日期:2015-09-10 10:17


HONG KONG — China’s industrial slowdown is showing signs of sharpening, as its trade slump deepened further in August amid weaker demand from overseas buyers.


Once seemingly indomitable as the world’s workshop, China is now facing its most protracted declines since the global financial crisis, with overseas shipments falling 5.5 percent last month compared with a year earlier. That has dragged total exports 1.4 percent lower in dollar terms in the first eight months of the year.


It is a sign that the country’s sprawling manufacturing sector is losing competitiveness: Labor costs are rising relentlessly and the currency, the renminbi, remains relatively strong despite its devaluation last month. The currency move still left Chinese goods notably more expensive for foreign buyers than they were even a year ago.


At the same time, China’s imports are falling even more sharply, declining last month for the 10th month in a row, with a drop of 14 percent by value.


The weak trade data rattled regional markets. Japan’s main stock index, the Nikkei 225, closed 2.4 percent lower, erasing all its gains so far this year.


In Shanghai, stocks initially fell more than 2 percent when the trade figures were released. But heavy buying in the afternoon set off a rally that helped shares close 2.9 percent higher.


That pattern has been seen often in recent weeks, as China’s government appears to continue to try to support the country’s slumping stock markets. State brokerages last week pledged to contribute an additional 100 billion renminbi, or about $16 billion, to China’s stock bailout fund.


Economists say sharp drops in global prices for commodities like oil and industrial metals have propelled the decline in import value. But the sheer volume of imports of crucial industrial raw materials like coal, iron ore, copper, aluminum and steel has also fallen this year. The declines are a clear sign of weakening domestic demand in China as a slump in manufacturing and new housing construction drag on economic growth.


Beck Cai, a sales manager at the Shanghai Steel Fashion Industrial Company, a manufacturer and exporter of prefabricated steel structures, said his company’s business in August dipped as much as 40 percent compared with a year earlier.

预制钢结构制造商和出口商上海森奉实业有限公司(Shanghai Steel Fashion Industrial Company)的销售经理贝克·蔡(Beck Cai)说,公司8月份的业务,与去年同期相比,减少了40%。

“I don’t think it has anything to do with the way we operate; it is mainly that the overall environment is slowing down,” Mr. Cai said. “As far as the recent devaluation of the renminbi, it is still too early to tell how it will impact our business.”


China’s leadership last month made the surprise decision to devalue the currency by about 3 percent, the renminbi’s sharpest drop in two decades. But China’s central bank has since intervened on a huge scale, propping up the currency further by selling dollars for renminbi.


As a result of this intervention, China is burning through its huge stockpile of foreign exchange reserves at the fastest pace on record. Reserves fell by nearly $100 billion in August alone, although that still leaves $3.56 trillion, the central bank reported on Monday.


Still, analysts say the recent devaluation was probably too small to help China’s exports.


“The renminbi has appreciated substantially in real effective terms against a basket of currencies in the past year, which in relative terms makes China’s exports less competitive than in the past,” Ding Shuang, the head of greater China economic research at Standard Chartered, wrote in an email. “But China still registered huge trade surplus and there is no reason for significant devaluation against most currencies.”


China’s trade surplus with the rest of the world has surged, rising to $365 billion in the first eight months of the year. This is because imports are declining more sharply than exports.


But the trade surplus also helps soften the blow of investors’ pulling money out of China amid expectations that the renminbi will weaken further.


Analysts at Nomura calculate the pressure on China’s currency to weaken is stronger now than at any time since 1994, when the country adopted its modern exchange rate system and devalued the currency by a third.


“Given the Chinese economy’s weak growth and deep-seated structural challenges, we expect renminbi depreciation pressure to remain,” the Nomura analysts wrote in a research note on Tuesday. “However, unlike in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we expect this pressure to be moderate and prolonged, rather than sudden and severe.”


One potential complication in the August trade figures may be the exchange rate used by the customs administration. The administration said exports totaled $196.883 billion in dollar terms and 1.204 trillion renminbi in local currency terms.


That implied an exchange rate for August of 6.116 renminbi per dollar, the same implied rate used in the July trade figures. But China devalued its currency on Aug. 11, and the average exchange rate in August, according to the central bank’s official fixing, was 6.3056 renminbi per dollar.


The reason for the discrepancy was unclear. But it raised the possibility that China’s actual decline in exports in renminbi terms was not as bad as the 6.1 percent decrease reported — or that the real decline in dollar terms might have been worse than the 5.5 percent drop reported.


Representatives of the customs administration’s press office could not be reached for comment after normal working hours.