For some, China represents a positive scenario of structural reforms returning the country to its position as the engine of world growth. Not only do we think this is unlikely, we actually believe China poses a systemic risk of historic proportions.
It is now clear that China is not smoothly passing its growth baton from exports and investment to the service sector. Official GDP data still show growth, but this has decelerated significantly despite numerous interest rate cuts and massive fiscal support. Read more
By Gordon French, HSBC
China’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure investment drive will help boost the flow of physical goods across large swathes of Eurasia, southern Asia and even parts of Africa and the Middle East. Less obvious is the impact that the vast amount of spending linked to the initiative will have in the financial arena – in the currency and bond markets in Asia and beyond.
First announced in 2013, the “Belt and Road” initiative is an essential part of China’s domestic economic rebalancing, and of its outbound ambitions. The initiative entails ploughing billions of dollars into the hardware – railways, highways and ports – that links mainland China and the dozens of countries to its west and south. The goal is to encourage more cross-border trade while putting excess capacities to work. Read more
“Living in a world strewn with the wreckage of the Soviet empire it is hard for most people to realise that there was a time when the Soviet economy, far from being a byword for the failure of socialism, was one of the wonders of the world – that when Khrushchev pounded his shoe on the UN podium and declared, ‘We will bury you’, it was an economic rather than a military boast”. Paul Krugman (1994)
When in 1959, Nikita Khrushchev visited the Unites States, the spectacular economic growth recorded by the Soviet Union was commonly regarded as a challenge to the supremacy of the western model of democratic capitalism. Impressive statistics, such as its manufacturing output of tractors, mesmerised western opinion formers. Newsweek warned that the Soviet Union might well be “on the high road to economic domination of the world”. Read more
By Edward Tse, Gao Feng Advisory Company
China’s recent stock market turbulence and currency devaluation has attracted enormous attention from around the world—with a disproportionate amount focused on whether we are seeing the end ofChina’s growth story.
True, many people lost a lot of money (though doubtless some also made a lot) and the reputation of the country’s economic managers has been badly damaged. The aftermath resulting from the meltdown will likely continue to be felt for at least several months, particularly by those private sector companies which have had to shelve plans to raise funds via initial public offerings. Read more
While the word has focused on China’s disastrous stock market bailout and the devaluation of the currency, a far larger crisis is brewing in China’s hinterland.
China’s property bubble has sagged in the big cities like Beijing and Shanghai – but it is on the verge of popping completely in the country’s heartland. After spending a week in Sichuan Province, it is clear that land sales, prices and transactions are all declining in double digits.
Sichuan province is one of China’s largest, in the heart of the country. We spent some time at a residential project called Universal City Centre, about 20km from Chongqing. The 1.08m sqm property has seen prices fall one-third from 4,000 to 5,800 psm one-third to 3,000 to 4,000 psm. Read more
Arguably the most revealing English translation of the French verb ‘étonner’ – at least in the context of Napoleon’s famous quip about China – is ‘to astonish’. “Ici repose un géant endormi, laissez le dormir, car quand il s’éveillera, il étonnera le monde” so the Corsican is said to have noted. “Here lies a sleeping giant, let him sleep, for when he wakes, he will astonish the world.”
Some 200 years later, that giant has awoken and Napoleon was right: China is now astonishing the world. In the past three decades, it has roused itself from a slumber to a state of almost unimaginable vibrancy. The roll-call of economic trophies it now claims is daunting: largest exporter, importer, foreign exchange reserve owner, commodity consumer, luxury goods market, most car sales, most internet users, even (in purchasing power parity terms) biggest economy. Read more
The ever ingenious Chinese financial system has developed a new kind of shadow bank – insurance companies.
China’s $586bn stimulus package in 2009 caused a flurry of lending through the country’s financial arteries. Some of this money ended up leaking out of the banks into unofficial channels, including the country’s state banks and the giant provincially-owned pseudo banks called Trust Companies. By the end of 2014, these off-balance sheet loans accounted for 18 per cent of all financing, up from less than 2 per cent a decade earlier. Read more
As the Chinese economy posts its slowest growth in six years, major reforms to China’s state-owned enterprises are now in the final planning stages. The Xi Jinping administration has pledged to overhaul and consolidate the state-owned economy to tackle widespread inefficiency and corruption.
A wave of mega-mergers among state-owned firms has already been announced in railways, nuclear power and other industries. Consolidation may be easier politically than market reforms, but it’s not the right way forward. China’s crown jewel firms don’t need to be bigger; they need to be better. Read more
By David Mann of Standard Chartered
Much of the negativity about world growth prospects at the moment seems to stem from the absence of a credit boom in any major market and worries over the consequences of higher US interest rates for the first time since 2006.
The lack of a credit boom means that growth is more subdued than it was in the run-up to the global financial crisis.
In particular, there are fears about China’s growth prospects, given the recent bad news concerning weak credit demand, high real interest rates and tight liquidity. However, we see three reasons for at least some optimism. Read more
The second cut in China’s interest rates in three months reveals key elements in Beijing’s thinking as it tries to reconcile an economic policy agenda beset with conflicting priorities, analysts said on Monday.
