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Asian firms cut capex, weakening outlook for demand and jobs

Asian firms cut capex, weakening outlook for demand and jobs
FILE PHOTO: The skyline of Singapore's central business district is seen at dusk as operations continue at a PSA International port terminal in Singapore September 25, 2013. REUTERS/Edgar Su -
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Edgar Su(Reuters)
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By Patturaja Murugaboopathy and Gaurav Dogra

(Reuters) – Asian firms have cut back capital spending this year, and that means a recovery in regional earnings, jobs and overall demand could take a while.

A Reuters analysis of 6,500 major Asian companies, with comparable financial data available, showed their cumulative capital expenditures in January-March fell 1% to $198.7 billion – the first annual decline for a quarter in two years.

Tensions from the U.S.-China trade war, the risk of disrupted supply chains and waning demand have weighed on business confidence and spending this year.

The decline in capital expenditure (capex) suggests that the weak global growth momentum could persist until there’s a meaningful recovery in confidence.

The analysis showed that tech and industrial firms – the two sectors caught in the trade war crossfire – led the capex declines in the March quarter.

Tencent Holdings Ltd <0700.HK>, Samsung Electronics <005930.KS>, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co Ltd <002415.SZ> and MediaTek Inc <2454.TW> were among the Asian firms that cut their capex by more than 25% in the quarter from a year earlier, the data showed.

Graphic: Asia companies capex, https://tmsnrt.rs/2MelOYj

The trade war and softening in global demand led to the decline in capex in Asia, said Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief Asia Pacific economist at Natixis SA in Hong Kong.

Changes in the global supply chain mean “corporates need to rethink their future plans”, especially tech firms that can face “strong sanction power by the U.S.,” she said.

Rob Subbaraman, head of global macro research at Nomura, said South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia could have weak corporate capex this year, given their open economies with high exposure to tech and China.

Stalling factory activity in most Asian economies has raised concerns over the manufacturing sector’s productivity and profits.

In China, Asia’s economic powerhouse, and in Japan, manufacturing surveys have been weak.

Graphic: Asia manufacturing PMI, https://tmsnrt.rs/2Me5VBe

A Reuters analysis of Refinitiv data showed cumulative profits of about 1,300 top Asian firms likely fell for the third consecutive quarter in April-June.

Graphic: Profit growth for Asian firms, https://tmsnrt.rs/32M3L1M

While Asian central banks have started to cut their interest rates, following the Federal Reserve’s dovish turn, some analysts doubt this will help revive corporate spending in the region.

“Although relocation of supply chains will form part of new capital expenditure, corporates will be more conservative in expansion,” said Natixis’s Garcia Herrero, adding that falling interest rates with reduce debt burdens “but not necessarily mean corporates will invest”.

(Reporting by Patturaja Murugaboopathy; Editing by Vidya Ranganathan and Richard Borsuk)

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