China no longer growing at Ludicrous Speed

Guangdong province factory

To the extent that official GDP figures mean anything at all, it’s worth noting that Chinese growth is slackening as trade and manufacturing get hit hard:

China is expected to report on Monday that economic growth cooled to its slowest in 28 years in 2018 amid weakening domestic demand and bruising U.S. tariffs, adding pressure on Beijing to roll out more support measures to avert a sharper slowdown.

[…]

Analysts polled by Reuters expect the world’s second-largest economy to have grown 6.4 percent in the October-December quarter from a year earlier, slowing from the previous quarter’s 6.5 percent pace and matching levels last seen in early 2009 during the global financial crisis.

That could pull 2018 gross domestic product (GDP) growth to 6.6 percent, the lowest since 1990 and down from a revised 6.8 percent in 2017.

We have a culprit:

Surprising contractions in December trade data and factory activity gauges in recent weeks have suggested the economy cooled more quickly than expected at the end of 2018, leaving it on shakier footing at the start of the new year.

Sources have told Reuters that Beijing was planning to lower its growth target to 6-6.5 percent this year from around 6.5 percent in 2018.

Tepid expansion in industrial output and weaker consumer spending is squeezing companies’ profit margins, discouraging fresh investment and raising the risk of higher job losses.

Some factories in Guangdong – China’s export hub – have shut earlier than usual ahead of the long Lunar New Year holiday as the tariff war with the United States curtails orders. Others are suspending production lines and cutting back on workers’ hours.

Beijing slowing credit growth is also to blame:

Qin Nan, the chief executive of a Beijing-based manufacturer, needs to borrow at least Rmb5m ($740,000) to expand production of his company’s air purifiers and air conditioners. But because his company lacks an equivalent amount of collateral in property and other assets, Chinese banks were willing to lend only Rmb2m.

[…]

Mr Qin’s grievances, which he recently aired on social media, are increasingly common among private sector companies in the world’s second-largest economy, which have been hit by a squeeze on lending as Beijing has worked to reduce the economy’s dependence on debt-fuelled stimulus. If their complaints are not addressed, the consequences could be disastrous for Chinese officials as they try to avoid a precipitous deceleration in economic growth, which last year slowed to a 28-year low of 6.6 per cent, according to data released on Monday.

Interestingly, according to data cited by the article, “non-state companies” (including foreign-invested enterprises) received only 11% of new loans issued by the official banks in 2016, despite accounting for more than half of total economic output. (Private sector firms received 52% of new loans in 2012.) More fodder for the great debate about how much of China’s economy is really private.

More:

Mr Xi and Mr Liu [the vice-premier] appear to have underestimated both US President Donald Trump’s willingness to launch an all all-out trade war with China, which has sapped investor and private-sector investment, and also their ability to force the country’s state-controlled banking sector to direct more lending to non-state companies.

Also worth bearing in mind:

Yes, China’s 6.6% growth in 2018 is its slowest in nearly 3 decades. But given the size of its economy, that represents about $1.2trn of additional demand, nearly twice as much as it generated with 14% growth in 2007.

(And yes, we should take official figures with a big pinch of salt. And yes, China faces big downside risks. But it is worth taking a moment to look past the growth rate at the fact that, within a decade, we’ve gone from talking about a $4trn economy to a roughly $13trn economy.)

Here’s another angle on it:

China GDP growth global comparison

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