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China's economy sees new pockets of growth in rising shopping trends – CNBC

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A customer eyes the beverage section in a supermarket on June 9, 2021 in Handan, Hebei province.
Li Hao | Visual China Group | Getty Images

BEIJING — Chinese consumers spent less on daily necessities from foreign brands last year during the coronavirus pandemic, while those in smaller cities were more willing to spend than those in large ones, according to a report.

The report, co-authored by consultancy Bain & Company and analytics company Kantar Worldpanel, reflects pockets of growth in an economy that was already slowing its expansion before the pandemic.

The “China Shopper Report” — which the firms have conducted for 10 straight years — looks at a category called “fast-moving consumer goods” that includes food, beverages, personal care and home care. Items such as apparel are not included.

The volume of foreign brands sold in China last year fell 4.1%, while average selling price rose 1%, according to the report released on June 29.

As a result, the study said the foreign brands’ value declined 3.1%, versus a 0.5% drop for domestic companies. Volume was measured by kilograms, liter or unit depending on the category, Bain said.

“Chinese brands, aided by their strong local supply chain, reacted more quickly to shifting consumer sentiments and captured more volume growth by lowering [average selling price],” the report said.

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted global supply chains and trade channels as governments restricted business activity and international travel in an attempt to control the virus’ spread. China has particularly limited the ability of foreigners to enter the country.

Simmering geopolitical tensions have also hampered the ability of some foreign brands to sell in China earlier this year.

For example, Swedish clothing brand H&M faced backlash in China in March over comments that resurfaced about its concerns over alleged forced labor in Xinjiang region. Management said on a July 1 call its situation in China remained “complex.”

Meanwhile, executives for sportswear brands Nike and Adidas have been more optimistic about growth in the market in earnings call comments in the last two months.

The fact that this is a local brand versus an international brand may not be that much of an important criteria. What’s more important, is this the right brand for me?
Bruno Lannes
partner, Bain & Company

The China Shopper Report does not cover clothing. In the category including personal and home care products, the report found that foreign brands were able to catch up and surpass local brands in terms of market value growth in 2019, before the pandemic.

“In general, when you talk about foreign brands, Chinese consumers know them, they understand them and they enjoy buying them and using them just like they enjoy buying and using local brands,” said Bruno Lannes, Shanghai-based partner at Bain.

He said Chinese consumers are generally becoming less loyal and are buying from a greater variety of brands.

“The fact that this is a local brand versus an international brand may not be that much of an important criteria. What’s more important, is this the right brand for me?” he said, pointing to factors like functionality and recommendations from friends.

Small cities grow faster

While total spending for fast-moving consumer goods dropped by more than 1% in China’s largest cities, such as Beijing, spending rose in smaller ones, the report said.

“The smaller the city, the faster the growth in FMCG spending in 2020,” said the report, referring to spending on the category of consumer goods that includes packaged food, juice and personal care items. 

“The population in lower-tier cities continues to increase due to rural migration,” the report said. “Also, because residents of lower-tier cities typically travel less, they were less impacted by Covid-19 outbreaks. Each household’s purchased volume continued to grow relatively insulated from Covid-19 disruptions.”

The divergence contrasts with reports in previous years, when growth rates were pretty similar across the country, Lannes said. He said many brands can still find new markets in less developed parts of China, while new internet-driven shopping trends like group or “community buying” have been able to attract older users outside of big cities.

Overall, people are willing to spend. That’s why the volume is up… They’re a bit more price sensitive than they were before.
Bruno Lannes
partner, Bain & Company

The report said another internet-driven trend, livestreaming e-commerce, will likely build on last year’s massive growth for a total of 2 trillion yuan ($312.5 billion) in gross merchandise value this year. GMV refers to the value of goods sold over a period of time.

In fact, authors of the report expect livestreaming e-commerce to increase its share of China’s retail sales to about 9% or 10% this year, up from a 6% to 7% range in 2020.

More price sensitive

However, many Chinese consumers are still reluctant to spend at pre-pandemic levels.

