Summary: China is both the key driver of the world economy and the least well known of the major nations. With unreliable economic statistics, a rapidly evolving economy that defies easy analysis, and deep corruption, it defies analysis. But its growth or recession might determine the course of the world economy during the next decade. This post provides a realistic outlook, debunking the dreamy consensus expecting continued rapid growth.
“God takes care that trees do not grow to the sky.”
— Ancient German proverb.
From Evercore: China might already be in a recession (red line)
This graph is from a report by Evercore ISI), founded by Roger Altman (Asst Secretary of Treasury for Carter and Deputy Secretary for Clinton) — Excerpt…
“Our proprietary Synthetic Growth Index (SGI) fell 1.1% m/m in July, and was also down 1.1% y/y. No wonder global commodities are so weak. The most recent 18 months have been much weaker than the 2011-13 period. Even if we adjust our SG I upward (for too-little representation of Services — lack of data), we believe actual economic growth in China is far below the official 7.0% y/y. And, it is not improving, Most worrisome to us; the ‘equipment’ portion of Plant & Equipment spending is very weak, a bad sign for any company or country. Expect more monetary and fiscal steps to lift growth.”
A recession under way in China would explain the collapse of most industrial commodity prices (especially oil), and raise the risk of a global “recession” (usually defined as GDP growth slower than 2%). Fortunately, they are probably wrong about China’s current GDP. Such a fast slowing from 7% to -1% would create economics shocks impossible for even China’s government to hide. Like massive layoffs.
I believe their index shows the rising stress in China’s economy. See this anecdotal evidence in The Guardian: “China’s workers abandon the city as Beijing faces an economic storm. Labour disputes are rising and some workers are leaving for the country amid fears a crashing economy could cause political and social unrest.” However, I believe their underlying story is almost certainly correct: most estimates of China’s future growth are delusionally optimistic.
A recent paper by two eminent Harvard economists provides a more realistic forecast of much slower growth — which implies real recessions (falling GDP) for China, instead of just growth slowdowns. This is also likely for India. That would remove the steady wind that has helped power the world economy since 1990, with no obvious candidates to replace them as economic locomotives.
The top line in the below graph shows the common forecast that China will rule the 21st century, as its 6% or 7% GDP growth makes them number one. US GDP is almost $17 trillion, and growing at 2 – 3%, so China will equal us in roughly 10 years — if they can sustain such a high rate of growth. A transition to a slower rate of growth would change the world; doing so (as often happens) by a recession would rock the world.