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.
In China, while state-owned enterprises dominate the monopoly industries like petroleum and telecom, the country’s private economy is still the major source for growth in production, employment and exports. Private companies are very sensitive to market changes: When profit margins shrink, they will jump out quickly. Expectations are low while the Chinese economy is under the ‘New Normal’, but the government is still concerned about private investment stagnation. The top economic agency has created a work team to look into the problem and made 60 proposals to solve the slow-down issue. But will top-down methods work?
Bitcoin, a virtual currency traded online, was not invented in China, yet China is where 80% of the virtual “coins” are minted and 90% of the transactions are made. Currently, the global bitcoin market amounts to some $14.5 billion, roughly the same amount of money as Apple’s European back taxes. If the virtual currency’s popularity continues to grow, decisions made by Chinese investors and regulators may determine whether bitcoin fades to a historical footnote, like Napster or the eight-track tape, or becomes the silicon cornerstone of a new global financial order. A combination of factors thrust China into this decisive role.
One day in October, 2015, a group of disgruntled investors gathered in Beijing to lodge a complaint: they had bought so-called wealth management products from a state-owned guarantor backed company that managed nearly $8 billion in assets, and which had collapsed later. Such defaults have been uncommon in China’s wealth management product space, but the now-gargantuan industry may pose a large risk to China’s financial system. Many risky aspects of the wealth management products industry make people worry about the possibility of a chain reaction similar to the 2008 financial crisis, when the US mortgage market buckled under similar strains.
After several decades when most Western governments inclined toward freer and more global trade, the mood seems to be changing. In the US, the presidential candidates have agreed on little but the need to keep a closer eye on trade agreements. In the United Kingdom, the new Prime minister, Theresa May, seems determined to fulfill the British public’s wish to leave the European Union, despite the fact that the pound sterling sank recently to a 168-year low. Skepticism over trade deals seems likely to remain a stubborn presence in most of the mature economies, so what should Chinese companies do to react?
For the past three decades, the general political consensus in the mature Western economies has been that trade liberalization is a good thing: most economists credit rising levels of global trade and cross-border investment with lifting nearly a billion people out of poverty in the developing world and reducing prices for consumers almost everywhere. Yet despite those successes, a growing segment of the public in the mature economies sees the impact of liberal trade policies quite differently— the revisionist view sees free trade as a major cause of the declining prosperity in the mature economies. Why has an anti-globalization consensus developed?
Central banking is not enough. While monetary policy did much to recover from the global financial crisis, its instruments have been largely exhausted and rendered ineffective. Low interest rates and quantitative easing may have kept the engine spinning, but are not pillars of sustainable economic policy. In China, there might still be scope for more monetary easing, but Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic advisor at financial services group Allianz and formerly at the helm of investment firm PIMCO, warns that, ‘‘China needs to avoid the trap that the advanced countries have fallen into, namely that of excessive prolonged reliance on central banks.’’
Chinese companies are buying football clubs and investing in sports companies all over the world, despite the fact that many of them had zero experience in sports before. Some investors think it’s a good opportunity to invest in the world-class sports assets when many of them are undervalued and cash-thirsty amid sluggish economic growth in Europe. But for Chinese buyers, there are both political and economic factors at play. The Chinese authority supports the buying, hoping that these overseas sports resources will help boost the domestic industry. But will they bring real changes and improve the performance of China’s national football team?
Since early 2015, 47 Chinese companies have received combined offers of $43 billion in funding from private equity houses and Chinese internet giants to delist from American exchanges and make a run for the domestic stock markets. So far 14 of them have delisted and none of them have managed to complete the journey and re-emerge on a Chinese exchange. The sudden desire to rush for the exit represents a swift reversal of a quarter-of a-century flow of Chinese companies to the West. It is the result of two factors: poor performance of many Chinese companies on western exchanges, and the much higher valuations that companies can command in China.
China’s industrial economy did not stabilize: it declined in the first quarter of 2016, according to the latest CKGSB survey of over 2,000 industrial firms nationwide. The survey, led by CKGSB Professor of Finance Gan Jie, shows that overcapacity and weak demand remain biggest challenges for China’s industrial economy. The Business Sentiment Index, a major indicator of the survey, stood at 46 in Q1 2016, a one point increase from Q4 2015, but still indicative of contraction. The BSI is the simple average of three diffusion indices including current operating conditions, expected change in operating conditions and investment timing.