Retail sales fell last year, while growth in consumer spending has missed analysts’ expectations for the last two months.

The subdued growth comes as the government tried to stimulate consumption with special promotions in May that saw a transaction value of 4.82 trillion yuan, up 22.8% from a year ago, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

“Overall, people are willing to spend. That’s why the volume is up,“ said Bain’s Lannes, pointing out that prices have been cut. “They’re a bit more price sensitive than they were before.”

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China's Economy Improves in June From Lockdown-Induced Slump – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — China’s economy showed some improvement in June as Covid restrictions were gradually eased, although the recovery remains muted. 

That’s the outlook based on Bloomberg’s aggregate index of eight early indicators for this month. The overall gauge returned to the neutral level after deteriorating for two straight months.

Economic activity picked up in June after financial hub Shanghai lifted its lockdown, allowing businesses to restart and most residents to leave their homes. That can be seen in a rebound in small business confidence, which started growing again after contracting for two months. 

A survey of more than 500 smaller firms showed that “demand and production recovered strongly among manufacturing,” and export-oriented smaller firms outperformed, according to Hunter Chan and Ding Shuang, economists at Standard Chartered Plc. 

However, “the manufacturing recovery was more significant than services,” they said. Contact-intensive industries such as retail and catering continued to be a drag, while real estate, transport and information technology reported an acceleration in activity and construction jumped. 

Rising activity isn’t translating into higher demand for some building materials yet. More steel plants have been idled and inventory levels at major Chinese steel mills have climbed 10.7% in mid-June from earlier in the month, and are about 82% higher than the start of this year. Stocks of steel rebar, which is used in construction, rose slightly in June. 

Beijing has pledged to boost policy measures to support growth, with President Xi Jinping saying last week China would strive to meet its goals for the year. Stocks were up for a fourth week on optimism of stimulus and as lockdowns ended, with foreign inflows rising. 

However, the housing sector continued to be a drag on the economy. Property sales declined in the first three weeks of June in the top four cities in China, even though sales in Shanghai last week had mostly recovered to the level before the lockdown. 

An official index that tracks apartment and home sales has now declined for 11 straight months — a record since China created a private property market in the 1990s. The slump likely continued into June, with weekly sales in the top 50 cities contracting from the level last year.  

Read more: China’s Property Slump Is a Bigger Threat Than Its Lockdowns

The car market is making a gradually recovery after the lockdowns. Based on sales in the first two weeks of this month, more cars were sold in June than the same period in 2021. Sales fell in the past three months as Covid restrictions caused car plants and dealerships to shut and also prevented people across the country from leaving their homes to go shopping. 

Total retail sales also dropped in that period, with the economies of Beijing and Shanghai the worst hit.

The recovery in the services industry will likely take longer than for goods. Consumers are still unwilling or unable to go out as much as before since China’s strict Covid Zero policy means they face being quarantined for weeks if they’ve been in the same location as a positive case. 

The restrictions and factory closures of the past months have also curbed the incomes of many businesses and workers, even if they weren’t locked down. 

Read more: Even Without a Lockdown, Beijing’s Economy Struggled in May

The export sector likely supported demand in June, as companies ramped up shipments that had been delayed and ports worked to clear the backlog of containers. Although South Korean exports in the first 20 days of the month fell for the first time in more than a year, that was largely because of fewer working days this year than last. 

The daily average value of Korean shipments rose 11% in the period from the same time in 2021. Exports have been a strong driver for China’s economy and the strong growth continues to defy predictions that they would slow markedly or start to fall. 

Read more: Metals Haven’t Crashed This Hard Since the Great Recession

The outlook for those shipments in the rest of this year depends on whether rising concerns about a global recession are correct or not. The price of copper had its steepest weekly loss in a year last week as global recession fears mounted, damping the outlook for demand and battering commodities from oil to metals. The metal used in wires and cables extended its weekly loss to 7%, with prices hitting the lowest level since February last year following disappointing US business activity data that included an abrupt cooling in manufacturing. 

