China's Economic Slowdown Bottoming Out, Data Seen Showing

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's industrial output and fixed-asset investment are expected to show signs of picking up in data on Thursday, indicating that the economy is starting to stabilize after sliding for six straight quarters.

An expected drop in consumer inflation to a 30-month low will suggest the central bank has scope to ease monetary policy further after rate cuts in June and July to keep China's economy on track to meet an official 2012 growth target of 7.5 percent.

Still, any economic pickup will be fragile as the euro zone debt crisis and a sluggish U.S. recovery keep global growth at a low ebb, the main factor that pushed China's new export orders in July into their steepest fall in eight months.

"The recovery will be very modest -- more like stabilization and gradual improvement," said Yiping Huang, chief economist for emerging Asia at Barclays Capital in Hong Kong.

"Some further policy actions are needed to ensure gradual recovery of growth -- we start to see some improvements that really need to be consolidated and supported," he told Reuters.

China's industrial output growth is forecast to pick up to a four-month high of 9.8 percent year-on-year in July from 9.5 percent in June, a Reuters poll shows.

Annual growth in fixed-asset investment, in the likes of real estate, roads and bridges, is seen nudging up in January-to-July to 20.5 percent from January-to-June's 20.4 percent, as the government seeks to spur infrastructure investment.

Growth of retail sales, the biggest driver of the economy's expansion in the first quarter, is seen steady though at 13.7 percent.

Economic growth has been sliding since the beginning of 2011, reaching 7.6 percent in the second quarter, the weakest pace since the global financial crisis.

Analysts see a pick up in the third quarter to 7.9 percent and full-year growth of 8 percent, above the official target.

President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have promised to step up policy "fine tuning" in the second half of the year to support the economy.

Apart from cutting rates, Beijing has cut banks' reserve requirements to free up an estimated 1.2 trillion yuan for lending ($191 billion) in a series of moves since November 2011.

It has tweaked taxes and promised to fast-track key government-backed projects. Wen said boosting investment is key to stabilizing growth, setting the stage for local officials to roll out ambitious projects.

Analysts expect the data to show consumer inflation in July dropped to 1.7 percent from 2.2 percent in June, a big pullback from a three-year high last July of 6.5 percent.

However, the central bank said in a report last week consumer inflation might rebound after August due to seasonal factors and the rising cost of labor and resources.

Still, there is little sign of inflationary pressures coming from factories. July's data is expected to show that producer prices fell in July by 2.5 percent from a year earlier, its steepest fall since October 2009.

It would mark a fifth straight month of falling producer prices, reflecting the pressures eating into corporate earnings and capping capital spending.

Among the worst hit, profits at Chinese steel mills tumbled 96 percent in the first half of 2012 from a year earlier, the China Iron and Steel Association said in July.

(Editing by Neil Fullick)

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Description : An expected drop in consumer inflation to a 30-month low will suggest the central bank has scope to ease monetary policy further after rate cuts in June and July to keep China's economy on track to meet an official 2012 growth target of 7.5 percent.
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