Getting a clear view on where China’s economy is heading is not easy at the moment, as evidenced by large variations in GDP growth forecasts. One of the confusing developments is that while exports have continued to do badly recently, the domestic economy has exceeded most observers’ expectations by a wide margin.
Working in recent weeks on the World Bank’s new China Quarterly Update, released today, we have been trying to determine how the economy has been doing on balance, what the prospects are, and what this means for economic policy. In this blog, I will summarize our understanding of recent developments and prospects, leaving the upshot for economic policies for a later discussion (keep reading after the jump).
We are finally starting to see some positive news around the East Asia and Pacific region, but it is too soon to begin to speak of "green shoots" of economic activity or reaching the bottom of the economic downturn in Asia. Although the Swine flu (one disease originating from animals that did not come from Asia!) and the nervousness about the condition of U.S. banks had a slightly negative impact on financial markets in Asia this past week, the stock markets are still up by about 12% for the year – led by Indonesia (21.6%), Korea (11.8%), and China (9.4%).
In the World Bank's latest semi-annual economic update for the East Asia and Pacific region, titled "Battling the Forces of Global Recession" and released today, we mentioned the Philippine economy's resilience, both in absolute and relative terms.
|Declining revenue of tuk-tuk drivers in Cambodia shows even the informal sector isn't insulated.|
The World Bank today launches its projection of a 1 percent contraction of the Cambodian economy. This is based on an analysis of available statistics and feedback from a range of economic actors. Yet, to most of my Cambodian friends, it remains hard to conceive.
It is true that "seeing" such a contraction will be difficult. Basically, what it means is that economic activity in 2009 will be pretty much the same as in 2008. So the fact that we continue to have traffic jams in Phnom Penh, see tourists at the Royal Palace, and hear construction machines in many residential areas is consistent with such a projection. What will change, though, is that incomes will not increase this year as fast as past years and it will also become more difficult for the 250,000 young people leaving school each year to find their first job. What also will be different is that with no growth in aggregate, there will be a proportion of those with a livelihood at the end of the year worse than at the beginning.
A few days ago, our country director David Dollar blogged about the two-sided picture we see when we look at China's economic growth. The economy saw very weak export demand, which partly carried over into weak investment in manufacturing and other "market-based" sectors. Continued growth in other parts of the domestic economy was supported by policy stimulus.
China has weathered the crisis better than many other countries because it does not rely on external financing, its banks have been largely unscathed by the international financial turmoil, and it has the fiscal and macroeconomic space to implement forceful stimulus measures. China’s government has made use of this policy space by pursuing pretty forceful fiscal and monetary stimulus. From early November last year onwards, the government's 10-point plan ("RMB 4 trillion package") is being implemented. This plan emphasizes infrastructure and other investment, financed in part by government budget spending, and in part by bank lending. And the government has taken some additional, more consumption-oriented measures.
|Click chart to see larger version.|
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).
There 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!