By Adam Rose BEIJING (Reuters) - China's economy grew at its slowest pace in 18 months in the first quarter of 2014, official data showed on Wednesday, with signs of waning momentum already prompting limited government action to steady the world's second-largest economy. Authorities have ruled out major stimulus to fight short-term dips in growth, and some analysts think the economy will continue to lose momentum into the middle of the year. It was China's slowest annual growth since the third quarter of 2012, when growth was also 7.4 percent. "I don't think they're going to announce any further significant measures to support growth." Beijing has announced some modest measures, such as tax cuts for small firms and speeding up some investment in rail projects, to try to steady growth around its target of 7.5 percent without disrupting plans to restructure the economy.
By Wayne Cole SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian share markets were mostly in the black on Wednesday after China reported economic growth a touch above forecasts, a relief for investors who had feared a much weaker outcome. China's economy grew 7.4 percent in the first quarter, from a year earlier, pipping forecasts of 7.3 percent. "But the problem is that the government has to resort to stimulus repeatedly to support the economy (which) means it's having a hard time to unleash new growth drivers." The relief rippled through regional markets with Japan's Nikkei adding to early gains to be up 2.2 percent. Yahoo Inc jumped 10 percent thanks to strong results from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, the Chinese e-commerce company in which Yahoo holds a 24 percent stake.
By Jacqueline Poh HONG KONG, April 16 (RLPC) - The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) is stepping up its supervision of Hong-Kong-based banks' credit risk management by asking banks to show stable funding requirements and agree to regular onsite examinations of credit underwriting processes and stress-testing, the HKMA said in a statement. These measures come after a steep rise in offshore lending to Chinese mainland companies by Hong Kong-based banks. Chinese onshore companies borrowed HK$2.276 trillion of customer loans at the end of 2013, excluding HK$313 billion of trade finance loans, according to the HKMA. "The increase in Hong Kong banking sector's mainland-related lending is a natural consequence of the growth of the mainland economy and development of mainland corporates," said HKMA, which reinforces Hong Kong's role as a significant international financial center.
By Alicia Underlee Nelson and Richard Valdmanis FARGO, North Dakota/BANGOR, Maine (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Reserve ought not to raise interest rates until the economy is much closer to full strength, two of the Fed's most dovish policymakers said on Tuesday. "If you commit to keeping rates low even as the recovery is proceeding, even as we continue to recover, I think people have a sense, the Fed has the recovery's back," Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Narayana Kocherlakota said at North Dakota State University. "And that's the message that I think we need to do a better job of promoting." If households and businesses believe the Fed is close to raising rates, they may decide to save rather than to spend, inhibiting recovery, Kocherlakota said. But because inflation is so low, he said, the Fed can afford to remain accommodative even while the recovery strengthens, and it will likely need to raise rates only gradually when the time comes.
By Leika Kihara TOKYO (Reuters) - Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda on Wednesday affirmed its upbeat view of the economy, even as global financial markets wobble, stressing that growth will pick up around mid-year as the sting of a sales tax hike fades. Price rises will broaden as the economy continues gradually to improve, Kuroda added, reiterating his view that Japan is making headway towards the central bank's price goal of 2 percent inflation in about a year's time. Kuroda's comments came a day after he met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss the economy, which drew some market speculation the BOJ may come under pressure to expand stimulus as a rebound in the yen and sliding Japanese share prices cloud the outlook for the world's third-largest economy. BOJ officials have repeatedly expressed confidence that this month's increase in the national sales tax will not derail the economy or prevent inflation from hitting the central bank's 2 percent target.
Chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne said the data showed his coalition government policies were bringing greater economic security, and his civil servants have said that on some measures, living standards are already rising. But his Labour Party opposite number, Ed Balls, said the CPI data failed to capture rapidly rising house prices, and that tax and benefit changes since 2010 meant that the average household was almost 1,000 pounds a year worse off. House prices are rising at their fastest since June 2010, up 9.1 percent on the year, according to ONS data released alongside the CPI figures. Prices in London are up 17.7 percent, the biggest jump since July 2007.
