China

China faces a monetary policy “wall of worry” as its economy slips towards a deflationary spiral driven by structural forces that are simultaneously dragging prices lower and depressing economic growth, analysts said on Tuesday.

The important insight, the analysts said, behind a decline in consumer price inflation (CPI) to a five year low of 0.8 per cent in January was that it was caused not by isolated or temporary factors but by a confluence of mutually-reinforcing trends that will require a concerted and accelerated easing in monetary policy if China is to avoid a deflationary cliff. Read more

By Ali Wyne, Wikistrat

This September will mark the ten-year anniversary of two documents that have been highly influential in framing contemporary analysis of America’s relationship with China: an essay by Zheng Bijian in Foreign Affairs explaining how China would achieve a “peaceful rise,” and a speech by Robert Zoellick advising China to serve as a “responsible stakeholder” in the evolution of world order.

Today the two countries are struggling to define a framework of partnership that reconciles the imperative of enduring cooperation with the inevitability of mutual suspicion. Meanwhile, initially shared enthusiasm over adopting a “new type” of great-power relations has waned, in part because of the difficulties in bringing such an abstract and ambitious ideal into existence. Read more

China’s currency policy dilemma sharpened on Monday as the country announced a record January trade surplus in spite of falling exports and reported dismal imports in spite of a strong appreciation of the renminbi against the euro and yen.

Exports contracted 3.3 per cent year on year in January, down from an increase of 9.7 per cent in December. Meanwhile, imports also declined 19.9 per cent, falling from a 2.4 per cent contraction in December. This produced a record merchandise trade surplus of $60.0bn, up from $49.6b a month ago (see chart). Read more

By Achilles Risvas, Dromeus Capital Management

Could changing tides in “carry trade” capital flows suddenly drain value from Chinese property and equities, causing the renminbi to depreciate rapidly and darken investor perceptions of China’s prospects?

Such an outcome is more likely than generally realised.

China has undeniably boomed in recent decades, thus engendering a general bias that Chinese state planners will prevail or triumph – as suggested by the more than 60 per cent run-up in the Shanghai Composite Exchange Composite Index since mid-2014. Read more

By Rodrigo Zeidan, Fundação Dom Cabral

The debate over the minimum wage in the US is an interesting one. Wages have been falling in real terms for the last 30 years but there is strong resistance to any kind of increase in the federal minimum wage. The social contract in the US calls for a flexible labour market, and market efficiency trumps equality considerations. Not even Nobel Laureates can influence the debate. But there are lessons to be learned from the strong real growth minimum wage policies in two of the Bric countries, Brazil and China. Read more

By Sammy Suzuki, AllianceBernstein

China’s millennials are better educated and more affluent than their elders. They also have a serious case of travel fever. Their favored destinations, and shopping habits abroad, could have far-reaching implications for a wide range of global companies.

China’s millennials make up a large and growing slice of the country’s most affluent citizens. It’s estimated that there are around 300m of these young consumers born between the early 1980s and 2000. They’re the first generation in the history of the People’s Republic to be raised amid relative prosperity and social stability and are the beneficiaries of the country’s roughly five-fold increase in education spending over the past decade. Read more

Emerging Asia is set to be the world’s fastest-growing region again in 2015, skirting the contagion from Russia’s crisis and riding the fall-out from weak commodity prices, according to Fitch, the credit rating agency. Nevertheless, structural frailties stalk seven out of 10 countries in the region, with surging debt levels a particular concern, the agency said.

The region, excluding China, is expected to expand by 5.9 per cent in 2015 and 6.1 per cent in 2016 – compared to an average for global emerging markets of 4.1 per cent and 4.5 per cent respectively, Fitch said in a report. These forecasts compare with the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) estimates that developing economies would this year grow at 4.3 per cent, accelerating to 4.7 per cent in 2016. Read more

Economic slowdowns in Macau and China have driven headlines recently, but a new report by the Brookings Institute ranks Macau as the top economically performing metropolitan area in the world for 2014, followed by four Chinese cities in the top 10 and 11 in the top 20.

Macau’s casino industry took a hit over the second half of 2014, due mainly to a Chinese crackdown on corruption and graft that has reduced the number of VIP high-rollers travelling to Macau from the mainland. In December, gambling revenues hit their lowest point since 2011, and for the whole year, the industry recorded its first ever year-on-year decline – much to the dismay of casino and junket operators. Read more

By Robert Moffatt, Neuberger Berman

Throughout much of the world, auto market prospects appear sluggish. In the US, auto sales are moving back to normalised replacement demand levels, implying slowing growth. In Europe, sales are being held back by a choppy economic recovery. China, in our view, presents a different story. Despite near-term concerns about the country’s slowing GDP growth and slipping consumer confidence, we are bullish on the long-term growth prospects of Chinese autos.

The Chinese auto market went through a rapid growth spurt from 2005-2010, growing nearly six-fold in six years, from 2.5m units in 2004 to 13.75m units in 2010. This unprecedented 35 per cent compounded annual growth rate has since slowed to roughly 9 per cent, but with nearly 18m cars sold in 2013, China has displaced both the U.S. and Western Europe as the world’s largest auto market (see chart below). Read more

The press conference to announce China’s annual economic statistics is always an Orwellian affair in which bad news is given a positive spin and good news is entirely thanks to the leadership of the Communist Party Central Committee.