The task before China requires some delicate manoeuvres. It aims to wean the country off an extraordinary debt binge (see Martin Wolf ) while keeping GDP growth fairly robust. It hopes to combat disinflationary pressures while preventing the renminbi from sliding too sharply against the US dollar. It wants to curb a dangerous slump in industrial profits without resorting to another round of investment pump-priming. It needs to keep domestic liquidity levels buoyant in spite of a surge in capital flight. Read more
By Joseph Dobbs, European Leadership Network
Russian aggression towards Ukraine this past year has seen Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, lambasted by Western leaders. China has desisted from such criticism and instead signed two major gas deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars, co-operated in establishing a new development bank, and conducted joint military exercises. For some, Russia and China’s co-operation demonstrates their potential to challenge the global order. But in reality Russia’s pivot east faces too many hurdles to represent a viable alternative to working with the West.
Russia and China have much in common. Both states are increasingly nationalistic and share a common perceived threat of Western containment. In Russia’s case this threat comes primarily from the potential expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato). China’s perception of US containment strategies derives mainly from the American military presence in East Asia. Leaders in Moscow and Beijing have both watched with unease as the West supported the Arab Spring and the so-called “colour revolutions” that rocked the likes of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Read more
By Gabriel Sterne and Alessandro Theiss, Oxford Economics
If there was a financial crisis in China, the government could take a big hit, transferring a huge chunk of bad debts onto its balance sheet. But this remedy would have a big impact on the domestic and global economy.
Overall debt (public, private and financial) has skyrocketed in recent years, rising from 176 per cent of GDP in 2007, to 258 per cent of GDP by mid-2014. The debt binge may be fuelling a time bomb in the property market. Read more
Clearly, China’s interest rate cut on Friday was motivated by a desire to manage a flagging growth story. But the announcement also revealed a few sub-plots, which together may say more about Beijing’s mindset than the dominant narrative.
The first point, several analysts said, is that Beijing’s monetary easing may well have further to run, following the decision by the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) to cut its benchmark lending rate by 0.4 percentage points to 5.6 per cent, while cutting its deposit rate by 0.25 per cent to 2.75 per cent. Read more
By Alastair Campbell and W. John Hoffmann, Exceptional Resources Group
“There is no difference between reform and anti-corruption: both must be implemented within the framework of law”.
So said Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and with the end of a high level Communist Party meeting last month, the significance of Xi’s “Rule of Law” campaign has become crystal clear. It is a key tool in his attempt to restructure the framework of Party political power and decision-making via the four new Party central leading groups which he chairs. Read more
“If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.”
For about two weeks in late October, it seemed as if these optimistic words from Calvin Coolidge, the former US president, might have encapsulated the mindset of emerging market (EM) investors.
But the late October rally in EM financial assets has now stalled. Investors are relinquishing hopes that market troubles may turn out to be mere phantoms and focusing again on the very real problems coming their way. Four of the most intractable are set out below. Read more
By Eswar Prasad, Karim Foda, and Abhinav Rangarajan
China is making steady progress on its path to making the renminbi an international currency, as the FT writes in a Special Report, The Future of the Renminbi, published today.
See here for an Interactive graphic that traces the renminbi’s progress since 2000.
China continues to gradually open up its capital account, make offshore renminbi liquidity more easily available, and sign up more renminbi trading centers (London and Frankfurt most recently). To become a reserve currency, China also needs to let the renminbi’s value be market-determined rather than being tightly managed relative to the US dollar.
On March 16th of this year, China took another step towards freeing up its currency. The daily trading band around the renminbi’s central value relative to the U.S. dollar was widened from 1 percent to 2 per cent in either direction. The reasonable expectation had been that this would lead to faster appreciation of the currency and more volatility. Instead, the opposite happened. Was the shift to a wider trading band just a head fake? Read more
Official statements on bad loans in Chinese banks come with a health warning: analysts widely believe they understate the real level of delinquency by a wide – though unknowable – margin.
Nevertheless, official statistics can be helpful in assessing whether the problem is deepening or alleviating. In that context, an analysis published on Thursday by EY, the accounting firm, shows stress levels rising rapidly among China’s top banks. Read more
A closely-watched indicator of economic activity in China is showing an unexpectedly robust reading for September, according to an announcement on Tuesday. But is a real growth rebound underway, following several signs of a slowdown in the third quarter so far?
Hong Kong stock market investors appeared to reserve judgement, allowing the Hang Seng index to slip 0.49 per cent, or 118 points on Tuesday to 23,837. Economists and other survey-based indicators of Chinese economic activity reinforced the skepticism. Read more
By Andrew Colquhoun, Fitch Ratings
Does China invest too much? The country has been investing about 48 per cent of its GDP annually since 2010, which is unprecedented for any decent-sized economy, post-war. This investment is funded by a stock of leverage that will reach about 230 per cent of GDP in 2014 on Fitch’s estimate. Everyone has heard about the ghost towns and empty airports, leading some analysts to conclude China must be heading for a reckoning.
But you do not have to look far for evidence that China remains an underdeveloped country. Its rail network is only 13 per cent as extensive as Japan’s and only 64 per cent of its roads are paved, according to the World Bank. Almost exactly four years ago, one of the country’s main arteries, Highway 110, saw a 60-mile, 10-day traffic jam. Read more