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Your Thoughts: Has China’s Economy Hit a Wall?

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According to a report co-authored by Yandong Jia, a researcher at the Research Bureau of the People’s Bank of China, alongside Jun Nie, a senior economist at the Kansas City Fed, “analysis indicates that the momentum of Chinese growth is likely to slow in the near term.”

As the world’s second largest economy, China’s GDP has seen a 6.9 YoY increase, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). However, the above report suggests further growth to be considered bleak. “An analysis of its underlying forces suggests this momentum may not be sustainable,” it reads. “In addition, strength in policy-related variables has been waning, creating additional downside risks to near-term growth.”

Finance Monthly, this week spoke to several expert sources on China’s economy and prospected continued growth. Here are Your Thoughts.

Josh Seager, Investment Analyst, EQ Investors:

Every so often, investor concern about a Chinese hard landing rises. There have been numbers of catalysts for this over the past three years, from Chinese equity market sell offs to expectation of capital outflow induced currency depreciation. Most have passed without issue and are now barely remembered

The biggest cause of concern, however, has been debt. This has led many commentators to predict a large credit crisis. We believe that such concerns are overemphasised and stem from a key misunderstanding: the Chinese economy is ultimately guided by the Communist party not market dynamics. Credit crises generally happen because heavily indebted borrowers lose access to financing. In China’s case, the communist party control both the lenders (the banks) and the problem borrowers (the heavily indebted State-Owned Enterprises (SOES). Consequently, they are in a perfect position to manage the riskier debts and avoid defaults.

The real risk to China is much less exciting. Without ‘creative destruction’ where unprofitable companies are allowed to default, resources become misallocated. This means that unprofitable and unproductive companies, many of whom should be bankrupt, hoover up capital, employees and materials that could be better used by more productive firms.

This is happening in China, SOEs are hoarding resources in spite of the fact that they have get 1/3 (capital economics) of the return on them that private companies do. The route out is through supply-side reform but is difficult. It requires bankruptcy, bank recapitalisation and would probably lead to higher unemployment and increased uncertainty.

The Chinese government is financially strong and can afford to do this now. However, reform will get more difficult and expensive as the stock of debt builds. If President Xi chooses to pursue reforms we are likely to see short term pain for long term stability. If not, we will see a continuation of the status quo for the next few years but future GDP will be lower as a result.

Jonathan Watson, Chief Market Analyst, Foreign Currency Direct:

The Chinese economy has been wobbling with concerns over the pace of economic growth, which peaked at nearly 15% in 2007 but has been languishing around 6.9% lately.

Both business and consumer debt is high, and there are wider concerns that the largely export driven growth the economy has seen in the last few decades is coming to a halt.

Previously voiced concerns over the legitimacy of Chinese economic data raises questions about the extent of the trouble the economy could be in. Overlooking those fears, what appears clear is that the Chinese economy is still improving. With the global economy predicted to grow by 3.6% this year and 3.7% next year, according to the IMF, China should have little to worry about.

As a net exporter, the global economy will continue to have an effect on China’s economic growth. Any readjustments could cause turbulence but I see the trajectory as positive. Rather than hitting a wall as many have been predicting for years, I expect the Chinese economy will be building over or through one…

Erik Lueth, Global Emerging Market Economist, LGIM:

The Chinese economy is indeed likely to slow from here, but it is unlikely to hit a wall. Growth has been above the official target of 6.5% so far this year, powered by exports and a buoyant property sector. But, both of these drivers are fading.

In response to runaway house inflation in prime cities, the government tightened prudential measures over the past year or so. This has led to weaker housing demand and prices with the latter now falling in tier-1 cities. Similarly, exports seem to have peaked with PMIs in advanced economies looking stretched and the Chinese currency no longer falling in real terms. In our base case the economy would slow from around 7% this year to 6.5% in 2018 and 6.2% in 2019.

We are concerned about high debt levels, but the Chinese economy hitting a wall is a mere tail event in our forecast. To begin with, a financial crisis doesn’t look likely (as I have argued here on our investment blog, Macro Matters). China’s debts to foreigners are negligible and the capital account remains tightly managed. Key debtors and creditors are state-owned—state-owned enterprises and banks, respectively—greatly reducing roll-over risks. And, shadow banking while risky is still too small to overwhelm the state banks.

