Despite the periodic ferocity of China bears in recent years, Matthews Asia Investment Strategist Andy Rothman–who has been investing in consumer-facing companies in China for over 20 years–often refers to China as having the greatest consumer story. According to Rothman, this is not only because the real income (adjusted for inflation) in urban China has gone up by 120%, but also because Chinese people themselves are pretty optimistic about their futures. However, he also notes that one needs to be realistic: over the next ten years, real income growth is not going to be 130% and retail sales growth will continue to decelerate.
Predicting China’s future is hard given its size, history and complexity of population, but it’s easy to share an opinion about the country—anybody can come in and say something about China, whether it’s news media or self-styled pundits. The cost of entry for having a view on China is so low that basically anybody can have one. The ongoing topic is the Chinese economy: bulls and bears have been arguing non-stop about the state of the economy. Damien Ma, Fellow of the Think Tank at the Chicago-based Paulson Institute, talks about how find the true signal in the noise, and discusses the less relevant factors one should dismiss.
Under the banner industrial policy “Made in China 2025”, China seeks to replace the advanced foreign manufactured goods that it has long relied upon with domestically-produced goods. But the effort is spooking the foreign business community, and the plan may not address China’s most genuine needs. Precise details of the implementation of the grand policy are only now beginning to emerge. For Chinese companies, the real long-term impact of the plan is at best unclear. But for foreign companies, although there will be business opportunities in the short-term, the plan as a whole presents big challenges to their future in China.
Foreign Direct Investment has been an incredibly important catalyst for China’s economic development, bringing in the capital, technology and know-how that made China the world’s factory. But China is no longer so fresh and attractive to foreign investors as return on assets is falling. FDI to China increased 3.9% on the year to RMB 731.8 billion in the first 11 months of 2016—the 2015 expansion was 5.6%. Besides, increasing labor costs have become a heavy burden to foreign enterprises, especially manufacturers, who can cut costs by moving to Southeast Asia.
Chinese industrial economy still faces severe problem of overcapacity, according to the latest CKGSB survey of over 2,000 industrial firms nationwide. The survey, led by CKGSB Professor Gan Jie, shows a significant rise in product prices in the fourth quarter of 2016, posing worrying signs of inflation. The investment confidence also remains low: only 1% of the firms considered it a “good” time to make fixed investments, a mere 2% made expansionary investments and 9% of firms made fixed investments. However, given the government’s commitment, the BSI team remains optimistic about the long-term outlook of the Chinese economy.
Debt is a ticking-time bomb for the Chinese economy. In the past three years central government stopped local governments from financing through investment vehicles and set a cap for the issuance of bonds. But new forms of debt continue to be formed. Local officials appear not to care about borrowing more, as long as the money can be used in projects that may translate to political achievements. And with those achievements, officials will be promoted to a higher level–as will the debt burden. A more worrisome thought will be: can those additional government debts and investments support China’s long-term growth?
Optimism for Chinese firms over the next six months still holds, but the corporate financing environment is getting difficult and the corporate inventory is increasing, according to the CKGSB Business Conditions Index, which registered 61.5 in February, a slight increase on January’s mark of 59.8. For CKGSBʼs sample of successful businesses operating in China, corporate sales index fell slightly from 82.7 to 80.5, while profits rose from 67.0 to 72.2, both are well above the confidence threshold of 50. Yet the other two sub-indices—corporate financing and in inventory—are below 50.
Over the past year, the housing price in many Chinese cities has doubled. The property industry, which contributed to the economy’s growth, is now ‘hijacking’ China’s economic growth model. Instead of investing in real businesses, individuals and companies are betting on increasing property prices. In this interview, Professor Xu Chenggang talks about the government’s role in real estate regulation, the major challenges of pushing reforms in China and how state-owned enterprises and local governments should roll out these reforms.
China’s economic growth over the past few decades has impressed the world. But the world’s second largest economy now faces a difficult transformation: from relying on exports and investments to developing domestic demand. That’s not easy. Government-led stimulus is only a temporary solution and only looked reasonable in the first few years after the recent global financial crisis. In fact, the main problem facing the Chinese economy has been the weak demand in domestic market which manifested clearly in 2006, and became more obvious when growth slowed down.
China’s home loan market reached $539 billion in the first nine months of 2016, more than double the same period in 2015. Based on figures from Ehomeday, Shanghai’s second-hand home price index rose by 27.82% year-on-year on October 2016. In Q4 2016, the skyrocketing home prices slowed across the country due to tighter government restrictions, but nevertheless, 2016 witnessed an astonishing 19% overall increase in home prices. In this edition of China Data, we bring you the latest numbers from China related to state-owned enterprises reform, China’s export slowdown, outbound tourism, Dalian Wanda’s new studio complex and more.