Exporters cheer loan rise, rue lack of orders
A surge in bank lending is good news for mainland exporters, but some are calling for more immediate measures to stem the slide in trade.
Manufacturers say they are encouraged by the latest official statistics showing a 21.3 per cent surge in the country's bank lending growth, compared with an 18.8 per cent rise in December.
New loans almost doubled to 1.62 trillion yuan (HK$1.84 trillion) last month from a year ago, of which about 40 per cent were for commercial bill financing.
The increase could partly relieve a string of problems manufacturers face as the global economic slowdown took a heavier than expected toll on the mainland's exports and imports last month.
At an interactive seminar between manufacturers and overseas buyers in Dongguan yesterday, the majority of about 100 producers identified 'a lack of orders' as their biggest worry this year.
'No orders - well, insufficient orders - are our biggest enemy,' Hong Kong Small and Medium Enterprises Association chairman Danny Lau Tat-pong said.
A children's book publisher in Florida, for example, said he would source 20 per cent fewer products from the mainland this year as consumers tightened their belts.
Manufacturers' worries were illustrated by the latest trade figures, which showed exports falling 17.5 per cent year on year to US$90.5 billion and imports tumbling 43.1 per cent to US$51.3 billion last month. This led to a US$39.1 billion surplus.
Rick Goodwin, who acts as a middleman helping overseas publishers and printers source products from the mainland, raised the question of whether to depreciate the yuan to revive battered exports.
He said he expected the central government to rescue dwindling exports by either depreciating the yuan or offering export credits, such as tax rebates.
'If nothing is done with the currency, there will be an even bigger drop in export orders,' said Mr Goodwin, who has lived in the country for 20 years and hosted the seminar.
Mr Goodwin, the managing director of Concept Holdings, expected the yuan to return to 7.80 against the US dollar by July, arguing that China could not be exempt from the reality that the currencies of its key trading partners - the European Union, Britain and Japan - were depreciating against the greenback.
However, Merrill Lynch economist Lu Ting did not think Beijing would lower the value of the yuan, which he said would continue to hover around 6.83 to the dollar for some months.
'The currency issue has become a political issue, and politics doesn't allow the yuan to depreciate,' Mr Lu said.
'Anyhow, a lower yuan exchange doesn't necessarily bring more orders, but it risks triggering trade retaliation and protectionism.'
A Britain-based provider of electronic manufacturing solutions and services with factories in Dongguan said a lower yuan would immediately help his firm's bottom line.
'Some of our European customers did not come back to us after the euro weakened a lot against the yuan in the past couple of months,' he said. 'A cheaper yuan will help us right away.'
Hopes for adjusting the yuan's value significantly are dim as Premier Wen Jiabao has maintained that a stable exchange rate is important to the economy.
Whether to depreciate the yuan is a difficult question for mainland leaders, who must balance the move's impact with slumping trade and its repercussions on employment and domestic spending.