflation at least crosses the 1%-threshold again. With the continued slump in energy prices, further second-round effects on other goods and only little pricing power from retailers and producer, it is hard to see a strong acceleration of German inflation any time soon. Even the strong labour market and latest wage increases have done little to push up – at least – core inflation.
All of this means that German consumers are currently enjoying the best of both worlds: a strong labour market with decent wage increases and low inflation. The perfect combination for an improvement of German consumers’ purchasing power and hence private consumption. Looking at other deja-vus at the start of the New Year, like new tensions in the Middle-East, tumbling Chinese stock markets and new problems with structural reforms in Greece, at least German inflation data provide one comforting and positive signal for 2016 today.
German inflation slows in December
German inflation figures have come in slightly weaker than expected in December:
The harmonised figures have been brought in line with other European countries.
Apart from the weak data, there is another reason for the slump in Chinese shares, according to Mark Dampier, head of investment research at Hargreaves Lansdown:
Contrary to reports, the fall in the Chinese stock market has little to do with the December PMI data coming in at 49.7 against a consensus of 49.8. It has far more to do with worries that major shareholders will reduce their positions after the ban of share sales and short selling which came in at the end of trading on Friday.
The slide in global markets is getting worse.
Germany’s Dax, now down 4.3% is heading for its biggest daily fall since August last year following the global market rout in the wake of renewed worries about the Chinese economy. Germany of course is a major exporter and likely to be hard hit by any slowdown.
France’s Cac is 2.8% lower while in London, the FTSE 100 has now dropped 162 points or 2.6%, on course for its worst daily performance since September.
It looks like the global share sell-off which has followed the weak Chinese data will extend to US markets:
Daniel Vernazza, lead UK economist at UniCredit Research, said:
With economic growth slowing and consumer credit growth rising fast, the risk to our forecast for the first Bank of England hike to come in May this year is that they delay further and try to use macroprudential policy as the first line of defence against risks to financial stability.
The weakness in UK manufacturing activity is explained by a number of headwinds facing UK manufacturers. First, sterling’s past appreciation is still weighing on the competitiveness of UK manufacturers. Second, external demand remains subdued, particularly in emerging markets. Earlier today, Caixin’s China manufacturing PMI surprisingly fell back to 48.2 in December from 48.6 in the prior month; and the new export orders sub-component fell sharply from 51.6 to 47.8, suggesting weak external demand.
On the UK manufacturing data, economist Malcolm Barr at JP Morgan said:
The December manufacturing PMI release was a modest disappointment, with the headline index nudging down to 51.9 (J.P. Morgan 52.5) from a revised 52.5 in November (previously reported as 52.7). Having stepped down in late 2014 the PMI has been in a range between 51.5 (the survey’s long run average) and 54 for nearly all of 2015.
The data increasingly make the move up in activity in to 55.2 in October look like it was a blip.
The pound has hit a nine month low against the dollar, as weakness in the economy cast doubt over an imminent UK rate rise and worries grew over the impact of any departure from the European Union. Sterling was down to $1.4684, its lowest since April, and is currently at $1.4795.
And here’s a nice graphic showing how China’s CS! 300 suffered major falls last year. And the new year is already on the way to a similar performance.
The grim start to the new year means some £34bn has been wiped off the value of Britain’s top one hundred companies with the FTSE 100 down 133 points.
Alastair McCaig, market analyst at IG, said:
Anyone hitting the trading floor expecting a calm and quiet start to 2016 was given a rude surprise as Asian chaos affected European markets. Worries over China’s ability to keep up its pace of economic growth have been hit with an early warning sign as the Caixin PMI data came in weaker than expected, and stretched the contraction in China to ten months. This swift return to the 2015 template of worrying about China looks to have been the trigger for the selloff in Chinese equities. It is the first time Chinese regulators have activated the suspension in trading as a circuit breaker safety measure.
Starting the year off by suspending trading an hour and a half early on the back of a 7% fall has set an ugly precedent for the year ahead. Tensions in the Middle East have escalated again as the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran is being stretched to breaking point. Considering the prominence both nations take as far as global oil supply is concerned, the subsequent spike in oil prices is, if anything, a little on the mild side.
