The HSBC Flash China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) edged slightly higher, up from 50.2 in August to 50.5 in September. The Chinese economy nearly stalled in July, and these latest data suggest that there are some signs of stabilization. For instance, this was the fourth consecutive month with expanding manufacturing activity – an improvement from earlier in the year when demand and output were contracting. In August, growth in new orders (up from 51.3 to 52.3) and exports (up from 51.9 to 53.9) accelerated somewhat, but production growth was unchanged at 51.8. One negative continues to be employment (down from 47.4 to 46.9), with hiring contracting for 11 straight months.
If the Chinese economy has rebounded marginally in September, it would be welcome news. Industrial production plummeted from 9.0 percent year-over-year in July to 6.9 percent in August, the slowest pace since December 2008. Fixed asset investments also slowed, down from an annual rate of 17.0 percent to 16.5 percent. Nonetheless, real GDP growth improved from 7.4 percent year-over-year growth in the first quarter to 7.5 percent in the second quarter. The latest data suggest that the annual pace of growth might decelerate further, however.
At the same time, the Markit Flash Eurozone Manufacturing PMI eased yet again, down from 50.7 to 50.5. This was the lowest level observed since July 2013, the first month that the Eurozone emerged from its deep two-year recession. As such, it indicates the extent to which activity in Europe has come to a halt. New orders (down from 50.7 to 49.7) contracted slightly for the first time in 15 months. Output was unchanged at 51.0, and export sales were flat at 51.7. Hiring advanced to a neutral position (up from 49.3 to 50.0). On the closely-watched inflation measures, both input (down from 51.8 to 49.4) and output (down from 50.3 to 49.2) prices moved into negative territory.
There have been persistent worries about deflation on the continent, with the European Central Bank lowering rates recently in the hope of spurring more economic activity and additional lending. As of August, Eurozone inflation had risen just 0.3 percent over the past 12 months, prompting continued worries about deflationary pressures in the economy. The annual inflation pace is down from 1.3 percent in August 2013. Real GDP remained unchanged in the second quarter, down from 0.2 percent growth in the first quarter. Moreover, it has increased just 0.7 percent year-over-year, illustrating just how sluggish the recovery has been.
Meanwhile, the Markit Flash U.S. Manufacturing PMI was unchanged at 57.9, its fastest pace since May 2010. This report continues to show strong growth in manufacturing activity in the U.S., a sign that the sector has regained the robustness seen at the end of 2013. The pace of new orders were unchanged at 60.5, indicating healthy gains, and hiring (up from 54.6 to 56.6) accelerated to its highest level since March 2012. Production (down from 60.7 to 59.9) growth was healthy, and export orders (down from 54.4 to 53.8) expanded modestly despite a slight deceleration in each figure.
Overall, the U.S. data suggest that manufacturers remain upbeat in September about overall activity, with the sector continuing to recover from softness earlier in the year. This data is largely consistent with other indicators, as well.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.