Profits at China‘s industrial firms fell 2.3% in the nine months to the end of September from last year, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released on Thursday.
Reasons for the decline – blamed on Covid-19 restrictions and the long-running property crisis – remain and still weigh on factory activity, amid high costs and signs that demand is weakening both at home and abroad.
China‘s strict “zero-Covid” policy of constantly monitoring, testing and isolating its citizens to prevent the spread of the coronavirus has battered the economy and manufacturing sector. Export-oriented manufacturers appear at most risk from weakening global demand.
The data showed the fall in profits is increasing at a faster pace, as the figure was a 2.1% for the January-August period.
The bureau did not report standalone figures for September and August, but said in a separate statement that the decline in profits at industrial firms in September narrowed by 6.0 percentage points compared with the previous month.
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Helping some industrial firms with high costs and declining profits recover could be difficult, Zhu Hong, a senior NBS statistician, said in a statement.
“In the future, China will focus on the development of the real economy, efficiently coordinating Covid-19 prevention and control and economic development, in order to make a series of policy measures take effect.”
Meanwhile, the Shanghai Industrial share sub index is down nearly 20% so far this year.
After nearly contracting in spring, China‘s third-quarter economic growth was faster than expected, helped by a raft of government measures.
September activity data showed strong industrial output, but prolonged property woes, slower exports and stubbornly weak retail sales are clouding the outlook for a more robust recovery in the longer term.
For January-September, profits at state-owned companies rose 3.8% on year while foreign, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan-invested enterprises and private firms both reported profit declines, down 9.3% and 8.1%, respectively.
Mining Profits Soar, But Manufacturing Down
However, for upstream companies, the mining sector reported high profits, with a cumulative year-on-year increase of 76%, while profits in the manufacturing sector fell 13.2%.
Higher oil prices and rise in import costs from a weaker yuan have also added to companies’ woes in recent months.
Zhou Maohua, analyst at China Everbright Bank, said some manufacturing industries in the middle and downstream segments were facing pressure from the cost of energy and raw materials.
The authorities should maintain their policy measures aimed at stabilising supply and prices, Zhou added.
Weak Start to Q4
Despite better-than-expected third quarter GDP growth, analysts at Goldman Sachs cut their fourth-quarter growth forecast to 3.5% on a quarter-on-quarter annualised basis from 5.0% previously.
“High-frequency data including emerging industries PMI (EPMI), new home sales, auto sales, transportation and long holiday tourism revenue pointed to a likely weak start in Q4,” Goldman Sachs analysts said.
China Resources Cement Holdings, among the country’s largest cement producers, reported last week that its nine-month turnover fell 22% to HK$24.2 billion ($3.1 billion).
Industrial profits data covers large firms with annual revenues above 20 million yuan ($2.8 million) from their main operations.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard
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