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Monday, 2-Apr-2012 05:38 Email | Share | | Bookmark
China manufacturing at year high but worries persist

China's manufacturing activity rose to the highest level in a year in March, official data showed Sunday, but analysts tempered enthusiasm, saying the world's second largest economy was still slowing.

The official purchasing managers index (PMI) rose to 53.1 from 51 in February, helped by an increase in new orders, the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing said in a statement.

It marked the fourth consecutive month of expansion for manufacturing activity. A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while a reading below 50 suggests contraction.

The latest figure approached a level not seen since March last year, when PMI reached 53.4, previous data showed. The number also beat an average forecast by analysts of 50.5, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

"PMI tends to pick up in March every year... so it is important not to view this as a sign of out-and-out strength," Alistair Thornton, economist for IHS Global Insight in Beijing, said in a research note.

"At the very least, things are not getting worse," he added.

China's economy is widely expected to slow this year as woes in key export markets such as Europe and the United States hit its overseas sales.

The government last month set a target of 7.5 percent economic growth this year. China's economy grew 9.2 percent last year and 10.4 percent in 2010.

Some expect China's economy to have bottomed out in the first quarter, but others say recovery might be delayed until the second quarter.

"Future economic growth will still experience a slowdown," Zhang Liqun, a researcher at government think-tank the Development Research Centre, was quoted as saying in the official PMI statement issued by the industry group.

Analysts said manufacturing activity typically picks up in March with the arrival of spring and following an annual meeting of lawmakers during the month, which sets economic policy for the coming year.

"The government's PMI may have been affected by seasonal factors, so the reality may not be as good," Zhang Zhiwei, chief China economist for Nomura Securities, told AFP.

A separate reading of PMI also released Sunday by British banking giant HSBC showed a less optimistic picture than the official figure.

HSBC's PMI fell to 48.3 in March from 49.6 in February, marking the fifth month manufacturing activity has remained in contraction, the bank said in a statement.

"PMI results confirm a further slowdown of growth momentum," HSBC's chief economist for China, Qu Hongbin, said in the statement.

The HSBC survey puts more emphasis on smaller companies, which are suffering more in the economic downturn than state-owned giants.

The government will still need to loosen credit this year to offset the economic slowdown, analysts said.

ANZ Research said a cut in bank reserve requirements was likely, though the better-than-expected official PMI figure could delay the move to May or June.

The central bank in February cut the amount of cash banks must hold in reserve for the second time in three months as policymakers moved to increase lending and boost domestic consumption amid the economic slowdown.

"We continue to expect cautious, though supportive, monetary policy easing," ANZ said in a research note.

Beijing has pledged to "fine-tune" policy to prevent a hard landing for the economy, which could trigger widespread job losses and spark social unrest.


Monday, 2-Apr-2012 05:37 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Govt wants US workers to fill skill gaps

American engineers and tradies struggling to find work at home are being encouraged to fill skills shortages in Australia's booming resources sector.

The federal government has announced it is streamlining the way US plumbers, electricians and other tradespeople can get licences to work in Australia.

Skills Minister Chris Evans said that while the government's first priority was to train Australians, overseas workers would be needed to fill temporary gaps - particularly in the resources sector - set to peak over the next few years.

With US unemployment still hovering above eight per cent, Senator Evans said the opportunity for well-paid work in Australia would prove enticing, despite the long distance.

"I think the wages and conditions will be attractive," he told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

Applications are expected to open later this month.

The government will also stage a "Skills Australia Needs" expo in the US city of Houston, Texas, in May to attract skilled workers in the resources, energy and infrastructure sectors.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said he expected high demand for visas in the wake of the changes.

"I expect demand and interest to be strong," he said.

"We're not setting a target, or a cap, or a limit."

US Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich welcomed the changes, calling them a "win-win" for both countries.

He shares the government's view that US workers will be prepared to make the move, even to remote areas in northwest Western Australia.

"It's beautiful country out there," he said. "I don't think this will be a tough sell in that sense."

Business groups including the Australian Industry Group, the Business Council of Australia and the US Chamber of Commerce applauded the changes.

"There are clearly opportunities in Australia for skilled US citizens seeking work," they said in a joint statement.

But unions say an overseas recruitment drive is premature and claims of skills shortages should be independently investigated first.

ACTU president Ged Kearney said there was no independent evidence to back up claims that Australian workers could not meet the needs of future resource projects.

Monday, 2-Apr-2012 05:37 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Ben Cousins in court on drug charges

Fallen football star Ben Cousins has fronted a Perth court on a charge of possessing methylamphetamine with intent to sell or supply.

Mr Cousins appeared in Perth Magistates Court this morning and was watched during proceedings by his father, Bryan, who arrived separately.

During the brief hearing, Mr Cousins' laywer Michael Tudori noted that his client had allegedly been caught with an amount of the drug that was just over the limit allowing it to stay in the Magistrate's Court. It would have to instead be dealt with in the higher District Court.

Mr Tudori said that it was his submission that even if Mr Cousins was convicted he would not be jailed.

The lawyer asked for Mr Cousins' bail conditions, which required him to attend a local police station and reside at a certain address, to be altered.

He said there was no need for the conditions to remain because they had been put in place while he was in Esperance attending a rehabilitation clinic.

The conditions were replaced with a $2000 surety.

The charge, to which Mr Cousins has not pleaded, is the latest incident in the 33-year-old's high-profile battle with drug addiction which saw him sacked from the Eagles in 2007.

He was charged last week after police allegedly found him with 4.56g of methylamphetamine at Esperance airport.

He had been on a flight from Perth and was on his way to a rehabilitation centre.

He later left the facility after he argued with clinic staff.

Mr Cousins, who retired from football in 2010 after two seasons with the Richmond Tigers, was asked for autographs by members of the public during his attendance at court this morning.

Mr Cousins faces a maximum penalty of 25 years jail or $100,000 fine unless the charge is downgraded to simple possession, which instead carries a maximum of two years jail or a $2,000 fine.

He is due to re-appear in the Magistrates Court court June 27.


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