Wednesday, November 5, 2008

China Hard Landing - Roubini

Let us consider now in detail the evidence that China may be on its way to a hard landing… The latest batch of macro data from China are mixed but all pointing towards a sharp deceleration of economic growth: official GDP data showing growth down to 9% from the 12% of a couple of years ago; sharply falling spending on consumer durables (autos); falling home sales and sharp fall in construction activity; leading indicators of the manufacturing sector (the Chinese PMI) showing a value of 44.6% (i.e. an outright contraction of manufacturing as a level below 50% indicates a contraction), its lowest level ever since its publication. 9 out of 11 PMI sub indices showed contraction - Output, New Orders, Input Prices, Purchases of Inputs, New Export Orders, Imports, Backlogs of Orders, Stocks of Major Inputs. Output index fell to 44.3 from 54.6 in September, while new orders dropped to 41.7 from 51.3, while the inventory index climbed to 51.4 from 50.5. The decline in total orders has been even stronger than in export orders, thus suggesting a weakening in both domestic and export demand. And the decline in construction activity is without doubt a major contributor to the recent weakness in industrial activity in China. Note also that manufacturing, which accounts for 40% of China's GDP, is slowing based on surveys of manufacturers, matching with anecdotal reports of factory closures in China's south East coast. Industrial production has slowed to the lowest level in 6-years (output rose 11.4% in September, from 12.8% in August). While slowdown may have been exacerbated by the Olympics shut-down, it has been on a slowing trend for months. The Federation of Hong Kong Industries predicts that 10% of an estimated 60 to 70 thousands Hong Kong-run factories in the Pearl River Delta will close this year... There is thus now a growing risk of a hard landing in China. Let us be clear what we mean by hard landing. In a country with the potential growth of China hard landing would occur if the growth rate of the economy were to slow down to 5-6% as China needs a growth rate of 9-10% to absorb about 24 million folks joining the labor force every year; it needs a growth rate of 9-10% to move every year about 12-14 million poor rural farmers to the modern industrial/manufacturing urban sector. The whole social and political legitimacy of the regime of the ruling Communist party rests on continuing to deliver this high growth great transformation of the economy... Note that China is an economy is structurally dependent on exports: net exports (or the trade balance surplus) are close to 12% of GDP (up from 2% earlier in the decade) and exports represent about 40% of GDP. Real investment in China is about 45% of GDP and, leaving aside the part of this investment that is housing and infrastructure spending, about half of this capex spending goes towards the production of new capital goods that produces more exportable goods. So, with the sum of exports and investment representing about 80% of GDP, most of Chinese aggregate demand depends on its ability to sustain an export based economic growth. The trouble –however – is that the main outlet of Chinese exports – the U.S. consumer – is now collapsing for the first time in two decades. Chinese exports to the U.S. were growing at an annualized rate of over 20% a year ago; while the most recent bilateral trade data from the U.S. now show that this export growth has now fallen down to 0%. But the worst is still to come in the next few quarters: after an ok second quarter in the U.S. (boosted by the tax rebates) U.S. retailers hoped that the consumer downturn would be minor: they thus placed over the summer massive orders for Chinese (and other imported) goods for Q3 and Q4. But now the U.S. holiday season clearly looks like the worst that the U.S. will experience in decades and the result of it will be a huge overhang of unsold Chinese good. Thus, you can expect that orders of Chinese goods for Q1 of 2009 and the rest of 2009 will be sharply down dragging Chinese exports to the U.S. into sharply negative territory. And it is not just Chinese exports to the U.S.: until a few months ago the U.S. was starting to contract but the rest of the advanced economies (Europe, Canada, Japan and Australia/New Zealand) were growing at a sustained rate, thus boosting Chinese exports. But there is now strong evidence that a severe recession has now started in almost all of the advanced economies. You can thus expect that Chinese export growth to Europe, Canada, Japan, etc. will sharply decelerate in the next few quarters, thus adding to the fall in Chinese net exports.

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