(Reuters) – China will fast track approvals for infrastructure investment to combat a slowdown in the economy, a state-backed newspaper reported on Tuesday, underlining a call by Premier Wen Jiabao for policies to maintain growth.
Dismal economic data for April last week suggested the world’s second-biggest economy was heading for a sixth straight quarter of slowing growth, which raised alarm bells in financial markets already worried about a slump in the euro zone.
The China Securities Journal said the government had sought project proposals by the end of June, even for those initially earmarked for the end of the year.
Citing government sources, it said Beijing did not rule out bringing forward next year’s projects, if it thought more investments would be needed to stimulate the economy.
“This would be the first concrete evidence that PM Wen’s comments are being put into practice,” said Dariusz Kowalczyk, an economist at Credit Agricole-CIB in Hong Kong.
“Improved China growth would benefit all regional currencies, as their economies heavily depend on exports to China.”
The report lifted infrastructure related stocks.
The five top movers on the China Enterprises Index .HSCE of Chinese companies listed in Hong Kong were infrastructure related; China Communications Construction (1800.HK), China Railway Construction Group Corp (1186.HK), China Railway Group (0390.HK), Anhui Conch Cement (0914.HK) and Zoomlion Heavy Industry (1157.HK).
The slowdown in China’s economy has weighed particularly on the commodities market. Falling prices combined with escalating costs that have squeezed cash flows prompted big miners BHP Billiton (BHP.AX) (BLT.L) and Rio Tinto (RIO.AX) (RIO.L) to say they were reconsidering the pace of their long-term expansion plans.
However, Xstrata (XTA.L) said on Tuesday it expected Chinese copper demand to pick up in the second half of the year.
“We typically see a cyclical return to demand in the second half of the year in China. We still have a view that the first half was always going to be slower from a copper demand point of view,” Charlie Sartain, head of Xstrata’s copper unit, told a Latin American investment conference in Sydney.
Analysts told the China Securities Journal that the latest government plans were an example of Beijing using active fiscal policy and policy adjustments to stimulate the economy at a time when tight credit has limited the ability of local governments to invest.
Premier Wen signaled Beijing’s willingness to take action in remarks at the weekend.
“We should continue to implement a proactive fiscal policy and a prudent monetary policy while giving more priority to maintaining growth,” he said in comments reported by state news agency Xinhua.
Data released last week showed both exports and imports were lower than expected in April. Foreign direct investment fell in the first four months of the year, the longest period of decline since the depths of the global financial crisis.
A Reuters poll after the data showed economists expected annual economic growth in the second quarter of the year to slow to 7.9 percent, the first slide below 8 percent since 2009.
The newspaper said infrastructure investment was being approved much more quickly this year compared to the past two years.
It also cited media reports saying the central government will speed up budget allocations to various construction projects, including highway construction.
Last year, the Ministry of Transport had allocated all the funds in its budget by September, much more quickly than previous years.
Few analysts though expect any support for the economy to be on a scale similar to the 4 trillion yuan stimulus launched during the 2008-2009 financial crisis because of the huge local government debts and inflation it sparked.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Yao and Lucy Hornby in BEIJING; Reporting by Carrie Ho; Writing by Neil Fullick, Editing by Dean Yates)