Consumer spending in China isn’t surging back yet, companies say

FAN Editor

A courier drives past the Zaha Hadid-designed Galaxy Soho complex in Beijing, China, on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023.

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BEIJING — China has yet to see a strong rebound in consumer spending, according to major companies.

Consumer spending is recovering in an imbalanced way, which means it will likely take until the second half of the year for the speed of recovery to improve, Lei Xu, CEO and executive director of e-commerce giant, said in an earnings call Thursday.

He said it will take time for the government’s stimulus measures to show up in consumers’ income and confidence.

JD reported Thursday a 7.1% increase in net revenue in the fourth quarter to 295.45 billion yuan ($42.8 billion). That’s below expectations for 296.2 billion yuan, according to Reuters.

JD’s shares dropped by more than 11% in Hong Kong trading Friday. The company’s U.S.-listed shares closed more than 11% lower overnight.

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Many investors were disappointed by JD’s net margin of 2.7%, William Ma, chief investment officer of Grow Investment Group, said Friday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.

Ma expects margins could fall to around 1% due to competition in China’s consumer market. He pointed out that JD on Thursday did not indicate it would stop subsidies — after launching a 10 billion yuan subsidy program earlier this year.

Official data released this week showed China consumer prices rose by a muted 1% in February compared to a year ago.

The greater-than-expected softness in the consumer price index “casts doubt on the strength of domestic demand recovery in the household sector,” Zhiwei Zhang, president, Pinpoint Asset Management, said in a note. “It is puzzling to me as it contradicts with other data points that suggest the recovery of domestic demand is quite strong.”

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Covid controls and a real estate slump dragged down China’s economy last year, weighing heavily on consumer and business sentiment.

Beijing ended its Covid controls late last year. Many consumers rushed to shop and travel during the Lunar New Year in late January.

But JD is not alone. Comments from Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang last month also pointed to a tepid recovery in China’s consumer market.

Online sales remained weak this year through early February, Zhang said during a quarterly earnings call in February.

However, he said some categories started seeing a recovery last month Businesses want to work hard to recover from the losses of the last three years, Zhang said.

Alibaba shares traded more than 3% lower Friday in Hong Kong.

Adidas’ outlook for China

Non-Chinese companies such as Adidas are also cautious about the near-term outlook for Chinese consumer spending.

CEO Bjorn Gulden told analysts in an earnings call this week he doesn’t expect the China market to turn around this year and be a huge contributor to sales.

In the medium term, however, he expects China will be a growth driver for the company again.

Adidas’ Greater China sales plunged by 36% last year on a currency-neutral basis to 3.18 billion euros ($3.37 billion).

Read more about China from CNBC Pro

On Sunday, China announced a relatively conservative economic growth target of around 5% for the year. Officials subsequently said boosting consumption was a priority and that they expect it would be a driver of overall growth. But they noted recovery in the sector continues to face restraints.

Official data on retail sales for January and February is due out Wednesday.

Chinese consumer e-commerce Meituan and Pinduoduo have yet to say when they will release earnings for the latest quarter.

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