Weak manufacturing activity in China and dismal growth data from India have underscored Asia’s vulnerability to the European turmoil and sparked fresh calls for government intervention.
Asia was long considered a global bright spot, even a haven from Europe’s deepening crisis and the weak US recovery. But the continent is starting to feel the heat as overseas markets deteriorate.
World Trade Organisation chief Pascal Lamy said on Thursday that the region was increasingly “interconnected with the rest of the planet and I don’t think this relative immunity will be forever.”
“I would expect, given what is happening in other parts of the world economy, this region to be more affected than it has been so far,” he said.
Lamy’s fears were borne out within hours as the disappointing data stoked calls for China’s and India’s governments to kick-start their economies to escape hard landings, which could worsen the already fragile global outlook.
“China’s economic slowdown is more severe than expected. Export orders are continuing to fall, which is definitely related to Europe’s debt crisis,” said Liao Qun, chief economist for Citic Bank International in Hong Kong.
“Uncertainty in Europe is high. China needs to move faster and more aggressively to speed up loosening of its monetary and fiscal policies.”
China’s official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for manufacturing indicated a sharper-than-expected slowdown in May, while separate PMI data released by British bank HSBC showed a contraction for the same month.
China has already cut bank reserve requirements three times since December as exports — a key engine of growth — have stumbled, causing economic growth to weaken to its slowest pace in three years for the first quarter.
There are signs that Beijing is ramping up spending with infrastructure projects, but officials and state media have ruled out a massive stimulus plan like a four-trillion-yuan ($635-billion) spending spree in 2008.
Meanwhile, India’s economy grew at a nine-year low of 5.3 per cent in the first quarter, data showed on Thursday, as the global downturn hit the emerging market giant.
The unexpectedly grim figure was well below analysts’ forecasts for 6.1 per cent growth and coincided with China’s bleak data, dimming hopes that emerging countries will power the global economy back to health.
HSBC’s chief India economist Leif Eskesen said India’s weakening economy was like a “gasping elephant”.
“The slowdown in growth has proven deeper than expected,” he said. India’s other indicators are a source of worry: the rupee is at historic lows against the dollar, annual inflation remains high at around seven per cent, and the current account and public deficits are large.
That makes it difficult for policymakers to respond to slowing growth, since the bulging public deficit gives little scope for added government spending and high inflation makes cutting interest rates difficult.
Elsewhere, South Korea’s exports — an indicator for the region — declined year-on-year for a third straight month in May as the eurozone turbulence and China’s slowdown took their toll on the economy, figures showed on Friday.