BEIJING, Jan. 2 – A Chinese manufacturing gauge slipped to a four-month low in December, underscoring challenges for President Xi Jinping as he tries to sustain economic momentum while rolling out reforms.
The Purchasing Managers’ Index was at 51, the National Bureau of Statistics and China’s logistics federation said yesterday in Beijing. That was less than the median 51.2 estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of 29 economists and November’s 51.4. A separate manufacturing index is due to be released today by HSBC Holdings Plc and Markit Economics.
Swelling local-government debt, surging property prices in some cities and volatility in money-market rates are risks as Xi embarks on reforms intended to lay the foundations for more sustainable long-term growth. The Chinese economy may have expanded 7.6% in 2013, the slowest pace in 14 years, according to a State Council report last week.
“The Chinese leadership has made it clear that they want stable growth this year – neither a sharp fall nor a quick rebound,” said Zhu Haibin, Hong Kong-based chief China economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. “The central bank will remain neutral in its policy operations.”
The Shanghai Composite Index fell about 7% in 2013, the third decline in four years, as climbing money-market rates fuelled investor concern that corporate profits will decline.
While the Chinese economy is powering down from an average growth rate of 10.5% from 2001 to 2010, the ruling Communist Party wants sufficient expansion to protect jobs.
“Future economic growth may soften,” Zhang Liqun, a researcher with the Development Research Centre of the State Council, said in a statement commenting on the government PMI report, which showed declines in gauges for output, new orders, export orders and imports.
Local-government debt, including contingent liabilities, rose to 17.9 trillion yuan (US$2.95 trillion) as of the end of June, the National Audit Office said in a report on Dec. 30. In Beijing and Guangzhou, new home prices jumped 28% in December from a year earlier, according to SouFun Holdings Ltd, the nation’s biggest real-estate website owner.
A key task for Xi will be overseeing the broadest economic changes since the 1990s, spelled out at the Communist Party Central Committee’s Third Plenum in November. Shifts include loosening the one-child policy, increasing property rights for farmers and encouraging private investment in more industries.
In his first New Year’s address as president, Xi said that the government must press ahead with reforms to improve livelihoods and make the country “rich and strong.”
While Premier Li Keqiang said in October that the nation needs 7.2% economic growth to protect jobs, the party is urging local officials to broaden their focus beyond just pumping up gross domestic product. The National Statistical Society, an arm of the statistics bureau, said Dec. 31 that its “Development and Life Index” may help judge progress.
The measure looks at indicators such as: the availability of services such as buses and hospital beds; education levels; life expectancy; social-security coverage; and access to tap water in rural areas, while restricting the weighting for economic growth to 20% of the total.
On that basis, Beijing ranked No. 1 in 2012 among provinces and municipalities, followed by Shanghai and Tianjin, while Tibet was last, after Xinjiang and Qinghai.