Wednesday, January 2, 2013

1/1/2013: Recovery in Asia? Well... not so fast, folks

The Year is only 1 day old (almost) and the trigger-happy Bulls' headlines are all around. Forget the 'Fiscal Cliff' non-solution in the US (it kicked the can of excessive deficits by about 1 month out, before uncertainty about the longer term outlook returns with renewed 'negotiations' and it failed completely and spectacularly in even approaching any workable solution to the US debt overhang). The chirpy sound of 'optimism at any cost' is now coming out of Asia.

Today, we saw Korean and Taiwanese PMIs released. Here are the facts:

  • HSBC South Korea PMI for manufacturing sector rose from 48.2 in November (outright recessionary levels) to 50.1 in December. Now, 50.1 sounds like being above 50 (the 50 points mark identifying level of activity consistent with zero growth on previous month), statistically it is not significantly distinct from 50.0 or, for that matter, from 49.9. In other words, since May 2012, PMI registered continuous consecutive contractions in the manufacturing sector, compounded over time. In December, there was effectively zero growth from the bottom levels of November. And this some media heralded as the 'return' to growth. Worse, new export orders - the staple of Korean economy, continued to contract in December for the seventh consecutive monthly period.
  • Taiwanese PMI did pretty much the same, rising from an outright contraction of 47.4 in November to 50.6 in December. Taiwanese level of activity (at 50.6) was probably statistically significantly above 50, but hardly anywhere near the levels consistent with a definitive growth trend. This was the first above-50 reading in 7 months and was underpinned (positively) by expansions in both new orders and exports orders. Importantly, input prices rose in Taiwanese manufacturing sector, while output prices shrunk - profit margins, therefore, have dropped - a trend established for at least 3 months now.

Meanwhile, unreported by the Bulls:

  • Vietnam manufacturing PMI sunk to 49.3 in December from 50.5 in November, with 8 out of last 9 months posting contracting activity.
  • Indonesia's manufacturing PMI remained above the 50.0 line at 50.7 in December, but growth fell from 51.5 in November.
  • Earlier report from China showed December manufacturing PMI at 51.5 up from 50.5 in November, "signalling a modest improvement of operating conditions in the Chinese manufacturing sector. Moreover, it was the highest index reading since May 2011." But new export orders actually fell in December after a 'modest increase in November', which implies that China's manufacturing 'revival' is driven most likely by state spending boost, not by any 'resurgence in global economic activity'.
  • And Australian manufacturing PMI was continuing to tank in December: "Manufacturing activity contracted for a 10th consecutive month in December, with the seasonally adjusted Australian Industry Group Australian Performance of Manufacturing Index recording a level of 44.3, unchanged from a slightly upwardly revised reading of 44.3 one month ago. The slump in manufacturing new orders also extended into the 10th month albeit at a slower rate, reflecting weak global demand and a softening Australian economy. The new orders sub-index rose 1.6 points to 45.7 in December."

So, pardon me, but what 'resurgence in Asia'?

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