Last month the drop in the Chinese stockmarket – Shanghai Composite – sent alarm bells ringing around the world economy that the world’s second largest economy was in trouble. A recent Economist article (‘Taking a Tumble’ – August 29th 2015) suggest that all is not lost for the Chinese economy and the developed world should not be agitated. Several arguments were made to ease the concern of the West:
1. The Shanghai Composite in relation to the over all size of the Chinese economy is very small – 33% of GDP compared with over 100% in developed economies.
2. Stocks and the economic fundamentals are not strongly correlated – share prices increased 30% last year but this data didn’t reflect improved Chinese growth forecasts.
3. Less than 20% of Chinese household wealth is invested in shares.
4. The money borrowed by consumers to invest in the sharemarket amounts to just 1% of total banking assets – not significant.
5. For the Chinese economy the property market matters more than stocks and shares do. Housing and land account for the vast majority of collateral.
6. The service sector now accounts for a bigger share of national output than industry.
7. With regard to the fiscal position of the Chinese government things are looking quite positive. It aimed for a budget deficit of 2.3% of GDP this year, but as of July it was still in surplus, having raised more in taxes than it had spent. Therefore it has the ammunition if required to stimulate more growth.
8. The economy is rebalancing, albeit slowly, away from investment and towards consumption (see chart 3). China still has many more homes, highways and airports to build, but the trend away from them is unmistakable.
9. Economic growth is almost certainly lower than the rate reported by the government but it appears to be in the range of a soft landing.
10. The People’s Bank of China (central bank) still have room to cut rates – benchmark one-year lending rates are at 4.6%. Furthermore the required reserve ratios are at 18% for trading banks. The central bank has room to cut both rates whilst most developed countries don’t have that luxury.
Bad news for China’s trading partners
As a result, China’s appetite for commodities has probably peaked. That is bad news for companies and countries that prospered over the past decade by selling it mountains of iron ore, copper and coal – e.g. our cousins across the ditch in Australia. A decline in Chinese consumption would be of huge consequence: it absorbs about half the world’s aluminium, nickel and steel, and nearly a third of its cotton and rice.
The countries most exposed to shifts in China’s economy, meanwhile, are the commodity exporters who supply the raw materials for the steel girders and copper piping that have underpinned the construction boom.
The plunge in the Chinese stockmarket was not evidence that the economy is on the edge. However, there are those that now doubt China as having such a safe economy.