Early Indicators

Bloomberg Economics generates the overall activity reading by aggregating a three-month weighted average of the monthly changes of eight indicators, which are based on business surveys or market prices.

  • Major onshore stocks – CSI 300 index of A-share stocks listed in Shanghai or Shenzhen (through market close on 25th of the month).
  • Total floor area of home sales in China’s four Tier-1 cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen).
  • Inventory of steel rebar, used for reinforcing in construction (in 10,000 metric tons). Falling inventory is a sign of rising demand.
  • Copper prices – Spot price for refined copper in Shanghai market (yuan/metric ton).
  • South Korean exports – South Korean exports in the first 20 days of each month (year-on-year change).
  • Factory inflation tracker – Bloomberg Economics-created tracker for Chinese producer prices (year-on-year change).
  • Small and medium-sized business confidence – Survey of companies conducted by Standard Chartered.
  • Passenger car sales – Monthly result calculated from the weekly average sales data released by the China Passenger Car Association.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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BIS warns economies are approaching 'tipping point' where high inflation becomes entrenched – The Globe and Mail

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People shop at a Walmart Supercentre in Toronto on March 13, 2020.CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

Many economies are approaching a tipping point where high inflation becomes normal while economic growth slows sharply, the Bank for International Settlements warned in its annual report published Sunday.

Countries around the world are facing a dangerous cocktail of high inflation, slowing economic growth and heightened financial vulnerabilities tied to high debt levels and rising interest rates, said the BIS, which acts as a bank for the world’s central banks.

This may quickly turn into a period of stagflation resembling the high-inflation and low-growth era of 1970s and early 1980s, the organization said. It argued that economic policy makers around the world need to move rapidly to halt inflation, even if that means causing significant economic hardship.

“We may be reaching a tipping point, beyond which an inflationary psychology spreads and becomes entrenched. This would mean a major paradigm shift,” the BIS said.

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Central banks around the world have stepped up the pace of interest rate increases in recent months to try to tame inflation. Two weeks ago, the U.S. Federal Reserve announced the largest interest rate hike since 1994. The Bank of Canada has increased its benchmark rate at three consecutive rate decisions, and hinted that it is considering a supersized 0.75 percentage point rate increase in July. That would be three times the size of a normal rate hike.

Interest rate increases lower demand in the economy, which can help bring down the pace of consumer price growth. But higher interest rates can also push the economy into a recession, as steeper borrowing costs curtail consumer spending and business investment, and push up unemployment.

“The overriding near-term challenge is to prevent the global economy from shifting from a low- to a high-inflation regime. In doing so, policy makers will need to limit the costs to the economy as far as possible and to safeguard financial stability. Some pain, however, will be inevitable,” the BIS said.

Getting inflation under control won’t be easy, the organization warned. The recent commodity price shock tied to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has added to multiple inflationary pressures that have been building over the past year. This resembles the oil price shocks in the 1970s that pushed the United States, Canada and other countries into a period of high inflation, high unemployment and low economic growth known as stagflation.

The situation today, however, could be even more dangerous than in earlier periods of stagflation because of the amount of debt – particularly housing market debt – that has built up over more than a decade of ultra-low interest rates, the BIS warned. It called the current combination of soaring inflation and elevated financial vulnerabilities “historically unprecedented.”

“Unlike in the past, stagflation today would occur alongside heightened financial vulnerabilities, including stretched asset prices and high debt levels, which could magnify any growth slowdown,” it said.

As they push interest rates higher, central banks are trying to engineer a soft landing – a situation where inflation comes down without a sharp slowdown in economic activity or significant rise in unemployment. Top central bankers, including Fed chair Jerome Powell and Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem, have said in recent weeks they believe a soft landing is possible, although they acknowledge that it is getting more difficult.

The BIS poured cold water on the probability of a soft landing in its report. BIS economists looked at monetary policy tightening cycles in 35 countries between 1985 and 2018, and concluded that about half of them resulted in a soft landing – that is, did not end in a recession.