An interest rate rise is still on the cards this year, even though the manufacturing sector has come in weaker than expected, according to ING Bank. However any increase in borrowing costs may now come later than forecasters currently believe, said ING’s James Smith:
The UK manufacturing PMI fell unexpectedly to 51.9 in December, from 52.7 previously (consensus 52.8), consistent with levels seen through most of 2015 before the surprise uplift in October. This marks a disappointing end for what was a difficult year for the manufacturing sector given external growth concerns and sterling strength. Looking at the details, Markit said that input prices continued to fall sharply in December, which they attribute to lower commodity prices (principally oil). Furthermore, export orders continued to grow, albeit at a slower pace.
All in all, this suggests that the manufacturing sector contributed very little to fourth quarter GDP growth (released at the end of this month), although it is worth noting that manufacturing only forms around 10% of the UK economy (versus 30% in the late 1970s). The service sector, which makes up over three quarters, is performing better and we should get a further indication of this on Wednesday when the services PMI is released.
Overall, the economy remains strong and the case for a rate hike in 2016 looks very compelling. Although we continue to forecast a hike in the second quarter, the risks surrounding the EU referendum are beginning to build and the probability that the Bank of England will leave rates lower for a longer period of time is increasing.
Despite the disappointing UK manufacturing figures, Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight said there could be a pickup in GDP growth in the fourth quarter:
Despite December’s dip, the purchasing managers’ survey does show overall improvement in the fourth quarter of 2015; and it does look possible that the manufacturing sector managed to eke out a modicum of growth in the fourth quarter after contracting in both the third (by 0.4% quarter-on-quarter) and second quarters (by 0.6%). In fact the manufacturing PMI averaged 53.3 in the fourth quarter, which was markedly above the third quarter average of 51.8 and clearly above the 50.0 level indicates flat activity. Meanwhile, although latest hard data show that manufacturing output dipped 0.4% month-on-month in October this followed increases in both September (0.9%) and August (0.3%) so it was actually up 0.4% on a three-month/three-month basis.
If the manufacturing sector did manage to eke out some growth in the fourth quarter, it would boost the chances that the economy managed to achieve some pick-up in GDP growth after it dipped to 0.4% quarter-on-quarter in the third quarter. We have pencilled in GDP growth of 0.6% quarter-on quarter in the fourth quarter of 2015.
Even if the manufacturing sector did manage to eke out some growth in the fourth quarter, 2015 was undoubtedly a torrid year for manufacturers.
Furthermore, the pretty lacklustre December PMI suggest that 2016 is also likely to be challenging for manufacturers. Indeed, the breakdown of the December purchasing managers’ survey shows new orders growth matching July’s lowest level for 2015, with export orders only inching up. Furthermore, backlogs of work contracted markedly.
Meanwhile, more signs of a buoyant UK housing market and confident consumers, with higher than expected lending figures. Reuters reports:
British lending to consumers expanded at the fastest annual rate in almost a decade in November and banks approved more mortgages than forecast, showing a buoyant mood among households towards the end of 2015.
The Bank of England said net lending to consumers in November was up 8.3 percent compared with a year earlier, the biggest such increase since February 2006 and a growth rate that may raise concern at the Bank about lending standards.
Lenders also granted more home loans than expected, with 70,410 mortgages for house purchase approved, the highest number in three months.
The figures add to signs that Britain’s housing market is accelerating after a dip in mid-2014 when tighter rules on mortgage lending took effect, requiring banks and building societies to make more rigorous checks on whether borrowers can afford their loans.
Here are the key charts for the disappointing UK manufacturing data:
The manufacturing data is more bad news for chancellor George Osborne, and his chances of hitting his Autumn Statement targets. Rob Dobson, senior economist at Markit said:
The UK manufacturing sector ended 2015 on a disappointing note, with its rate of growth slowing further from October’s recent high back down towards the stagnation mark. This suggests that industry will make, at best, only a marginal positive contribution to broader economic growth in the final quarter of the year.
Although this would be an improvement on the second and third quarters, it does also suggest that manufacturing output over 2015 as a whole may be below the level achieved in 2014. With the latest revisions to official data also suggesting that GDP growth earlier in the year was softer than previously thought, the emphasis has really shifted to other sectors of the economy if the rate of expansion for the year as a whole is to come in close to the OBR forecast as outlined in the Autumn Statement.
UK manufacturing falls to three month low
And after the positive eurozone figures, the UK purchasing managers’ index has come in below expectations, recording its slowest growth in three months.
The index fell from 52.5 in November to 51.9 last month, below expectations of a figure of 52.7. New orders came in at their slowest pace for five years, according to the Markit survey.