Second, China still has ample fiscal space. If it were to increase its fiscal deficit – estimated at around 12.5% of GDP – by 2 percentage points over each of the next 5 years, government debt would rise from around 70% of GDP today to 105% of GDP in 2021. This is not negligible, but certainly manageable given high savings rates and potential growth.

If something has the potential to drive China against the wall, it would be the deflation of a property bubble. As always spotting a bubble is challenging, but on balance we discount it. According to BIS data real house prices have been flat since the global financial crisis on a nationwide basis. Moves in prime cities have been anything but sideways, but at 90% over 3 years, increases remain well below the 300% witnessed in Tokyo before its bubble burst in 1990.

Dr Ying Zhang, RSM Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University:

China’s economic growth from the factor-driven to an efficiency-driven in the past 3 decades has not only brought China to be the world manufacturing center in the past, but also leveraged China as one of the important “spinal joints” of the world-body for the future. The reason of its importance is consistent with the global phenomena and world economy integration, as well as the interdependence between China and the rest of the world.

China’s supply-driven and quantity-based catch-up model is very effective, particularly to bring China to the category of middle-income countries; however, once stepping into such a territory, the historical evidence already shows that the chance to be trapped in there is be very high, if without proper in-time transformation.

Due to the high-interdependence, China’s reduced economic growth rate, though not pulling China’s economy moving down, has pulled exponential impact on some countries in terms of their employment rate and economic performance. Such symptom calls for worries and blaming to China, with two different messages: one, China hits the wall; second, China is transforming and preparing for the innovation-driven economic growth model.

China’s current transformation, in terms of being inclusive and quality-based and dramatic rising evidence in domestic consumption and prosperous service sector, implies that China will not be falling into the first proposition. It is also supported by the vision and the joint effort of Chinese citizens, global participants, and Chinese government to build China as an inclusive society and sustainable economy for the sake of world integration and global sustainability. In principle, this direction is presented as a paradox where China’s transformation is empowered by massive entrepreneurship and innovation in the current technology-driven and digitalization era ,while presented with a reduced GDP growth rate. The underlying matter is our perception and the angle to view it.

China’s economy does not hit the wall. Instead, it is on drive with much more power. With corrected understanding on the relationship between what China is working on and what the statistics simply presented, there would be more space for the world to grow together, for the world economy to be more stabilizing, sustainable and integrative.

Franklin Allen, Executive Director, Brevan Howard Centre for Financial Analysis:

Academics and journalists often predict that the Chinese economy’s growth will “hit a wall” and slow down dramatically. So far this has not happened. The Chinese economy has slowed down from about 10% annual real GDP growth several years ago to the current 6.5-7.0%. My own view is that this kind of growth rate is likely to continue for the next few years at least. The Chinese government still has a large degree of control over many aspects of the economy and if growth appears to be missing this target, they can ensure enough extra activity is undertaken that it hits it. There is a significant amount of debt in the Chinese economy but much of this is local government debt. The problem is that the funding of local governments is not well structured currently. They do not have taxing powers and do not receive large block grants from the central government. At some point the Chinese government will need to solve this problem. However, in the short run debt figures in China should be interpreted in a different way than equivalent numbers in Europe or the US.

In the long run, I think the Chinese economy has the capability to grow more quickly than current rates. The problem is that the financial system does not provide productive small and medium sized enterprises with the financing they need. They are the growth engines the economy requires and has used in the past during the fast growth period. If you look at the interest rates these firms are prepared to pay in the shadow banking sector, it seems likely they can grow quickly if they could obtain finance through the formal financial system. At the moment this is geared up to provide large state-owned enterprises with finance but they do not require very much. They do not have many prospects for growth. Hopefully, reforms to the financial system that have long been discussed and that will allow flows to the firms that need then will be implemented before too long.

We would also love to hear more of Your Thoughts on this, so feel free to comment below and tell us what you think!

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