China's manufacturing sector contracted at its sharpest pace in nine months in August, according to a survey showing falling export orders and rising inventories, a signal that more policy stimulus may be needed to engineer a second half pick-up in growth.
As calls grew louder from analysts and investors for further measures from Beijing to support the economy, China's central bank on Thursday completed its largest weekly injection of funds into the financial system in seven months -- a move traders saw as a substitute for a cut in banks' required reserve ratio. The HSBC Flash China manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI) -- a preliminary read--out that provides an early peek at data for August -- fell to 47.8 this month, its lowest level since November and well down from July's final figure of 49.3. "Inventory numbers are the highest on record. Orders to inventory are the lowest since December 2008. Foreign orders to inventory are the lowest since January 2009. It's very hard to put a positive spin on anything within the data," said Robert Rennie, chief currency strategist at Westpac Bank In Sydney. "Bottom line -- a very poor update with some very poor China data to come." Falling demand from debt--ridden Europe, China's single biggest export market, has put the Chinese economy under pressure, with the ripples now being felt throughout east Asia. Japan said on Wednesday that exports slumped the most in six months in July as shipments to Europe and China tumbled. Exports from Taiwan, a key part of the global technology supply chain, fell for a fifth straight month in July and South Korea, home to major carmakers, computer chip and flat--screen producers, recorded its sharpest export fall in July in nearly three years. Sixth consecutive quarters of slowing Chinese growth have also taken a toll on commodities markets, with falling prices and an uncertain outlook prompting miner BHP Billiton to shelve a $20 billion expansion project in Australia. The Australian dollar wobbled after the latest data from the country's single biggest export market, while Australia's resources minister on Thursday declared that "the resources boom is over.