By Jonathan Cable and Marius Zaharia
LONDON/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Global manufacturing expanded at the fastest pace in years last month and the second-best in two decades in the euro zone, driven by robust demand and bolstering the case for central banks to shift to tighter monetary policy.
A raft of mostly strong factory activity surveys released on Friday comes after the European Central Bank announced in October it would cut monthly bond purchases starting in January. The U.S. Federal Reserve is expected to raise rates again this month and the Bank of England raised them in November.
On Thursday, the Bank of Korea became Asia’s first major central bank to raise interest rates in three years, a potential turning point for the region. Malaysia and the Philippines are among those that may raise rates next year.
“Almost across the board, the PMIs were pretty good. The strength of the economies is going to give them (central banks) sufficient confidence to go ahead with their planned policy tightening,” said Andrew Kenningham, chief global economist at Capital Economics.
Euro zone factories had their busiest month for over 17 years in November. Forward-looking indicators suggest the momentum will continue to the end of 2017, capping off what is expected to be the best year for euro zone economic growth in a decade [EUR/PMIM].
HIS Markit’s final manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index for the bloc climbed to 60.1 last month from October’s 58.5. That was the second-highest in the survey’s 20-year history. Anything above 50 indicates growth.
Meanwhile, British factories enjoyed their best month in more than four years in November, suggesting manufacturing will boost the country’s sluggish economy going into 2018 [GB/PMIM].
It added to signs manufacturing could be a bright spot next year, when the overall economy is likely to slow further as Britain approaches its departure from the European Union in March 2019.
“The manufacturing sector is a clear bright spot in the UK economy at the moment. But the larger service sector is still flagging and is why we don’t expect a sharp pick-up in growth next year,” said James Smith, an economist at ING.
Signs of progress in Britain’s negotiations to leave the EU mean chances of a disorderly Brexit declined in the past month, a Reuters poll found, but growth will lag its peers next year. [ECILT/GB]
A U.S. manufacturing survey later on Friday is expected to show faster growth.
The expansion in factory activity, seen in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, has not been uniform, however. Beijing’s war on pollution was curbing growth in Chinese manufacturing in October.
“We’re seeing the strong momentum in the third quarter carrying over in the fourth,” said Khoon Goh, head of Asia research at ANZ.
“The improving global backdrop … suggests that central banks in this region will start policy normalization. It’s important to note this is not the start of an outright tightening cycle, this is the removal of very accommodative policies.”
Elsewhere in Asia, India saw economic growth rebound in the three months to September, in a sign businesses are recovering from disruptions caused by the introduction of a national sales tax and a ban on high-value banknotes.
India’s factory activity quickened in November at the fastest pace since just before the government’s surprise cash clampdown late last year.
China, however, remains one of the biggest risks to global growth, analysts say.
The world’s second-biggest economy has defied market expectations with economic growth of 6.9 percent in the first nine months of the year, supported by a construction boom and robust exports.
But Beijing’s efforts to reduce air pollution have curtailed factory activity in recent months and the Caixin/Markit Manufacturing PMI dipped to a five-month low of 50.8.
An official manufacturing survey on Thursday showed activity unexpectedly picking up. But the Caixin/Markit print tends to focus more on small and mid-sized companies and is seen as a better gauge of private sector activity.
For now, the economic data suggests Asia’s electronics producers remain in good shape.
South Korea’s factory activity expanded at the strongest pace in 55 months in November. Japanese manufacturing grew at the fastest pace in more than 3 1/2 years. Taiwan’s PMI came at its best in 6 1/2 years.
“Even as the smartphone-related boost starts to fade, the outlook for 2018 remains bright amidst the global recovery,” HSBC Greater China economist Julia Wang said.
Japanese companies increased spending on factories and equipment in the third quarter by 4.2 percent from the same period last year, suggesting the quarter’s GDP growth could be revised higher.
Japan’s jobless rate held steady at 2.8 percent in October and the availability of jobs reached the highest in almost 44 years.
(Editing by Larry King)