China Economy’s Harsh Winter to Hurt Cotton, Commodities

China Cotton Demand Seen Falling 11% on Economy’s Harsh Winter
The country, which uses 40 percent of the world’s cotton, has cut interest rates twice since June and the reserve requirement ratio three times since November. Photographer: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg

Cotton consumption in China, the world’s largest user, may shrink 11 percent this year as a deteriorating economy hurts demand and causes a buildup in commodities, according to Weiqiao Textile Co. Futures fell.

“The Chinese economy is only at the beginning of a harsh winter,” Zhang Hongxia, chairman of China’s largest cotton-textile maker, said in an interview in Hong Kong on Aug. 20. “China now is facing a situation where everything from coal to steel inventories are piling up.”

Zhang’s outlook runs counter to forecasts from banks such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. that forecast a second-half rebound as the government expands stimulus. China’s economy grew at the slowest pace in three years in the second quarter as Europe’s debt crisis hurt exports and a government drive to cool consumer and property prices damped domestic demand. Cotton for December delivery declined as much as 1.6 percent on ICE Futures U.S.

“The slowdown in China is due to overall industrial overcapacity accumulated in recent years,” said Lou Zhi, head of the trading department at Hunter Capital Ltd., a Dalian-based commodity hedge fund. “Overseas demand is unlikely to revive soon as the European debt crisis looks set to drag on. Despite a recovery in the U.S., growth there seems anemic.”

Cotton usage may drop to 8 million metric tons this year, compared with consumption of about 9 million tons in 2011, according to Zhang, who had forecast in March that 2012 demand may increase to as much as 9.5 million tons. China accounts for about 40 percent of global cotton consumption.

Cotton’s Tumble

Cotton lost as much 1.25 cents to 76.05 cents a pound, and was at 76.27 cents at 4:38 p.m. in Shanghai, with most-active prices 28 percent lower over the past year. Weiqiao shares, unchanged at HK$2.74, have lost 34 percent in the past 12 months as the Hang Seng Index rose 2.1 percent. The Standard & Poor’s GSCI Spot Index of raw materials climbed 4.5 percent in the past year, rallying over 20 percent from the year’s low on June 21.

China’s export growth collapsed in July and industrial output fell short of projections, according to separate reports this month, after data showed the second-largest economy grew 7.6 percent between April and June. Premier Wen Jiabao said last week that easing inflation allowed more room to adjust monetary policy. The country has cut interest rates twice since June and the reserve requirement ratio three times since November.

‘In Contrast’

“My view might be in contrast to what many economists out there are saying,” said Zhang, daughter of Zhang Shiping, whose family hold 744.94 million shares in Weiqiao, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. There may be a so-called turning point for the economy if the government introduces “very good” policies later this year, she said, without elaborating.

Goldman Sachs economists including Hong Kong-based Cui Li said in an Aug. 2 report on China’s economy that “we expect growth to accelerate in the rest of the year and 2013 as supportive policies are gradually rolled out and implemented.” The bank forecast a full-year expansion of 7.9 percent for 2012, down from an earlier estimate of 8.1 percent.

Economic growth may accelerate to 7.9 percent in the third quarter and 8.3 percent in the final three months, according to the median forecasts in a Bloomberg survey of 21 economists taken from Aug. 14 to Aug. 21. The country is the world’s largest consumer of base metals and second-largest crude user.

Steel Stockpiles

Coal inventories at Qinhuangdao port rose to 9.33 million tons on June 17, the highest since 2008, data from the China Coal Transport and Distribution Association showed. Stockpiles were at 6.69 million tons as of Aug. 19. While steel-product stockpiles at the nation’s 26 major markets have dropped for five months as the end of July, they’re still 19 percent higher this year, according to the China Iron & Steel Association.

Commodity-related companies have flagged their concern. Noble Group Ltd., Asia’s biggest listed commodity supplier, expects a tough environment for the next 12 to 24 months, Chief Executive Officer Yusuf Alireza said yesterday. Vale SA, the world’s largest iron-ore producer, said this month that China’s so-called golden years are gone as economic growth slows.

“We are in a worse situation now, compared with 2008-2009,” said Zhang, referring to the country’s textile industry. “The prospect for an economic recovery looks set to drag on, with too many uncertainties in the short term, and the European debt crisis seems to be endless.”

Weiqiao, which normally consumes about 600,000 tons of cotton a year, used 204,000 tons in the first half as capacity usage was reduced to cope with weaker demand and high inventory, Zhang said. Net income at the Zouping county, Shandong-based company fell about 90 percent in the first half.

Supply Deficit

Cotton production in China doesn’t meet demand and the government distributes import quotas. Output may be 31 million, 480-pound bales (6.7 million tons) in 2012-2013, compared with demand of 39 million bales, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Imports may decline to 13 million bales in 2012-2013, from 24.3 million bales previous year, the USDA says.

Through an industry association, the company has urged the government either to release additional import quotas, enabling textile makers to benefit from cheaper shipments, or to sell off state stockpiles at a discount, Zhang said. The government has more than 4 million tons held in reserves, she said.

Global cotton stockpiles will increase 10 percent to 74.67 million 480-pound bales in the 2012-2013 season, according to a forecast from the USDA. Holdings in China will advance 17 percent to 34.18 million bales.

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