By John Tilak TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index edged higher on Tuesday after upbeat U.S. economic data and corporate results helped offset worries about increasing instability in Ukraine and a sharp decline in gold-mining shares. Gains in shares of Coca-Cola Co and Johnson & Johnson after their earnings reports brightened the overall mood. The market brushed aside news that Russia declared Ukraine on the brink of civil war as Kiev said an "anti-terrorist operation" against pro-Moscow separatists was under way, with troops and armored personnel carriers seen near a flashpoint eastern town. Investor sentiment appeared to be turning positive after global stock markets fell last week on concerns about overextended valuations and worries about the U.S. Federal Reserve's monetary policy.
By Silvio Cascione BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's growing prosperity is allowing teenagers to stay in school for longer instead of searching for jobs to support their families, boosting the country's long-term prospects but also causing some economic headaches. The shift helps explain one of the biggest debates among economists who follow Brazil - why unemployment remains at record lows of about 5 percent despite slow economic growth. A Reuters analysis of unemployment data found that the share of working-age people "not willing to work" in Brazil's six major cities has jumped by 6 percentage points to 39 percent since 2002. The case of Mariane Soares, 18, helps explain the shift.
Morocco's trade deficit jumped 10.7 percent in the first quarter of 2014 from a year earlier to 51.44 billion Moroccan dirhams ($6.33 billion), the foreign exchange regulator said on Tuesday, mainly due to increased wheat and energy imports. The north African country's wheat imports jumped 57 percent or 3.03 billion dirhams compared with the same period last year as the government suspended customs duties and introduced subsidies from the start of January to counter rising world prices. Energy imports rose 17 percent to 26.24 billion dirhams from 22.35 billion in the first quarter of 2013 as the non agricultural sector is starting to recover from the economic slowdown.
By Louise Egan OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian manufacturing sales in February jumped to the highest level since their pre-recession peak in July 2008, but volumes were more modest and pointed to slower economic growth than in January. Sales gained 1.4 percent versus expectations for a 1.0 percent increase, helped by higher auto industry sales and by higher energy prices, Statistics Canada data showed on Tuesday. "While the improvement in manufacturing sales is an encouraging development, we would downplay the strength of this report given that some of it is likely embellished due to a resumption in activity following the weather-induced slowdown in U.S. production," said Mazen Issa, senior Canada strategist at TD Securities. TD sees industry-level gross domestic product growing 0.2 percent in February, down from 0.5 percent in January, and sees 1.6 percent annualized economic growth in the first quarter versus 2.9 percent in the fourth quarter.
By Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria pledged on Tuesday to deploy more than 6,000 police and soldiers to protect a World Economic Forum on Africa in Abuja next month, a day after a bomb attack by suspected Islamist militants on the capital's outskirts killed dozens. Monday's bombing at a crowded bus station killed 71 people, the deadliest ever attack on Abuja, and has raised questions about the government's ability to protect the capital from Boko Haram's bloody insurgency that risks spreading from the Islamist group's heartland in the northeast. Boko Haram says it wants to carve an Islamic state out of a country split between Muslims living largely in the north and Christians mostly in the south, and its fighters have shown that they can strike further south and in the central zone.
By John Ruwitch and Donny Kwok DONGGUAN/HONG KONG (Reuters) - Thousands of workers at a giant Chinese shoe factory shrugged off an offer for improved social benefits on Tuesday, prolonging one of the largest strikes in China in recent years amid signs of increased labor activism as the economy slows. The industrial unrest at Yue Yuen Industrial (Holdings), now stretching to around ten days and sparking sporadic scuffles with police, has centered on issues including unpaid social insurance, improper labor contracts and low wages. Workers have demanded improved social insurance payments, a pay rise and more equitable contracts. "The factory has been tricking us for 10 years," said a female worker inside a giant industrial campus in Gaobu town run by Yue Yuen in the southern factory hub of Dongguan in the Pearl River Delta.
Morocco's economic growth slowed sharply to 2.5 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, and is likely to ease slightly again this quarter as agricultural output shrinks, the country's planning agency said on Tuesday. Agriculture, which accounts for about 15 percent of Morocco's gross domestic product, fell 3.4 percent in the first three months of 2014 and is expected to drop 3.9 percent in the second quarter after a record high harvest last year, the agency said. First-quarter economic growth of 2.5 percent marked a slowdown from 4.5 percent year-on-year in the final quarter of 2013, and the planning agency forecast it would ease again to 2.3 percent in the second quarter. Slowing growth will make it harder for the cash-strapped North African kingdom to cut spending and reform subsidies, taxation and its pension system as demanded by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.