November 1, 2011 / 4:59 PM / 7 years ago

Global factories lose steam

SINGAPORE/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Global factory activity slowed in October on weak demand for exports, with a sharp contraction in Britain’s manufacturing sector suggesting that Europe was on the brink of a new recession.

While manufacturing surveys on Tuesday from North America to debt crisis-hit Europe to Asia painted a portrait of softening global demand, analysts do not see a world recession in the cards.

“Growth in the global economy is relatively weak. But other than Europe, I don’t think we are looking at a recession, at least at this point on a global scale,” said Jay Bryson, global economist at Wells Fargo in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Factory activity in Asia’s big export economies slowed to its weakest rate in nearly three years in October, while in the United States, manufacturing expanded less than expected.

Still, factory activity in both countries remained above levels associated with a recession and details of the U.S. survey showed underlying strength in a sector that has been the main pillar of the economic recovery.

China’s official PMI unexpectedly fell to its lowest since February 2009 as new export orders dropped — particularly from the European Union, China’s biggest export market.

The U.S. Institute for Supply Management’s index of factory activity slipped to 50.8 from 51.6 in September, but new orders rose for the first time in six months and inventories fell.

But in the Britain, the manufacturing sector contracted at its fastest pace in more than two years.

Monetary policy tightening in some emerging market economies and the European debt crisis are contributing to a slowdown in global growth and a weakening in export demand.

“Europe is playing into things. Growth in emerging markets had slowed in part because of earlier policy tightening and excess capacity in parts of the manufacturing sectors,” said Jeremy Lawson, an economist at BNP Paribas in New York.

“What’s going on in Europe means there is significant downside risk to European growth over the next couple of quarters. Next year will likely be a more moderate year for global growth.”


European leaders have struggled to convince markets that a deal reached last week to write down Greece’s debt and boost a rescue fund would resolve the region’s debt woes.

Those measures were thrown into disarray on Monday by a shock decision by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou to call a referendum on the bailout. That hammered European stock markets and drew ire from Germany.

Manufacturing in the UK, the European Union’s No. 3 economy, declined at its fastest pace in two years in October, according to the CIPS/Markit factory PMI. It slumped to 47.4 from 50.8, below even the most pessimistic forecast provided by economists.

That overshadowed news that the UK economy grew by 0.5 percent in July-September, more than the 0.3 percent economists expected.

“The parlous state of the domestic economy is clearly taking its toll on the manufacturing sector,” said Ross Walker, UK economist at RBS, who called the PMI figures “dreadful.”

Final PMIs due Wednesday from the euro zone are expected to confirm its manufacturing sector contracted for a third straight month. A recent Reuters survey showed economists evenly split on whether the euro zone would slide back into recession.

In Canada, growth in manufacturing activity slowed for the first time in four months in October. The RBC Canadian Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index slipped to 53.66 from 55.05 in September.

There was also bad news in Brazil, where industrial output slumped sharply in September. The 2 percent drop in output has raised expectations of additional interest-rate cuts ahead.

Purchasing managers’ indexes for October also showed inflation pressures abating in Asia, which could bring the region’s policy-makers one step closer to lowering interest rates should the economic outlook deteriorate.

Australia’s central bank cut rates Tuesday for the first time since early 2009, when global financial markets were in turmoil, citing easing inflation and concerns about the world economic outlook.


Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea’s PMI remained below 50 for a third consecutive month, its longest losing streak since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

Export figures, also released Tuesday, showed Korean shipments to the European Union dropped 20 percent from a year earlier for the October 1-20 period. Exports to the United States dropped a relatively modest 7 percent.

“Korea’s exports had been resilient all year despite weakness elsewhere, notably in Taiwan,” said ING economist Tim Condon. “Today’s data is the first sign of a crack.”

Taiwan’s PMI dropped to 43.7 in October, a 33-month low.

India, which has an economy far less reliant on exports, bucked the regional trend, with a slight pickup. The new orders index rose, breaking a six-month streak of declines, although export orders contracted again.

Input prices eased across the region, according to the PMI surveys, a welcome respite for policymakers who have been reluctant to ease credit conditions with inflation high.

In China, the input price sub-index tumbled to 46.2 in October from 56.6 a month earlier, dipping below 50 for the first time since April 2009.

This provides further support to the view that Beijing’s year-long tightening cycle is probably over.

Still, economists see little chance of a rate cut before 2012. Instead, China will probably stick with targeted measures to ease lending conditions to small- and medium-sized businesses, where borrowing has been constrained.

Writing by Emily Kaiser in Singapore, Andy Bruce in London and Lucia Mutikani in Washington; Additional reporting by Zhou Xin and Nick Edwards in Beijing, Christine Kim and Yoo Choonsik in Seoul, Claire Sibonney in Toronto, Luciana Lopez in Sao Paulo and Yati Himatsingka in Bangalore; Editing by Jan Paschal

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