Here’s our story on the rising oil price:
Economist Howard Archer at IHS Global Insight said:
The improved Eurozone manufacturing survey for December supports hopes that Eurozone growth picked up to at least 0.4% quarter-on-quarter in the in the fourth quarter of 2014 after dipping to 0.3% quarter-on-quarter in the third quarter from 0.4% in the second and a peak of 0.5% in the first quarter.
Eurozone manufacturers are currently getting appreciable help from very low oil and commodity prices which is boosting their ability to price competitively to win business. In addition, a weak euro is boosting Eurozone manufacturers’ competitiveness in international markets – so they will be hoping that the euro does not rise any further after firming to be currently trade close to $1.09 from a seven-month low of $1.055 earlier in December. Meanwhile, the fundamentals look reasonably solid for consumer spending in the eurozone which should be supportive to demand for durable manufactured goods. Consumers’ purchasing power is getting a serious boost from very low inflation/deflation across all countries while labour markets have generally improved. Indeed, it is notable that the European Commission reported that consumers’ perception of whether it is a good time to make major purchases now and during the next 12 months in November were only just below September’s respective strongest levels since September 2001 and February 2008.
Nevertheless, there are still appreciable challenges facing Eurozone manufacturers. Foreign orders are being hampered by mediocre global growth, most notably the slowdown in China and emerging markets. Eurozone manufacturers will also be wary that the current uncertain global growth outlook could lead to increased business caution over investment and the purchase of capital goods.
Commenting on the eurozone PMI figure, Markit said:
The eurozone manufacturing sector continued to make solid progress at the end of 2015, as rates of growth in production, new orders and new export business all improved. Although input costs and output charges fell again, trends in both provided further evidence of deflationary pressures easing.
With the Greek PMI edging back above 50.0, December saw PMI readings in all of the nations covered at levels signalling expansion for the first time since April 2014. Italy remained the fastest- growing, with its rate of expansion improving to a 57- month record.
Eurozone manufacturing PMI beats expectations
So the overall picture for eurozone manufacturing has shown an improvement.
The purchasing managers’ index for the eurozone came in at 53.2 in December, according to Markit. This compares to the 53.1 initial estimate, and the 52.8 recorded in November.
And Greek manufacturing has also shown an improvement:
Greek manufacturers reported a slight improvement in operating conditions in December, ending a sequence of deterioration which began in September 2014. The upturn in manufacturing was driven by higher production, which returned to expansionary territory for the first time in 12 months. Encouragingly, a slight increase in staff numbers was also reported.
German PMI at four month high
The German manufacturing sector has recorded its best performance for four months, according to the PMI survey.
The Markit index rose from 52.9 in November to 53.2 last month, and economist Oliver Kolodseike said:
Reflective of the trend observed throughout 2015, the Germany Manufacturing PMI posted above the no- change mark of 50.0 in December, thereby signalling sustained growth in the sector. New order intakes continued to grow at a healthy rate, with demand for consumer goods particularly strong and exports showing the largest monthly rise since February 2014.
However, the strong rise in new business resulted in capacity problems at some plants, with business outstanding rising at the sharpest rate for nearly two years. It is therefore likely that employment and output will continue to increase in coming months.
Downward pressure on inflation meanwhile persisted at the year end, as the recent falls in energy and oil prices led to a further sharp drop in manufacturers’ input costs.
French PMI best for 21 months
Meanwhile in France the purchasing managers’ index hit a 21 month high, according to Markit.
The index climbed to 51.4 in December from 50.6 the previous month, its highest level since March 2014.
Italian manufacturing sees highest reading since March 2011
A strong performance in December meant Italy’s manufacturing sector ended 2015 by growing at the fastest rate since early 2011.
The Markit PMI index came in at 55.6 in December, up from 54.9 the previous month and the best reading since March 2011. There was a sharp and accelerated increase in production levels at manufacturers.
Markit economist Phil Smith said:
The headline PMI maintained its recent ascent in December, moving to its highest level since March 2011. This completes what is a drastic turnaround from the situation just one year ago when the index was languishing below the 50.0 mark as the economy contracted.
Since then, a weak euro, recovering domestic demand and falling global commodity prices have provided the necessary tailwinds to get things moving.
The goods-producing sector has solid momentum heading into the New Year, with new order growth accelerating and companies taking on new staff to cope with rising production requirements.
The weak Chinese data has, inevitably, hit metal prices on concerns about a slowdown in demand.
