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China Manufacturing Gauge Climbs to Highest in Almost Five Years

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China's economy

China’s official factory gauge climbed to the highest in almost five years, the latest evidence of increasing momentum in the world’s second-largest economy.

Key Points

  • The manufacturing purchasing managers index increased to 51.8 in March, compared with economist estimates that it would match the November reading of 51.7
  • The non-manufacturing PMI rose to a two-year high of 55.1 from 54.2 last month
  • Numbers higher than 50 indicate improving conditions

Big Picture

The new strength follows a factory rebound since mid-2016, while industrial output and private investment also have picked up. Still, the brighter picture has been boosted by surging producer prices that may be close to peaking, and the government will have to deal with the hangover of the investment-driven growth.

Economist Takeaways

“Last year’s stimulus has done the trick and it’s increasingly looking like the growth uptick is broadening out beyond the initial impact of the stimulus, in particular into private sector services companies,” said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital Investors in Sydney. “It’s consistent with policy makers continuing to tap the brakes.”

“This strength probably won’t last, ” Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note. “The correction in the property market still has much further to run which, in combination with policy tightening, will drive a slowdown in investment and industrial activity during the coming quarters.”

“The first quarter is off to a good start,” said Wang Qiufeng, an analyst at China Chengxin International Credit Rating in Beijing. “The upbeat momentum may last through the first half of this year, as the government is pushing investment.”

“The fact that the real strength is with the non-manufacturing PMI suggests that there’s fundamentally a good story going on,” said James Laurenceson, deputy director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology in Sydney. “Manufacturing is where you’d expect to see the effects of stimulus showing up.”

The Details

  • New orders increased to a nearly three-year high of 53.3 from 53, the National Bureau of Statistics said
  • New export orders rose to 51, the highest in almost five years
  • Input prices fell a third month, falling to 59.3 after hitting a five-year high in December. That suggests producer prices may be peaking at an eight-year high, said Raymond Yeung, chief greater China economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd.
  • Stronger market demand, expanding high-technology activity, and improving conditions in traditional heavy industries all contributed to the stronger reading, NBS said
  • Among gauges for firms, the reading for large enterprises was strongest at 53.3 while medium-sized companies stood at 50.4 and small firms at 48.6

Is the CEO/Founder of Investors King Limited. A proven foreign exchange research analyst and a published author on Yahoo Finance, Businessinsider, Nasdaq, Entrepreneur.com, Investorplace, and many more. He has over two decades of experience in global financial markets.

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Gold

Gold Steadies After Initial Gains on Reports of Israel’s Strikes in Iran

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Gold, often viewed as a haven during times of geopolitical uncertainty, exhibited a characteristic surge in response to reports of Israel’s alleged strikes in Iran, only to stabilize later as tensions simmered.

The yellow metal’s initial rally came on the heels of escalating tensions in the Middle East, with concerns mounting over a potential wider conflict.

Spot gold soared as much as 1.6% in early trading as news circulated regarding Israel’s purported strikes on targets in Iran.

This surge, reaching a high of $2,400 a ton, reflected the nervousness pervading global markets amidst the saber-rattling between the two nations.

However, as the day progressed, media reports from both countries appeared to downplay the impact and severity of the alleged strikes, contributing to a moderation in gold’s gains.

Analysts noted that while the initial spike was fueled by fears of heightened conflict, subsequent assessments suggesting a less severe outcome helped calm investor nerves, leading to a stabilization in gold prices.

Traders had been bracing for a potential Israeli response following Iran’s missile and drone attack over the weekend, raising concerns about a retaliatory spiral between the two adversaries.

Reports of an explosion in Iran’s central city of Isfahan further added to the atmosphere of uncertainty, prompting flight suspensions and exacerbating market jitters.

In addition to geopolitical tensions, gold’s rally in recent months has been underpinned by other factors, including expectations of US interest rate cuts, sustained central bank buying, and robust consumer demand, particularly in China.

