Asian tigers shock global markets with factory slowdown

ASIA added to global economic woes yesterday as figures showed factories in Japan and South Korea cut output in October, raising the spectre of a slowdown in the region.

While Europe remains knee-deep in a sovereign debt crisis and the US recovery is far from secure, the global economy has relied on growth in Asia to keep it ticking over,

But yesterday's data sparked fears that several economies in the region are now losing traction. Japanese manufacturers slashed output for the fifth consecutive month and by the biggest margin since February 2009, while industrial output in neighbouring South Korea also dropped for the third month in a row.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Although the poor Japanese results had been expected, they fuelled expectations that the world's third-largest economy - recently overtaken by rival China - was likely to contract in the fourth quarter.

Over in Seoul, the sense of security built up after South Korea became one of the first economies to rebound from the global recession is also waning, according to analysts. On the plus side, however, South Korea is expected to benefit from robust export growth next year.

Dariusz Kowalczyk, senior economist at Credit Agricole in Hong Kong, said the outlook for Asia in 2011 was in doubt. "We will see some slowdown in G3 economies and Asia next year. With the European situation unravelling, the risks are more conspicuous."

But there was good news from two other major economies yesterday: India and Germany.

India stamped its authority by unveiling forecasting-beating 8.9 per cent GDP growth in the third quarter. Meanwhile, unemployment fell again in Germany, widening the gap between Europe's largest economy and troubled states such as Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Spain - even France.

The number of Germans without work fell by 9,000 last month leaving the unemployment rate at 7.5 per cent. Although the decrease was less than expected, economists are confident of further improvement. Analysts are fearful that, given its strong recovery, Germany's tolerance of the eurozone debt crisis could soon wear thin. Many question for how long Chancellor Angela Merkel's country will be prepared to bail out its neighbours.

Germany would benefit from the creation of a "two tier" euro - one of the possible solutions mooted by eurozone experts but doubt is now being cast about its greatest ally in the union, France.

Rumours gripped the Paris Bourse yesterday that credit rating agency Standard & Poor's may cut France's outlook - something that was stringently denied by the country's budget minister, Francois Baroin, who said: "There is no reason for concern, no risk."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

His denials did not, however, stop investors from preying on French banking stocks with shares in BNP Paribas, Societe Generale and Credit Agricole all coming under pressure yesterday.