And that in turn has meant shares in mining companies are among the day’s biggest fallers so far, with Anglo American down 5%, Glencore 4% lower and Antofagasta off 3%.
Spanish manufacturing index dips in December
Spanish manufacturing activity was virtually unchanged in December, but both output and new orders rose at sharper rates than in November.
The Markit purchasing managers’ index came in at 53 last month, down from 53.1 in November and slightly below forecasts.
Markit senior economist Andrew Harker said:
The latest Spanish manufacturing PMI data signalled a solid end to 2015 for the sector as growth rates for output and new orders continued to accelerate following a brief slowdown around the end of the third quarter. The rate of job creation remained weak, however, with companies perhaps cautious about making decisions on hiring and investment ahead of the election on December 20 (the data were all collected prior to the election) and subsequent results.
With the FTSE 100 now down around 2%, market analyst Tony Cross of Trustnet Direct said:
It might be a new year as far as the calendar is concerned, but the market seems unwilling to be taking a fresh view. Disappointing manufacturing data out of China overnight resulted in such a marked fall for domestic stocks that trading was suspended in Shanghai for the remainder of the session, so there can be no surprise that many of the mining stocks in London have once again been left wearing more than their fair share of losses in early trade in what is by all accounts a sea of red numbers. One notable exception here is Randgold Resources – the equity slump in China is driving gold prices sharply higher, leaving the stock as the only winner a few minutes into the day.
A degree of volatility was probably to be expected this morning as normal trading conditions resume, but it appears that the big sell-off is being driven largely by the overnight news out of Asia, rather than any New Year’s hangover of the so-called Santa rally we saw start less than two weeks ago.
Brent crude is currently up 0.7% at $37.57 a barrel, and would probably have been higher if not for the weak Chinese data.
European markets open lower
In the wake of the Chinese data disappointment, European markets have opened sharply lower.
The FTSE 100 has fallen 87 points or 1.4%, while Germany’s Dax has dropped 2.8% and France’s Cac is down 1.2% and Spain’s Ibex has lost 1.3%.
But bear in mind that while the FTSE 100 lost 4.9% in 2015, both the Dax and the Cac moved higher, up 9.8% and 8.5% respectively, putting these latest moves in context.
More on Chinese manufacturing:
Ahead of the UK PMI figures, here’s a preview from Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight:
The manufacturing purchasing managers’ survey (out on Monday) is likely to show modest overall expansion in December, although it is unclear to what extent activity may have been affected by the flooding. Specifically, we expect the manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) to have edged back further to 52.5 in December after dipping to 52.7 in November from 55.2 in October (which had been the best performance since June 2014 and a sharp improvement from 51.7 in September).
Even so, this would result in the PMI averaging 53.5 in the fourth quarter, which would be markedly above the third quarter average of 51.8 and clearly above the 50.0 level indicates flat activity.
UK mortgage approvals and consumer credit figures are also due to be released.
The weak Chinese data and the subsequent plunge on the country’s stock markets is likely to have a negative impact on European shares:
Agenda: Markets await manufacturing data after China disappointment
Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the world economy, the financial market, the eurozone and business.
It’s a good day for data junkies, with snapshots of December’s manufacturing figures from the UK, US and Europe.
But as traders return to their desks for the first full week after the festive period, things have got off to a bad start.
After weak manufacturing figures last week from China, a private survey on Monday showed factory activity contracting for the tenth month in a row.
The Caixin/Markit PMI fell to 48.2 in December, down from November’s reading of 48.6 and below expectations of a figure of 49. Anything below 50 signals contraction. The disappointment led to weakness in the yuan, and prompted a 7% fall in the blue chip CSI300 index, before circuit breakers kicked in to halt stock market trading. This was the first time they had been used to curb market volatility.
The poor manufacturing data could well lead Chinese authorities to bring in further stimulus measures to help boost the flagging economy. Jasper Lawler, market analyst at CMC Markets UK, said:
China’s latest PMI data implies more stimulus may be required in 2016. The surprise monthly drop in the Caixin report comes off the back of the official manufacturing PMI that saw factory activity shrink for the fifth month in December with a reading of 49.7, up slightly from November. A big swing factor for this coming year will be whether Beijing makes better use of its ability to stabilise the Chinese economy. The government has been walking a tightrope of growth stabilisation and economic reform. The way Chinese authorities lean in 2016 could determine whether market’s have a good year or not.
The agenda for the rest of the economic data shows: