A Complete Look At China's Latest Disappointing Data In One Chart

The latest Chinese data shows a disappointing start to the second quarter.

First, a quick round-up of the latest data from China:

china april data table

Over the weekend we saw industrial production rise 9.3% in April, below expectations but above March’s numbers. Societe Generale’s Wei Yao points out that this number isn’t necessarily worth celebrating. “There was a clear base effect, as the headline
growth dropped by 2.6ppt from March to April last year,” explains Yao. “Excluding this factor, production barely improved.” The only real jump was in automobile manufacturing which climbed 18.3% on the year, compared with 12.4% in March.

Fixed asset investment (FAI) unexpectedly slowed in April, driven by a decline in manufacturing FAI. Investment in railways and housing however surged. This showed that property curbs haven’t quite made an impact yet.

The 12.8% rise in retail sales doesn’t reflect a strong improvement in consumption. From Yao:

“First, inflation helped. The real rate, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, moved up by justĀ  0.1ppt to 11.8% yoy. Second, the best performing segment was jewellery sales, which had more to do with savings rather than consumption. Following a sharp decline in the gold price, Chinese households’ purchase of jewellery surged 72% yoy in April, substantially faster than the 17.7% yoy in Q1.”

China’s M2 money supply growth ticked higher to 16.1% and credit conditions were “accommodative,” according to Yao. But a closer look at the data showed that the crackdown on Wealth Management Products (WMPs) and caps on lending to local government financing vehicles (LGFVs).

In a note out earlier this month, Yao wrote that all the measures taken together show that nonbank credit growth could be about mid-20% in 2013, from 36% in 2012.

We’ve already reported on the unreliability of Chinese export data, the decline in manufacturing, and the rise in consumer prices.

What does all this mean?

In terms of growth, SocGen’s Yao believes that the overall data is “far from encouraging”. But going by recent property curbs and financial regulations, she argues that policymakers have switched gear and are now focused on “risk management”.

Bank of America’s Ting Lu argues that with inflation not posing a great risk, policymakers can stay “accommodative” on the fiscal and monetary front. But he doesn’t expect major new stimulus to bolster growth.

In terms of credit, Yao seems more concerned about “the diverging trend between real activity growth and credit growth.” To her this suggests that “a large portion of the new credit has gone to debt servicing or to sustaining inefficient projects.”

Lu also looks at this as “new leaders [that] are keen to put their house in order by preventing any small financial and debt incidents.” But his takeaway is somewhat is different in that he doesn’t think policymakers want to disrupt credit supply.:

“That’s why recently they introduced a number of new rules to regulate wealth management products and arrested a few bond traders/managers to clean up the bond markets. However, we believe that these new policymakers will try to avoid disrupting credit supply during the house-cleaning.”

For now Yao is standing by her below consensus Q2 GDP forecast of 7.8%. Meanwhile, Lu sees more of a “downside risk” to his 8.1% Q2 GDP growth forecast.

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