Chinese PMI very sensitive to underlying economic activity

China’s official and (unofficial) Caixin manufacturing data for May will be released tomorrow and Friday before the usual deluge of monthly economic indicators. Markets tend to give weight to the early release of PMI data in the world’s second largest economy and the question is whether this is justified.

There was a good correlation up till about 2012 between China’s official manufacturing PMI and exports, imports, industrial output, retail sales and GDP, with the added advantage of the PMI leading by a couple of months. But since then these correlations on the surface appear to have broken down, even if we use the sub-components of headline PMI.
The main issue is seemingly one of calibration. Since 2012, the official manufacturing PMI has only fallen marginally in a narrow 49.0-51.7 range while monthly economic indicators have weakened considerably. If we shorten the time scale, the PMI’s correlations with monthly data again look reasonable.
Markets need to take into account this increased sensitivity of the PMI data, as small moves may ultimately be associated with significant changes in underlying economic activity.
Even so, the official manufacturing PMI has seemingly over-estimated China’s economic strength in recent months. An alternative view point is that monthly economic indicators are about to rebound quite sharply.
The unofficial Caxin manufacturing PMI data – which have been more volatile than the official measure – and the official non-manufacturing PMI have even over longer time-frames been somewhat better correlated with monthly economic indicators. They too point to a rebound in economic activity in coming months.
You can read the full article on my website.
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