Despite the initial surge followed by stabilization, gold remains sensitive to developments in the Middle East and broader geopolitical dynamics.

Investors continue to monitor the situation closely for any signs of escalation or de-escalation, recognizing gold’s role as a traditional safe haven in times of uncertainty.

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Commodities

Global Cocoa Prices Surge to Record Levels, Processing Remains Steady

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Cocoa futures in New York have reached a historic pinnacle with the most-active contract hitting an all-time high of $11,578 a metric ton in early trading on Friday.

This surge comes amidst a backdrop of challenges in the cocoa industry, including supply chain disruptions, adverse weather conditions, and rising production costs.

Despite these hurdles, the pace of processing in chocolate factories has remained constant, providing a glimmer of hope for chocolate lovers worldwide.

Data released after market close on Thursday revealed that cocoa processing, known as “grinds,” was up in North America during the first quarter, appreciating by 4% compared to the same period last year.

Meanwhile, processing in Europe only saw a modest decline of about 2%, and Asia experienced a slight decrease.

These processing figures are particularly noteworthy given the current landscape of cocoa prices. Since the beginning of 2024, cocoa futures have more than doubled, reflecting the immense pressure on the cocoa market.

Yet, despite these soaring prices, chocolate manufacturers have managed to maintain their production levels, indicating resilience in the face of adversity.

The surge in cocoa prices can be attributed to a variety of factors, including supply shortages caused by adverse weather conditions in key cocoa-producing regions such as West Africa.

Also, rising demand for chocolate products, particularly premium and artisanal varieties, has contributed to the upward pressure on prices.

While the spike in cocoa prices presents challenges for chocolate manufacturers and consumers alike, industry experts remain cautiously optimistic about the resilience of the cocoa market.

Despite the record-breaking prices, the steady pace of cocoa processing suggests that chocolate lovers can still expect to indulge in their favorite treats, albeit at a higher cost.

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Crude Oil

Dangote Refinery Leverages Cheaper US Oil Imports to Boost Production

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Crude Oil

The Dangote Petroleum Refinery is capitalizing on the availability of cheaper oil imports from the United States.

Recent reports indicate that the refinery with a capacity of 650,000 barrels per day has begun leveraging US-grade oil to power its operations in Nigeria.

According to insights from industry analysts, the refinery has commenced shipping various products, including jet fuel, gasoil, and naphtha, as it gradually ramps up its production capacity.

The utilization of US oil imports, particularly the WTI Midland grade, has provided Dangote Refinery with a cost-effective solution for its feedstock requirements.

Experts anticipate that the refinery’s gasoline-focused units, expected to come online in the summer months will further bolster its influence in the Atlantic Basin gasoline markets.

Alan Gelder, Vice President of Refining, Chemicals, and Oil Markets at Wood Mackenzie, noted that Dangote’s entry into the gasoline market is poised to reshape the West African gasoline supply dynamics.

Despite operating at approximately half its nameplate capacity, Dangote Refinery’s impact on regional fuel markets is already being felt. The refinery’s recent announcement of a reduction in diesel prices from N1,200/litre to N1,000/litre has generated excitement within Nigeria’s downstream oil sector.

This move is expected to positively affect various sectors of the economy and contribute to reducing the country’s high inflation rate.

Furthermore, the refinery’s utilization of US oil imports shows its commitment to exploring cost-effective solutions while striving to meet Nigeria’s domestic fuel demand. As the refinery continues to optimize its production processes, it is poised to play a pivotal role in Nigeria’s energy landscape and contribute to the country’s quest for self-sufficiency in refined petroleum products.

Moreover, the Nigerian government’s recent directive to compel oil producers to prioritize domestic refineries for crude supply aligns with Dangote Refinery’s objectives of reducing reliance on imported refined products.

With the flexibility to purchase crude using either the local currency or the US dollar, the refinery is well-positioned to capitalize on these policy reforms and further enhance its operational efficiency.

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