SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asia’s factories appeared to have stepped down a gear last month as a glut of supply met a dearth of global demand, piling pressure on prices of manufactured goods and the commodities used to make them.
Oil sank to its lowest in over five years on Monday, with the industrial bellwether copper not far behind. The rout spread to gold and silver while the US dollar cleared seven-year peaks on the Japanese yen.
Both US crude and Brent have now fallen for five straight months, the longest losing streak since the 2008 financial crisis.
With domestic and export demand softening and production growth weak, many Asian manufacturers were more reluctant to stock up on raw materials, activity surveys on Monday.
While lower commodity prices are a boon to consumer spending power, they have damaging side effects in a world where official interest rates are already at historic lows in many countries.
Slowing inflation acts as an unwanted tightening of policy as it pushes up real interest rates, one reason China and Japan surprised with new stimulus measures in recent weeks.
It was clear in HSBC’s survey of Chinese businesses which found input costs fell for a fourth straight month in November while its overall index of activity touched a six-month trough of 50.0.
China’s official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) was scarcely better, slipping to 50.3 in November from October’s 50.8.
“Domestic demand expanded at a sluggish pace while new export order growth eased to a five-month low. Disinflationary pressures remain strong while the labour market weakened further,” said Hongbin Qu, chief economist for China and co-head of Asian economic research at HSBC.
“We continue to expect further monetary and fiscal easing measures to offset downside risks to growth.”
After saying for months that China does not need any big economic stimulus, the central bank wrong footed markets by lowering rates in late November.
China’s troubles were felt broadly across the region, with South Korea reporting exports to the Asian giant fell for the first time in three months, while its measure of manufacturing activity stayed stuck in contractionary territory.
In Indonesia, the HSBC Markit PMI reached the unwelcome milestone of the lowest since the survey began in April 2011 at 48.0. That was down from 49.2 in October.
In Japan, the Markit/JMMA version of the PMI eased to 52.0 in November, from 52.4 the month before. The economy slipped into recession in the third quarter as the baleful impact of a hike in sales taxes lingered longer than anyone expected.
Still, the extent of the contraction may have been overstated, given figures out Monday showed business investment was stronger than thought.
India was a rare bright spot, as it has been for a few months now, with its PMI climbing to a 21-month high of 53.3 last month.
A host of European and US surveys are yet to come on Monday. The euro zone measure is expected to be barely positive at 50.4, woefully short of the US ISM which is forecast to come in at 58.0.