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Reading tea leaves for signs of China's recovery

David Dollar's picture

Click chart to see larger version.
What to make of it when, within a few hours last week, the statistical bureau depressed us with a 26% decline in exports for February and then elated us with a 27% increase in urban fixed asset investment? These two figures capture nicely the struggle that is going on within the Chinese economy.

We launched our China Quarterly report today with our take on how to reconcile the conflicting data. Clearly, the global economy is in very poor shape. Global GDP declined at an annualized rate of 5% in the fourth quarter of 2008, and global industrial production declined at a 20% rate. These are shocking numbers that those of us born after the 1930s have never seen. Naturally this has had a large effect on China, which is an open, export-oriented economy. China's seasonally adjusted monthly exports peaked at around $120 billion last fall, and then fell off a cliff – dropping by about one-third (see chart).

How to flip-flop a trash nuisance into useful art

James I Davison's picture

A visit to the vast Pacific Ocean can make anyone feel insignificant. Yet despite its immense size, we've learned over the years that the old saying, "the solution to pollution is dilution," doesn't quite hold water (sorry for the pun) when it comes to trash, such as plastic bags. Garbage dumped in the ocean doesn’t just go away, it washes up on beaches or amalgamates in so-called "trash vortexes" in the Pacific.

An organization in Nairobi, Kenya, called UniquEco has been working to make good use out of a surprising type of debris that is apparently quite a nuisance there – flip flop-style sandals. Thousands of flip-flops that wash up on the East African shoreline every month apparently originate in Asia (link translated to English by Google – see the original page in Spanish here).

The organization, which also calls itself the "Flip-Flop Recycling Company", is taking the discarded footwear and having local artists turn handmade pieces of art and other products. They then resell some of the products to tourists and residents in Nairobi, while exporting the majority of the goods to distributors around the world, according to their website. Their online store has some pretty neat-looking items, including bags, wallets and even a chess set.

It's a pretty inventive and neat way to turn floating garbage into a useful form of revenue.

Defying gravity? Chinese banks respond to stimulus, increase lending

James Seward's picture

InstabilityThere has been a noticeable lack of entries to the East Asia & Pacific finance blog recently, but unfortunately I've been otherwise occupied on a trip in Beijing. It has certainly been a busy time here in China's capital with the National People's Congress (NPC) going on. However, I haven't seen much of it other than the long traffic jams caused by the road closures. The NPC meetings covered some of the domestic economic stimulus plans, but it has not dealt directly with financial sector issues. Maybe it did not need to since the banks here have already responded to the stimulus.

A recent China Daily report had a great graphic that showed the recent boom in lending by the banking sector, which corresponds very nicely to the announcement of the original economic stimulus plan. As I highlighted in a prior blog post, the $586 billion economic stimulus plan announced in November was only 30 percent funded from the central government, and the expectation was that much of the rest was to come from state-owned banks. Well, it seems they have delivered with gusto!

Collaborative climate change website targets both experts, average folks

James I Davison's picture

Wikipedia, the collaborative encyclopedia website, has interestingly turned the concept of wiki sites into something that seems to be a relatively accepted and trustworthy source of information.

An interesting new wiki tool called Climate Lab takes this concept one step further. The people behind the site, which was beta-launched last week, hope that it will serve as both a clearinghouse source of information for the general public, as well as a collaborative and knowledge-sharing tool for experts of issues related to climate change.

Wen Jiabao reaches out to China's online community in first live chat

James I Davison's picture

Despite concerns of the Chinese government about its recently recognized Internet Addiction Disorder, there is little doubt that the web is now part of life for the country's 298 million netizens, as well as an evident piece of the government's communications strategy.

Grazing in a nature reserve the only choice for herders in Xinjiang Uighur region of China

Tony Whitten's picture

Just before Christmas my colleagues Judith Schleicher and Zeng Jun joined me on a visit to Lake Aibi in order to visit Kokobasto, a Kazakh nationality village situated north of the lake and within the Lake Aibi Nature Reserve in China's far north-western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. When I last visited the village (as mentioned briefly in my rant about goats and an accompanying YouTube film), I was told that herders from the high summer pastures to the north came down to Kokobasto during the winter along with their livestock.

I had wanted to meet them and discuss herding practices, even though it was a particularly cold and bleak time of year.  In fact those shifting herders no longer come to Kokobasto, and my following YouTube film documents some of the meetings we had with a selection of the 250 inhabitants who live permanently in the village.

The villagers feel part of Tuoli County, Tacheng Prefecture, to the north, and they have their livestock grazing permit from there. But they actually live and herd their livestock in the nature reserve, which lies wholly within Jinghe County, Bortala Prefecture.

Indonesia: Women in Nias have entrepreneurial spirit

Nia Sarinastiti's picture

Women entrepreneurs in Nias, Indonesia, describe how they manage community loans and expand business ventures.
In the many trips I've taken with the World Bank’s Indonesia Country Director, Joachim von Amsberg, I've always admired how indigenous locals interact with expatriates. I think from the curiosity of whether an expatriate really would like to engage with them and understand their needs, you can actually see the sparkle in their eyes to pose many questions.

In our visit to Hiliweto village of Gido district of Nias, the mission team visited the home of one of the women's group leaders to chat with informal women entrepreneurs on how they manage their community loans and expand their business ventures. At first, the group was reluctant to even answer a question, but Joachim broke the ice by agreeing to have the women ask about him – for example, where he comes from, married or not, children, etc. As the discussion went into a more relaxed mode, we asked what specific program benefits them the most. They all hailed microfinancing. Getting small loans is a common problem in Indonesia because credit is difficult to obtain from banks without having any collateral as a guarantee.

Comparing the fuel efficiency of planes, trains, automobiles – and cheeseburgers?

James I Davison's picture

After East Asia & Pacific on the rise blogger and World Bank conservationist Tony Whitten recently questioned the morality of jetting off to Asia so often for work, this chart from GOOD Magazine – comparing (sort of) the efficiency of different modes of transportation – caught my eye.

Since the people who made the chart are considering gallons of fuel used per passenger to travel a long distance, Tony’s frequently used airplanes are far from being the worst offenders on the list, which is led by gas-guzzling SUVs and cruise ships. When it comes to realistically traveling 350 miles, your most efficient choices – in the following order, according to this chart – are to travel by bus, train, or (you guessed it) airplane.

If that doesn't cut it for you, however, and you are feeling particularly energetic, they made a conversion to human energy. In such a case, GOOD estimates, a person would have to consume approximately 16 Whoppers to complete the trip by bike and 48 of the mouth-watering cheeseburgers to trek the distance on foot (To be safe, I'll take a similar stance as GOOD in "neither endorsing or denouncing the consumption of Whoppers").

As an aside, I would have liked to figure out how many of the burgers it would take to fuel the number of air miles logged by World Bank Group's Washington, DC, staff (as Tony discovered, it equals at least 400 million miles each year) – were they to travel by foot. But seeing as my math skills were never too great, maybe one of you, dear readers, can help me figure out their equation?

(hat tip to FlowingData)