Coronavirus: Asia’s economic recovery losing momentum as Delta variant knocks wind out growth
- The rapid spread of the highly infectious Delta variant and low vaccination rates have caught much of Asia off guard
- While year-on-year corporate and economic indicators continue to show strong recovery, quarter-on-quarter indicators reveal flagging momentum
Asia’s robust economic recovery from last year’s coronavirus low is losing momentum as a surge in Covid-19 cases sees shops empty again and factories close, dimming prospects for corporate profit growth after a blockbuster half year.
“It’s clear that economies across the region are suffering more from Covid-19 than they previously did. The biggest factor is that Asia is poorly vaccinated,” said Rob Carnell, Asia-Pacific head of research at ING in Singapore.
While year-on-year corporate and economic indicators continue to show strong recovery, flattered by comparisons with 2020s sharp declines, quarter-on-quarter indicators reveal flagging momentum.
Asia’s biggest firms are likely to post their first quarter-on-quarter profit decline in six quarters in July-September, falling 6.19 per cent, showed a Reuters calculation based on Refinitiv Eikon analyst data of 1,069 companies with market capitalisation of at least US$1 billion.
“There’s no mistake there will be a slowdown in the third quarter,” said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities in Tokyo.
In the near-term, much depends on vaccination progress in Southeast Asia – a major production base – and whether China takes extra steps to support its economy, Fujito said.
Vehicle sales in China, the world’s second-largest economy, slipped in July versus the same month last year, falling for a third consecutive month amid virus outbreaks and a global semiconductor shortage which is curbing output.
China’s economy rose 7.9 per cent year on year in the second quarter of 2021
Toyota, the world’s largest carmaker by sales volume, said last week it would cut September production by 40 per cent from its previous plan due to the chip crunch, though it retained production and sales targets for its financial year.
Regarding broader parts supply, Toyota executive Kazunari Kumakura said: “The spread of the coronavirus and lockdowns in Southeast Asia had a major impact.”
In Southeast Asia, soaring Covid-19 cases and subsequent lockdown measures have hit economic activity in both the services and manufacturing sectors.
“That’s quite a strong signal that economic momentum in Southeast Asia will slow in the third quarter,” said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at IHS Markit in Singapore.
Delta outbreaks in Southeast Asia have caused supply chain headaches for many of the world’s largest manufacturers, many of which rely on car parts and semiconductors made in low-cost bases such as Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Mitsubishi Motors chief financial officer Koji Ikeya said the Covid-19 resurgence will depress demand, the chip shortage would have a lengthy impact on production, and prices of steel and other materials are set to rise.
“Because of those risks, the environment surrounding us remains unstable,” Ikeya said.
In Malaysia and Vietnam, lockdown measures and cases of infection have forced factories to suspend operations.
“Of course, governments are trying to put in place better protection for essential workers … for example, giving them priority for vaccination,” said IHS Markit’s Biswas.
The extent of any economic slowdown in Asia will not be fully known until governments release third-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) estimates later this year.
Asian economies that were moving from a state of relative openness to lockdown will probably see their GDP contract quarter-on-quarter, said ING’s Carnell.
ING has already trimmed its growth forecasts for Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Australia, he said.
“You’re seeing 30-40 per cent (year on year) export growth in many cases but you’ve got very strong base effects working through those things,” Carnell said.