[Marxism] China weighs options as growth slows

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed May 30 08:34:17 MDT 2012

Financial Times
May 29, 2012 5:06 pm
China weighs options as growth slows

By Simon Rabinovitch in Beijing

With dark clouds gathering over the Chinese economy, the 
government has started to talk about the importance of supporting 
growth and speculation is mounting about what actions it will take.

Some analysts predict that it will dust off its 2008 playbook and 
announce a large-scale stimulus package. But others say this is 
unlikely because Beijing is both less perturbed by the current 
slowdown and more wary of the dangers of another spending spree.

Here is a look at China’s policy options, with an assessment of 
their likelihood.

1. Stick to the original plan
Concerns about fallout from a shaky domestic property market and 
Europe’s debt woes are hardly new in China. These concerns have 
been around for nearly a year, during which time officials have 
been very cautious in loosening monetary policy and increasing 
fiscal spending.

Beijing has cut the portion of deposits that banks must hold in 
reserve twice since November, injecting more cash into the 
economy. It also has stepped up efforts to construct 36m units of 
affordable housing by 2015, a big investment programme. On the 
currency front, it has let the renminbi fall a touch against the 
dollar this year to aid struggling exporters.

At the same time, the government has started to implement 
longer-term tax and financial sector reforms that are part of its 
strategy for shifting the economy away from a reliance on 
investment towards consumption.

Until recently, Beijing was content to continue down this 
gradualist path. The economy has clearly slowed, but at 8.1 per 
cent annual growth in the first quarter, it has hardly collapsed. 
Importantly, unlike 2008 when 20m blue-collar workers lost their 
jobs virtually overnight, there are few signs of labour market 

Without a more serious plunge in domestic economic growth or a 
crisis in Europe, the original plan – gradual monetary easing, 
some additional fiscal spending, especially on affordable homes, 
plus longer-term structural reforms – still looks compelling.

“For Beijing, the first thing it should do is to seriously deliver 
what it has scheduled for 2012 instead of rushing to announce any 
new massive stimulus plans,” says Lu Ting, an economist with Bank 
of America Merrill Lynch.

2. Stimulus-lite
Confidence in the strength of the Chinese economy has wobbled over 
the past few weeks. April data, from power output to bank lending, 
were disappointing and indicated that the economic slowdown, far 
from abating, was worsening. One month does not make a trend, but 
the government appears to be taking out insurance against the 
signs of trouble.

Premier Wen Jiabao said last week that the government should “give 
more priority to maintaining growth”, a comment that was seen as 
the starting gun for bolder fiscal spending plans. There has been 
a flurry of headlines in recent days in official media about 
investment projects, from airport expansions to new steel plants, 
which have been approved by the National Development and Reform 
Commission (NDRC), a powerful central planning agency.

The government has also unveiled or is set to unveil a number of 
small measures to encourage consumption, including subsidies for 
energy efficient appliances and another cash-for-clunkers car 

However, in contrast to 2008, the government has played down 
expectations about the size of the potential stimulus – and even 
denied that there is really any stimulus in the works at all.

The Guangming Daily, a newspaper published by the Communist party, 
said this week: “Even if the NDRC is busier than usual, this does 
not mean there is a new economic stimulus plan.”

In this scenario there would be no official “stimulus package”, 
and no significant easing of monetary policy or property market 

Instead the government would rely on economic “fine-tuning”, such 
as accelerated investments and consumer subsidies, in order to 
provide a clear boost to growth.

“All these signs indicate to us that a new round of fiscal 
stimulus has started, although its scale remains to be seen, and 
is not likely to be comparable with the ‘shock and awe’ stimulus 
in 2008-09,” says Liu Na with CNC Asset Management.

3. Re-run of 2008
The 2008-09 stimulus – about 10 per cent of GDP at Rmb4tn ($630bn) 
– left China with a double mess of soaring debt levels and 
stubbornly high inflation that the government spent much of last 
year trying to clean up. This experience has made Beijing 
extremely hesitant to crank up another big stimulus.

But such reluctance would easily dissipate if the growth downturn 
becomes much more severe. China International Capital Corp, a top 
domestic investment bank, warned last week that the economy could 
slow to 6.4 per cent this year without policy stimulus, well below 
the 7-8 per cent level that Beijing believes is necessary to 
create enough jobs for new entrants into the labour force.

So some analysts are beginning to discuss the potential for a 
replay of the 2008 “big bang” spending programme, albeit with some 
modifications. This time around, investment might be directed 
towards power production, clean energy, and water infrastructure 
rather than transport networks, as was the case in 2008.

Dong Tao, an economist with Credit Suisse, said the headline 
figure could be as much as Rmb2tn, half as much as three years ago 
but much bigger than anything that has been officially mentioned 
this time around.

Beyond fiscal stimulus, the government has other big levers within 
its grasp. In 2008 it aggressively cut interest rates and also 
sharply reversed course on its tight property policy. These moves 
were integral to the Chinese recovery in 2009, but they also 
fuelled a surge in housing prices.

Similar moves would again be powerful – if potentially dangerous – 
medicine for the Chinese economy. Some economists think it’s too 
early for such a strong prescription.

“We do not currently look for interest rate cuts or explicit 
central government loosening of real estate policy, but these will 
come in the third quarter if the economy is not responding,” 
Standard Chartered economists wrote in a note.

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