China’s slowing auto market to put weighing on oil
China’s falling auto sales have been at the forefront of concerns that its economy is slowing much faster than expected, weighing on oil prices.
Yet moves to cut the cost of car-financing as part of economic stimulus efforts this week may not be enough to drive up auto sales or boost demand for oil, analysts said.
Domestic car sales have fallen since April, dropping by 7 percent, or more than 100,000 cars, in July from a year ago and likely putting out of reach even a revised 2015 vehicle growth target of 3 percent, down from 7 percent previously.
The downturn has already hit oil markets as importers and refiners adjust their order books.
To stem the tide, China’s central bank has cut interest rates and reserve requirement ratios for banks by 25 basis points and lowered reserve requirements for auto and financial leasing companies by an additional 300 basis points.
The move reflected the role of car sales as a key driver of consumption, manufacturing and also future oil demand, but analysts questioned its impact.
While the measures would make it easier to finance cars, they offer largely “psychological support” as most Chinese car-buyers still pay in cash, without financing, said Yale Zhang, head of Shanghai-based consultancy Automotive Foresight.
China’s giant car sector, the world’s largest, could prove a major engine for growth including commodities and oil, said Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian economic research at HSBC in Hong Kong, but he added that boosting car sales by itself would not be enough to halt China’s sliding growth.
“A lot more will need to be done, including monetary and fiscal easing, to help stabilize growth.”
Chinese gasoline demand, largely used to fuel passenger cars, has so far held up well and acted as a rare pillar of demand for crude oil. Yet China’s falling car sales are starting to hit the oil sector.
Crude futures, the most used measure of health of the global oil sector, have lost a third of their value since June, when China’s economic woes started bubbling to the surface.
Now there are concerns that ongoing falls in car sales will start hitting gasoline consumption, following declines for diesel, which is used more in heavy industry.
Already, slowing demand has lead to a 40 percent fall in Asian gasoline margins since June, although refiners say they remain relatively healthy, helped by growth in India.
However, the car and oil sectors’ problems are spreading, and even in India there are first signs of a slowdown.
Car sales are not only falling in China, but also in other emerging markets, denting demand in commodities from metals, steel to oil, Australia’s Macquarie said, and auto sales in industrialized economies like South Korea and Japan are also slowing.
Energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie said that it still saw strong immediate demand for gasoline, but the longer-term outlook was much weaker as falling consumption in industrialized countries would offset growth in emerging economies.
This, in turn, would also weigh on demand for crude oil.