Saturday, July 16, 2011

China Economic Check-up: Nope, no hard landing yet folks

China just released its June numbers, with 3 separate official sources delivering banking and money stats, international trade stats, and the core economic data. The June GDP numbers were pretty strong in the scheme of things, and the rest of the data pointed to a high likelihood of persistence in economic strength, at least in the medium term. In this article we explore some of the key data points, and come to the conclusion that a hard landing/significant slow down is a not a 2011 story...

1. China GDP
China managed to show year on year GDP growth of 9.5% in the June quarter, which was slightly lower than the 9.7% it showed in the previous quarter and 10.3% in June 2010, and compares to a 10-year average of about 9.4%. So in the scheme of things GDP growth does not show a significant degree of slowing. However, if you redefined recession for China as passing below the long term average growth rate - rather than descending into the negatives, then China could dip just below that line later this year. So, in spite of a succession of tightening moves, e.g. the PBOC raised interest rates earlier this month, growth has not yet taken a hit, and it makes sense because the dual forces of strong underlying fundamentals as well as strong sources of manufactured growth e.g. social housing, persist - so sorry folks, no slow down or hard landing in 2011.

2. China inflation
But one area that persists as a weak-point or vulnerability is the surging inflation numbers. Inflation hit 6.4% in June (I was expecting about 6.5%), with most of that coming from food price inflation (14.4%), and non-food static around 3%. This remains a risk because if it gets out of control then it poses stability risks, but more importantly, persistently high and rising inflation will put pressure on policy makers to tighten the screws further on monetary policy - that could slow things down a bit more, and certainly put some headwinds in front of Chinese equities. But I'm seeing signs that this could be the peak - there are a few people out there that have been forever calling the peak - but things like a turn in the prices index part of the PMI, the tightening done to date, and market responses to high prices. The Yuan could be worked harder to achieve lower inflation outcomes, but it's no silver bullet either. I see inflation as a risk, but I can see a scenario where inflation starts to taper off.

3. PMI and Industrial Production
The industrial production figure was a slight surprise in that it broke from where the PMI suggested it should go. The figure came in at 15.1% y/y, up from 13.3% in May, 13.7% in June 2010. The official PMI dropped to 50.9 for June, from 52 in the previous month - this is one of the main areas that people have been pointing to for signs of a slowdown, and fair enough - new orders have trailed off , but still above the expansionary 50 point mark. So it's mixed signals from this one, July will tell if June was a quirk or a sign that the bottom has been hit on the slowing in industrial production growth - so watch this space.

4. International Trade
China reported another record month for exports, 162B for June, while imports trailed off some to 139.7B (high of 152B in March). So what are the messages from the trade results?, first off, net exports were positive for the quarter (about 47B vs 0 in the March quarter), so there was a decent positive GDP contribution from trade during June. So the upward trend in exports are a positive sign for China's economy, but also indicate a certain degree of strength in global demand, on the imports side, it almost sends a signal of lower import demand, some of this may be related to a tapering off in commodity prices, but it is something to keep an eye on.

5. New Loans
New loans in China has been the gasoline that has been fueling the heat in the property market, as well as wider influences such as inflation and general growth. There has been a range of moves designed to cap lending growth (including RRR hikes and tougher lending rules), but new loans are still going strong, YTD new loans are about 4 trillion yuan (about 5 trillion in H1 2010, and close to 8 trillion in H1 2009). It's no secret that this rapid expansion in lending is a risk area, and a lot of China bears have been pointing to this, as well as the local government debt issues. A lot of water needs to go under the bridge and a lot of info needs to come to light before the full view of what's really going on in China's property and lending markets come into full light, but for now, the still elevated rate of loan growth remains stimulatory for both the economy and property prices (also note on property prices, real income per capita rose about 7.6% in June y/y, compared to property prices about 5-6% y/y).


So, as always it was interesting to digest all the info in the June economic data reports from China. The high level view is that China's economy is still going strong, it is strong in many areas, and appears to have broad fundamental strength. Aside from fundamental strength China's economy is also boosted by expansionary policies such as the 10 million unit social housing project for this year - which will be loaded mostly in H2 in terms of construction starts. But aside from stimulatory polices and broad based strength, there are inevitably risk areas too, such as the overheating and inflation risks, the property market risks, and the local government debt risks. Evidence points to none of these coming squarely home to roost in 2011. If there's a slow down coming in China, it's a 2012 or 2013 story - so, no hard landing yet folks!

1. National Statistics Bureau
2. National Statistics Bureau
3. CFLP & Markit/HSBC & National Bureau of Statistics
4. China Customs
5. People's Bank of China

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