China August data to show economy solidly poised before key Party congress

(This version of the story corrects inflation and producer price milestones in paragraphs 17 and 18, respectively.)

FILE PHOTO: A man carrying a girl walks through a bridge at a park next to Beijing's central business area, China August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

BEIJING (Reuters) - After surprising pretty much everyone with solid growth in the first half, China’s economy has continued to motor along nicely with a flurry of data for August expected to show momentum will largely hold up through to the end of the year despite tighter policy.

Annual growth in the world’s second-biggest economy picked up to 6.9 percent in the first six months of the year, as brightening global demand boosted Chinese shipments and resilient domestic consumption helped to cushion the impact of policy makers’ efforts to reduce debt and cool the property market.

The growth momentum has surprised most China observers, especially in light of Beijing’s campaign to wean the economy off a years-long debt-fueled binge, with early fears of a sharper downturn well and truly put to bed.

According to a Reuters poll of analysts, over the next few weeks a flurry of data for August is likely to back market expectations for growth to taper off only modestly from the first half’s pace, with some such as smaller firms seen bearing the brunt of tightening financial conditions.

On the whole, the August data set should support views that China’s economy will be in good heart heading into a key political meeting of the ruling Communist Party and give policy makers a comfortable cushion through to the end of the year to deepen much-needed reforms.

China’s economic numbers so far have been encouraging in a boon to world trade even as risks to the global economy have increased this year from rising U.S. protectionism and growing tensions in the Korean peninsula.

Strong factory reports last week showed strength in the industrial sector continued through August, while Chinese demand has lifted commodities prices from steel to iron ore and underpinned a resurgence in global growth.

Most economists now forecast China’s economy to slow only moderately through the end of the year and handily beat the government’s 2017 growth target of around 6.5 percent.

In a surprising period of stability, China’s gross domestic product growth has accelerated or remained stable for five consecutive quarters for the first time since at least the early 1990s.


That provides a welcome backdrop for the once-every-five-years congress of the Communist Party, which will start October 18, the day before China announces third quarter GDP growth.

China watchers will likely look for signs of any new direction in economic policy after the meeting, where President Xi Jinping is expected to further strengthen his grip on power.

A stronger yuan in the face of a weak U.S. dollar has helped stabilize global markets that were spooked by a year and a half of sustained weakness in the Chinese currency, which was accompanied by capital outflows and a steep decline in the nation’s foreign currency reserves.

Analysts expect China’s foreign currency reserves, the largest in the world, to have increased for a seventh straight month to $3.1 trillion in August from $3.081 trillion the month before, the Reuters poll showed.

Export growth is forecast to moderate to 6.0 percent in August from 7.2 percent the previous month, while imports probably remained in double digits at 10.0 percent growth, from 11.0 percent.

Double digit growth in China’s imports this year has been good news for exporters around the world, particularly commodities exporters, who have benefited from a sustained rebound in commodity prices.

China’s trade surplus in August was tipped at $48.6 billion, which would be the highest since January.

The inflation rate likely picked up in August to 1.6 percent year-on-year from 1.4 percent, which would be the first uptick in three months.

Producer price growth also likely accelerated in August for the first time in six months to 5.6 percent from 5.5 percent, as government efforts to reduce excess capacity by shutting inefficient and heavily polluting mines and mills help sustain a rally in commodity prices.

Strong exports and a more than 20 percent increase in infrastructure investment are seen lifting industrial output 6.6 percent year-on-year in August, up from 6.4 percent growth in July.

Retail sales likely picked up slightly to 10.5 percent growth while fixed asset investment growth may have slowed to 8.2 percent in August, from 8.3 percent in the previous month.

China’s money supply growth has dipped to the slowest on record in the past few months, hurt by a campaign to rein in leverage and the riskiest forms of non-bank lending.

Analysts expect that trend to continue, with the median forecast for 9.1 percent year-on-year growth in M2, down from 9.2 percent in July.

New bank lending likely totaled 900 billion yuan in August, up from 825.5 billion yuan in July, while the balance of outstanding loans probably fell to 13.0 percent.

Reporting by Elias Glenn and Shaloo Shrivastava; Editing by Shri Navaratnam