For the past few years, China has been pursuing a new and ambitious state-owned enterprise (SOE) reform program. SEOs are huge in terms of size, yet they only provide 16% of jobs, less than a third of national economic output, and a return on assets of only 2.9%. Hugely inefficient, debt-ridden and responsible for most of China’s ballooning corporate debt, SOEs are a drag on an economy that Beijing wants to transition—unlike past efforts which is about privatization, but just the opposite—from investment and export-driven to services and consumption-driven.
Many developing nations see China as a champion and as an investor. Western countries wish to see China shoulder a greater share of the burden of global leadership, and a growing number of Chinese citizens want China to reclaim its ancient role of international dominance. But is China ready to “lead the world?” Has it reached the stage where it can set the international tone, take the central role on global issues and provide preeminent guidance toward the future? To many the answer might be “yes”, but as the foundations of the powerhouse economy are actually weaker than they seem, that assessment may be premature.
Interesting and important China related facts you should care about—from China’s service sector growth to the drastic increase of e-sports players and their audience. You may also care about the country’s new fusion reactor setting a new record in July, and that international sewage and water treatment companies are set to chase big opportunities because the central government has pledged to lay 126,000 kilometers of new sewage pipes by 2020, enough to circle the globe three times. Plus, unknown to most, the Middle Kingdom has quietly grown into a cannabis superpower with half of the world’s legal cannabis cultivation, which is used in textiles and pharmaceuticals.
China led the world technologically in the early 15th century, yet Europe surpassed it overnight. How did this come about? Maverick economist Deirdre McCloskey offers an answer in her work. Although in her youth she fell under the sway of socialist economists, she brings an iconoclasts’ view to her subject believing it is wrong to limit the achievements of humanity to academic theories concerned solely with maximization of utility. Her latest book, Bourgeois Equality, is the concluding volume in a trilogy that seeks to explain “The Bourgeois Era,” which she believes laid the basis for the material and spiritual wealth enjoy by the modern world.
Although China’s official GDP for the first two quarters and industrial growth exceeded expectations, the industrial economy has not yet bottomed out, according to the latest CKGSB study. Led by CKGSB Professor Gan Jie, the study shows that overcapacity remained at a historical high in the second quarter, and product and cost prices continued to rise, while production stayed flat. Meanwhile, the gap between the BSI of state-owned enterprises and that of private enterprises kept widening. The latest BSI findings show that the structural problems of China’s industrial economy remain a significant concern.
For decades, China has been a top destination for foreign firms to move their operations abroad, now the trend is reversing—Chinese firms, especially manufacturers, are now moving to the US, not only to lower the cost of production but also to build their brands in global market. Indeed, China is losing its old advantage of cheap labor and raw material, and in certain parts of the US, the land is much cheaper than in China. Meanwhile, the re-booming US economy, flexible financial system and beneficiary tax policies are also driving ambitious Chinese entrepreneurs, who are changing the “Made in China” to “Made in the US”.
The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is “a fusion of technologies” that blurs the lines “between the physical, digital, and biological spheres,” according to Klaus Schwab, the founder of the Davos Forum. This fusion of so many fields will ultimately see 4IR change the world far more fundamentally than the first three industrial revolutions. Any analysis of the many technological breakthroughs that now define this new 4IR business world is incomplete at best if it misses the China factor. At the dawn of the 4IR era, China is much better positioned than in the past to seize the opportunities offered by an industrial transformation.
Although official data for first-quarter GDP and industrial growth exceeded expectations, the industrial economy has not yet bottomed out, according to the latest CKGSB survey. The survey, led by CKGSB Professor Gan Jie, shows that overcapacity remains at a historical high, both in terms of its prevalence and severity in Q1 2017. As in 2016 Q4, rising costs have been the driving force behind rising prices. Among firms with product costs inflation above 5%, cost rises were the most prominent. Meanwhile, the advantage of state-owned firms over private firms has increased in recent quarters.
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.