The next shock in the pipeline for the Chinese economy: energy crisis | Business and economic news

China may be the first to plunge into a power supply shock that could hit Asia’s largest economy hard, just as the Evergrande crisis sends shockwaves through its financial system.

The crackdown on power consumption is being driven by rising electricity demand and rising coal and gas prices, as well as Beijing’s strict targets to reduce emissions. It comes first for the country’s gargantuan manufacturing industries: from aluminum smelters to textile producers and soybean processing plants, factories are being ordered to curb activity or — in some cases — shut down altogether.

Nearly half of China’s regions have failed to meet the energy consumption targets set by Beijing and are now under pressure to curb power consumption. The worst affected are Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Guangdong, a trio of industrial powers that account for almost a third of the Chinese economy.

“With market attention now focused on Evergrande and Beijing’s unprecedented restrictions on the real estate sector, another major supply-side shock may have been underestimated or even missed,” analysts at Nomura Holding Inc., including Ting Lu, warned in a statement. a note, in which they forecast the Chinese economy. will shrink this quarter.

The worsening power crisis in China — perhaps overshadowed by the focus on whether Evergrande will default on its massive debts — reflects extremely tight global energy supplies, the chaos of which has already engulfed markets in Europe. The economic recovery from Covid lockdowns has boosted demand from households and businesses as lower investment by miners and drillers limits production.

But China’s energy crisis is partly its own cause, as President Xi Jinping tries to ensure blue skies at the Beijing Winter Olympics next February and shows the international community that he is serious about decarbonising the economy. .

The economy is in danger of a serious shortage of coal and gas – used to heat homes and power plants – this winter. It has had to ration power in the colder months before, but it has never had to make do with the global prices of these fuels at the level they are now.

There are signs that the power crisis is beginning to affect homes and businesses alike, with Guandong Province urging residents to rely on natural light and limit the use of air conditioning, after power cuts to some factories.

Dazzling prices

China’s thermal coal futures have surged in the past month and have repeatedly set records as concerns over mine safety and pollution limit domestic production, while it continues to ban shipments from top supplier Australia. Meanwhile, natural gas prices from Europe to Asia have risen to seasonal highs as countries try to outbid each other for rapidly depleting supplies.

One of the reasons behind the cut in electricity consumption is that China wants to cut emissions in time for the Winter Olympics scheduled to take place in Beijing in February. [File: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg]

During previous winter power surges in China, many have turned to diesel generators to fill the grid’s power shortages. There is a danger this year that government policies have further limited the energy industry’s potential to increase production to meet rising demand, said Zeng Hao, chief expert at consultancy Shanxi Jinzheng Energy.

Yunnan Aluminum Co., a $9 billion producer of the metal used in everything from cars to soda cans, has curtailed production under pressure from Beijing. The shock is also being felt in China’s giant food sector. In the city of Tianjin, the soybean crushers, which process the crop into edible oils and animal feed, had to close this week.

According to Nikkei, suppliers of Apple Inc. and Tesla Inc. production at some of their locations in China halted on Sunday. Foxconn’s facilities in Longhua, Guanlan, Taiyuan and Zhengzhou — the world’s largest iPhone manufacturing complex — were unaffected by the power supply restrictions, the report said.

A number of smaller companies are also beginning to inform the exchange that they have been ordered to curb or shut down the activity. While they may be overlooked by major foreign investors who fail to back these companies, the end result could be a shortage of everything from textiles to electronic components that could disrupt supply chains and eat up the profits of many multinational companies.

In Jiangsu, a province near Shanghai with an economy nearly as big as Canada’s, steel mills have closed and some cities are turning off streetlights. In nearby Zhejiang, about 160 energy-intensive businesses, including textile companies, were closed. While in Liaoning, in the far north, 14 cities have ordered emergency power cuts, partly due to rising coal prices.

“The surges will continue to affect global markets,” said Lu of Nomura. “Very soon, world markets will feel the pinch of a shortage of supply from textiles, toys to machine parts.”

The curtailments pose a new threat to an economy that is under multiple pressures after a V-shaped recovery over the past year. And as with the energy crisis in Europe, the tightness poses a challenge to policy makers: how to pursue environmental goals without harming the still fragile economies. Beijing is targeting 6% growth for the full year, after growing 12.7% in the first half.

“Policymakers seem willing to accept slower growth for the remainder of this year to meet the carbon emissions target,” said Larry Hu, China chief economics officer at Macquarie Group. “The GDP target of more than 6% is easily achievable, but emissions targets are not easy to meet given the robust growth in the first half.”


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