Caixin China General Manufacturing PMI (April 2022)
Output and new orders fall at faster rates in April
• Production and sales fall at quickest rates since February 2020 as COVID-19 restrictions escalate
• Suppliers’ delivery times lengthen at second-quickest rate on record
• Input costs rise sharply, but selling prices increase only modestly
Data were collected 11-21 April 2022
A further tightening of COVID-19 restrictions in China led to notably quicker falls in both output and new business at the start of the second quarter. Increased supply chain disruption meanwhile drove the second-fastest deterioration in average vendor performance on record. Softer demand conditions resulted in more marked falls in both purchasing activity and stocks of purchases. Inflationary pressures persisted, with the rate of input cost inflation exceeding that seen for selling prices, as efforts to stimulate sales restricted firms' pricing power.
Business confidence towards the 12-month outlook for output remained relatively subdued, as firms expressed concerns over how long it will take to fully contain the COVID-19 virus and its impact on supply chains and client demand.
The headline seasonally adjusted Purchasing Managers’ Index™ (PMI™) – a composite indicator designed to provide a single-figure snapshot of operating conditions in the manufacturing economy – declined from 48.1 in March to 46.0 in April. The figure pointed to a second successive monthly deterioration in overall business conditions faced by Chinese manufacturers, and one that was the quickest since February 2020.
Dampening the headline index was a stronger reduction in output at the start of the second quarter. Production fell at the second-steepest since the survey began in early-2004 (beaten only by February 2020). The drop was frequently linked to the tightening of COVID-19 restrictions and subsequent impact on business operations, supply chains and demand.
Total new business likewise fell at the second-sharpest rate on record, as efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including lockdowns, weighed on client demand. Some companies also noted that clients had cancelled orders due to difficulties in producing and shipping items. Logistical challenges also weighed on foreign demand, with new export orders falling at the quickest rate since May 2020.
The escalation of COVID-19 measures heavily impacted supply chain performance during April. The time taken for inputs to be delivered to manufacturers increased at the second-quickest rate on record and rapidly overall, as many firms noted lockdowns, travel restrictions and limited raw material availability had impacted delivery times.
Softer demand conditions meanwhile led to the sharpest drops in purchasing activity and stocks of inputs since February 2020. Inventories of goods also fell, albeit only modestly, as a number of firms noted difficulties shipping items to customers amid ongoing mobility restrictions.
Disruption to normal business operations led to a further increase in backlogs of work, though the rate of accumulation was mild. At the same time, employment fell only slightly, with some companies noting that the pandemic had made it difficult for workers to return to factories.
Higher costs for transport and raw materials drove a further sharp increase in input costs in April. That said, the rate of inflation eased slightly since March. Efforts to remain competitive and attract new business led to only a modest increase in selling prices, however.
Although companies were generally optimistic that output would rise over the next year, the level of positive sentiment was little-changed from March's three-month low. Firms often expressed concerns over how long COVID-19 restrictions will be in place, and how long it will take for supply chains and demand conditions to improve.
Commenting on the China General Manufacturing PMI data, Dr. Wang Zhe, Senior Economist at Caixin Insight Group said:
“In April, the Caixin China General Manufacturing PMI fell 2.1 points from the previous month to 46, the lowest reading since February 2020, as the latest outbreaks of Covid-19 took a toll on the economy.
“Manufacturing supply and demand continued to contract in April. Continuous regional Covid outbreaks disrupted production and logistics in manufacturing, and impacted demand. In April, the subindexes for output and total new orders each came in at their lowest since February 2020. The impact on logistics also spilled over into external demand, with the reading for new export orders hitting its lowest level since May 2020.
“Employment declined slightly. Some companies indicated that demand was weak due to Covid outbreaks, and some said the main problem was the difficulty of getting workers back on the job. Employment has declined in eight of the last nine months, including April.
“Inflationary pressure remained high. In terms of costs, the measure for input costs slipped, but remained well above 50. Surveyed enterprises said that logistics were hampered by the dual factors of China’s Covid-19 outbreaks and the Russia-Ukraine war, causing raw material prices to rise. In contrast, the gauge for output prices, though still in the expansionary range, hit a new low in 2022 as business activities were restricted. Therefore, it was difficult for companies to pass on higher costs to their customers.
“Covid control measures have done a number on logistics. The latest round of outbreaks and the corresponding control measures have caused the subindex for suppliers’ delivery times to drop significantly (as the times were prolonged) — hitting a low not seen since February 2020. Affected by the outbreaks, manufacturers significantly cut purchases, so stocks of purchased items fell significantly, and backlogs of work increased.
“Entrepreneurs remained optimistic. The gauge for business confidence more or less held steady with the previous month’s reading — though still lower than the long-term average. They believed that the Covid-19 outbreaks will eventually be brought under control, but some respondents worried that the control measures would last too long.
“Overall, in April, local Covid outbreaks continued, and activity in the manufacturing sector weakened. Supply shrank, demand was under pressure, external demand deteriorated, supply chains were disrupted, delivery times were prolonged, backlogs of work grew, workers found it difficult to return to their jobs, inflationary pressures lingered, and market confidence remained below the long-term average.
“Since April, the Covid-19 situation in regions like Shanghai remained severe, and the impact on business production and people’s lives continued, especially in logistics. Currently, the most important job of policymakers is to optimize the flow of personnel and goods and focus on stabilizing supply chains, while resolutely adhering to the established policy of “dynamic zero-Covid".
“In addition, for enterprises in industries that are greatly affected by the outbreaks, the government should boost support to stabilize market expectations. During the recent round of outbreaks, many company employees, gig workers and low-income groups have watched their incomes shrink and their lives grow more difficult. That’s something policymakers shouldn’t ignore."
Dr. Wang Zhe
Caixin Insight Group
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