From Beijing to Berlin, economic struggles persist

New data shows a dim outlook, with China's manufacturing sector slowing at a faster rate

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 August, 2012, 2:47am

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World business surveys yesterday painted a picture of economic malaise stretching from Beijing to Berlin, adding to concerns that the world economy is slowing down.

The 17-country euro zone appeared headed for its second recession in three years. Financial data firm Markit said its Purchasing Managers' Index suggested the region's economy would shrink about 0.5 per cent in the July-September quarter.

Europe's problems created headaches in other economies as well, particularly China's, which counts Europe as its single biggest export market.

The HSBC Flash China manufacturing PMI fell to 47.8 this month, its lowest level since November.

By contrast, US manufacturing activity improved slightly this month, though new export orders declined for a third straight month because of reduced demand in Europe, while the pace of hiring slowed for the fifth month in a row.

A separate report showed the number of Americans applying for first-time jobless benefits rose unexpectedly last week.

"The indicators taken as a whole indicate a material slowdown in the pace of the world economy," Investec economist Philip Shaw said.

Whether that will be enough to provoke more action from central banks remains unclear. The European Central Bank is expected to cut interest rates next week, but analysts do not expect additional steps to stimulate lending.

And while minutes from the last US Federal Reserve meeting suggested another round of stimulus could come "fairly soon", subsequent signs of improvement in the labour and housing markets may keep the central bank on the sidelines for a while longer.

News from Europe has been less encouraging. Yesterday's data shows the downturn is spreading throughout the countries that use the euro, with woes that started in the smaller states taking root in core economies such as Germany. The flash composite PMI for Germany fell to a three-year low, a fourth straight month of contraction.

German economic growth slowed to 0.3 per cent in the second quarter, suggesting it can no longer be counted on to pull the euro zone out of a deep slump.