However, further analysis showed that recessions were more likely if rate hikes followed a period of ultralow borrowing costs and a build-up of financial vulnerabilities. That is the situation Canada and many other advanced economies are in today.

“A hard landing may not be foreordained,” Columbia University professor Adam Tooze wrote in a newsletter commenting on the BIS report. “But what the BIS is telling us, is that central bankers have never attempted to stop an inflation as rapid as the one we have seen in the first half of 2022, with the level of debt build-up we have seen since the early 2000s.”

The BIS is not alone in its grim prognosis. Earlier this month, the World Bank cut its 2022 global growth forecast to 2.9 per cent from a 4.1-per-cent forecast in January, and said that “the danger of stagflation is considerable today.”

Much of the BIS report focused on the changing dynamics of inflation, which is surging across large parts of the globe for the first time in decades. The annual rate of inflation hit a 39-year-high of 7.7 per cent in May in Canada, the highest since 1983. It averaged 9.2 per cent in April across countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The BIS noted that once economies shift into periods of high inflation, consumer price increases become self-reinforcing. Businesses and consumers start paying more attention to rising prices and start behaving differently, respectively setting higher prices and demanding higher wages to protect their margins and purchasing power.

“Whether inflation becomes entrenched or not ultimately depends on whether wage-price spirals will develop. The risk should not be underestimated, owing to the inherent dynamics of transitions from low- to high-inflation regimes,” the BIS said.

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India's Economy Shows Spark on Pent-Up Demand After Reopenings – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — India’s economy gathered momentum in May driven by pent up demand for services and higher output from industries as reopening continued from pandemic restrictions.

Five of the eight high-frequency indicators compiled by Bloomberg News showed improvement, pushing the needle on a dial measuring so-called ‘Animal Spirits’ to 6, from 5, for the first time since July and the first upward move in more than a year. The gauge is based on the three-month weighted average scores to smoothen out volatility in the single-month readings.

The upturn was fueled by an expansion in services activity and a robust growth in core infrastructure industries. However, an unprecedented rise in input prices, due in part to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and persistent demand-supply imbalances, may spoil sentiment going forward. 

Higher food, fuel, labor and transportation costs are forcing central banks globally to prioritize price stability over growth. The Reserve Bank of India has raised borrowing costs by 90 basis points so far this year and vows to do more to bring price gains below its target ceiling of 6%. 

Erratic weather and an uptick in virus cases risks also impeding the recovery. The number of daily virus cases increased about sixfold in the last one month.

Below are details of the dashboard. (For an alternative gauge of growth trends, follow Bloomberg Economics’ monthly GDP tracker — a weighted index of 11 indicators.)

Business Activity

Purchasing managers’ surveys showed activity in India’s dominant services sector in May rose to the highest level in eleven years, while momentum in the manufacturing sector remained steady. That helped pull the S&P Global India Composite PMI to the 10th consecutive month of expansion.

Inflation expectations, though, continued to weigh on business confidence as input costs climbed to a new record, the survey showed. Companies will continue to transfer mounting costs to consumers going ahead, which could keep inflation elevated.

Exports

India’s trade deficit widened to an all-time high of $24.33 billion in May due to higher gold and petroleum imports. Official data showed that surging commodity prices kept merchandise imports above $60 billion for the third month in a row, while exports growth slowed due to geopolitical uncertainties. 

Consumer Activity

India’s automobile sector saw another month of decline in May, but the extent of fall was smaller as some segments such as car and two-wheeler sales showed a pick-up from a month ago.   

In other signs of consumer activity, bank credit grew 12.1% at the end of May, from 11.1% in April. Liquidity conditions also remained in surplus.

Industrial Activity

Two other key indicators of industrial activity, which are published with a one-month lag, showed robust growth in April. Factory output growth rose to a eight-month high of 7.1% from a year ago, led by a double-digit increase in electricity production, while manufacturing and mining also expanded at a healthy pace. A similar trend was seen in the output growth of eight infrastructure industries, which increased to 8.4% from 4.9% in March. 

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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