This year’s event, announcing the slowest growth rate in 24 years, included a less subtle pitch to the media than usual. In the midst of a soliloquy on the improving quality of growth and the ongoing rebalancing of the economy, China’s genial statistician-in-chief Ma Jiantang paused to take a breath and address the assembled journalists directly. Read more

By Derek Scissors, American Enterprise Institute

“In 2014, faced with the complicated and volatile international environment and the heavy tasks to maintain the domestic development, reform and stability, the Central Party Committee . . . seized the momentum of development, fully deepened the reform and opening up, focused on the innovation of macro control, tapped into the vitality of the market and fostered the driving force of innovation.”

That is the start to today’s National Bureau of Statistics’ (NBS) press release on the economy, a reminder that Chinese statistics are published at the pleasure of the Communist Party. Read more

By Frederic Neumann, HSBC

Things in China look a bit soggy. True, growth a touch above 7 per cent is nothing to sneer at. But it’s down sharply from days past. And as the Mainland matures, those double-digit growth rates seem even less likely to return. Where, then, to look for the next story of hyper-charged growth?

Plenty of promising places around: Sri Lanka will probably grow faster than China this year, and so could the Philippines, Vietnam and Bangladesh at some point. But, from a global perspective, these will hardly make a dent; certainly, commodity markets will not get terribly excited about accelerating demand from these markets. Read more

By Stuart Rae and John Lin, AllianceBernstein

Despite a slow start following its launch in November, the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect share trading scheme has significantly increased foreign access to China equities and created new investment opportunities. Two sub-sectors are particularly noteworthy for global investors; the food, beverage and tobacco segment and the household durables segment.

A key trend to watch in 2015 will be the likely increasing usage of Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect. This important capital market reform was launched by the Chinese government last November to help increase the inflow of foreign capital to the Shanghai equity market, while also facilitating greater participation by mainland investors in Hong Kong-listed equities. Read more

By Ilan Goldfajn of Itaú-Unibanco

China’s growth model has long been driven by exports and investment, favouring commodity exporters like Brazil. But as its future growth will be fueled by increases in household spending, this shift will have a negative impact on the prices of international commodities, including those exported by Brazil.

However, the outlook for a weaker Brazilian real and a stronger renminbi implies a reduction of wage differentials, which could be favourable for Brazilian manufacturers. This creates growth opportunities for other segments of the Brazilian economy, especially if Brazil resumes its productivity gains, narrowing the current cost differential between the two countries. Read more

Guo Guangchang, an entrepreneur who claims inspiration from China’s oldest sages - as well as from the “sage of Omaha”, Warren Buffett – has topped an inaugural ranking of the wealthiest Chinese investors with a personal fortune estimated at $4.5bn.

Guo (above), 48, typifies the eclectic acquisitiveness of China’s emerging cohort of investors. His company, Fosun International, this month won the longest takeover battle in French history by beating Italian investor Andrea Bonomi to take control of Club Méditerranée, the vacation organiser, after a 16-month wrestling match. Read more

China’s “big four” state banks are losing share in the country’s fast-growing retail banking market as customers embrace a more sophisticated array of products and swell a burgeoning fashion for digital banking, according to a survey of savers conducted by McKinsey, the consultancy.

The main beneficiary from the slide of the “big four” – the Agricultural Bank of China, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the Bank of China and the China Construction Bank – have been the joint-stock commercial banks, which include institutions such as China Merchants Bank, China Everbright Bank and CITIC Bank. Read more

By Candy Ho, HSBC

For the renminbi to go truly global it needs more than just cross-border trade flows. China needs to make giant strides in the opening of its domestic capital markets to allow renminbi to flow more freely between China and the rest of the world. This will speed up the renminbi’s emergence as an investment currency and bring the ultimate convergence of onshore and offshore markets closer.

The renminbi is already convertible under the current account and the offshore market is showing strong organic growth. At the end of November last year, offshore renminbi deposits exceeded Rmb1.85tn, up from Rmb1.35tn at the end of 2013 and Rmb315m at the end of 2011. We are optimistic that these flows will continue to accelerate as the proportion of China’s total trade settled in renminbi increases. Read more

By Li Hejun, China New Energy Chamber of Commerce and Hanergy Holding Group

Almost 200 governments met in Peru this month to hammer out a first draft of a global deal to cut emissions, ahead of a new round of climate talks next year in Paris. If the world is to arrest climate change, global economies need to embrace renewable energy. Those looking for a model of how this might be done should consider a possibly surprising source: China.

It has been little noticed by the outside world, but in China a technological revolution that will result in huge gains in efficiency and new applications for renewable energy has already begun. Read more

By Gavin Bowring and Hafiz Noor Shams

Only a few hundred meters from Singapore, the sleepy fishing villages that flank the Malaysia-Singapore Second Bridge, to the west of Johor Bahru’s famous Iskandar development, feel a world away from skyscrapers and hustle.

But this is set to change. Country Garden, one of China’s largest real estate developers, has bought a huge 1,800 hectare area of land and sea, and has made progress on developing “Forest City”, a planned mega-project almost entirely built on four separate reclaimed islands.

When completed, it would be even larger than Singapore’s Sentosa Island and have a skyline reminiscent of Dubai or Shanghai’s Pudong district (see photo). Read more

In the pale sunlight of an unseasonably warm December day, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic on Thursday cut the ribbon to open the Mihailo Pupin Bridge, spanning the Danube in west Belgrade.

Logistically, the $170m, 1.5km bridge, built by state-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation, is intended to ease traffic in and around the Serbian capital. But Li’s visit to Belgrade has a considerably greater significance – the latest steps in China’s efforts to use the Balkans as a bridge to Europe. Read more