Wednesday , September 30 2020
Home / Bruegel Think Thank / Depression, and not stagflation, could haunt China in 2020

Depression, and not stagflation, could haunt China in 2020

Summary:
This opinion piece was originally published in Asia Times and Medium China’s GDP in the first quarter of the year has surprised nobody but the devil is in the details. Local retail sales continued to fall in March (-16%), marginally better than during the peak of the Covid19 outbreak in January and February. The continuation […] China’s GDP in the first quarter of the year has surprised nobody but the devil is in the details. Local retail sales continued to fall in March (-16%), marginally better than during the peak of the Covid19 outbreak in January and February. The continuation of the slump in domestic demand clearly stands out when compared with the return to production in March.  In fact, industrial production hardly declined in March (1.1%) after a collapse in January-February.

Topics:
Alicia García-Herrero considers the following as important: , , , ,

This could be interesting, too:

Jean Pisani-Ferry writes Trump’s International Economic Legacy

Grégory Claeys and Marta Domínguez-Jiménez writes How Can the European Parliament Better Oversee the European Central Bank?

A. G.-H. writes China’s ‘dual circulation’ plan is bad news for others’ exports

Alexander Lehmann and Mark Plant writes Climate finance: an agenda for EU coordination with emerging markets

This opinion piece was originally published in Asia Times and Medium China’s GDP in the first quarter of the year has surprised nobody but the devil is in the details. Local retail sales continued to fall in March (-16%), marginally better than during the peak of the Covid19 outbreak in January and February. The continuation […]

China’s GDP in the first quarter of the year has surprised nobody but the devil is in the details. Local retail sales continued to fall in March (-16%), marginally better than during the peak of the Covid19 outbreak in January and February. The continuation of the slump in domestic demand clearly stands out when compared with the return to production in March.  In fact, industrial production hardly declined in March (1.1%) after a collapse in January-February. More importantly, the vanishing demand cannot be explained by external factors only. In fact, export growth in March was negative (-12.5%) but less than that domestic retail sales.

At first sight, one could imagine that the reason for such poor domestic demand is panic saving but labour market data offers a much gloomier picture with higher unemployment and collapsing disposable income (-12.5% in real terms in the first quarter). One important consequence of the collapse in demand versus a rather resilient supply is growing deflationary pressures in the Chinese economy. In fact CPI inflation has clearly decelerated and producer prices are already in negative territory, even after the shut-down of factories for a couple of months. Against the backdrop, China clearly has more room for monetary stimulus but the question is whether monetary tools can push people to consume, which is what is needed.  On the fiscal side, China has eased value added taxes and temporarily waived social security contributions but it remains unclear how these measures may help increase disposable income, all the more, push households to consume. There have been some action on consumption vouchers by some provinces but they have not been generalized yet. Furthermore, the collapse in retail sales is so widespread that the Chinese government may have to start thinking about putting money directly into households’ pockets, in the form of helicopter money or perhaps more targeted measures, given the size of China’s population and the very uneven income distribution.

Moving forward, the worst of the coronavirus contagion might have already past in China, but the economy will still be under pressure as regards how to resume consumption demand for which positive growth in disposable income will clearly be needed. Besides, two more challenges come to mind: plummeting external demand and deflationary pressures, which are obviously interrelated. Covid19 seems to have pushed China back in its efforts to rebalance its economy towards a consumption-based growth model. This will be even harder if the government decides to jump on what it has long been able to deliver fastest, namely an infrastructure-led stimulus. Under the hypothesis that the world will continue to be locked down, or close to that, for the remaining of the second quarter at least, the risk of China’s going back to an investment-led growth model is high, with short-term winners on the commodity space but with long-term losers globally. A more unbalanced growth model, fed by ballooning debt, does not serve China well, nor the rest of the world.

Alicia García-Herrero
Alicia Garcia Herrero is a Senior Fellow at Bruegel and a non-resident research fellow at Real Instituto El Cano. She is also Chief Economist for Asia Pacific at NATIXIS. Alicia Garcia Herrero is currently adjunct professor at City University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and visiting faculty at China-Europe International Business School (CEIBS).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *