China revs up spending plan as economy cools

17 Août, 2018, 07:43 | Auteur: Auguste Feret
  • The economy is losing momentum just as China braces for a protracted trade conflict with the US

Markets reacted to the data calmly, with the onshore yuan little changed as of 4:00pm in Beijing yesterday, after tumbling about 8% over the last three months, making it Asia's worst performer.

Fixed-asset investment, the lifeblood of China's economy, expanded just 5.5 per cent in January-July, the slowest pace on record.

Industrial output also undershot expectations, weighed down by pollution curbs and the uncertain trade outlook, adding to expectations that the authorities would roll out more policy stimulus measures.

With the trade war threatening pressure on China's already slowing economy, Beijing has shifted focus to boosting domestic demand and is taking a more measured approach to reduce financial risks and debt, which has pushed up borrowing costs and triggered more defaults.

"The economy is slowing down as the result of the relatively tight policies in the past six quarters", said Gene Ma, chief China economist at the Institute of International Finance in Washington, who expects fiscal policy to be more supportive in the second half of 2018.

New yuan loans exceeded expectations in July, statistics showed on Monday, in one of the few bright spots in the most recent data.

With the economy switching into lower gear even without trade friction, Capital Economics has predicted China's central bank will soon slash its official lending rate for the first time since 2015.

The pace of fixed asset investment was the weakest on record going back to early 1996, according to data on Reuters Eikon.

Cong reiterated a pledge made by the ruling Communist Party's Politburo last month that China will still meet this year's economic growth target of around 6.5 percent, despite the trade war.

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Real estate investment rose 13.2 percent in July from the same period a year earlier, the fastest pace since October 2016 and higher than June's 8.4 percent rise, according to Reuters calculations. Retail sales also missed expectations, with Chinese consumers more reluctant to spend on everything from cosmetics and other everyday goods to big-ticket items such as home appliances and furniture. They rose 8.8 per cent in July from a year earlier, below an expected 9.1 per cent and down from 9.0 per cent in June, despite a broad import tax cut last month.

China's state planner pledged on Wednesday to keep debt levels under control even as Beijing rolls out fresh stimulus to support the stumbling economy as a trade war with the USA deepens.

But a Reuters poll of Chinese consumers found that almost one in three had considered boycotting USA products, with some already ceasing to buy items made in America. Industrial output failed to accelerate as expected.

China and the United States have imposed tariffs on each other's goods and more begin next week, with few signs that either side is ready to compromise.

But growth in infrastructure spending, a powerful economic driver, slowed to 5.7 per cent in the first seven months from 7.3 per cent.

However, some China watchers fear Beijing's shift in priorities might mark a return to its unrestrained, credit-fueled growth, reversing years of work by regulators to reduce risks in the financial system and stem a rapid build-up in debt.

Infrastructure loans also rebounded sharply in July.

Despite some progress in its risk crackdown in the last few years, China is still among the economies most at risk of a banking crisis, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) said earlier this year. Previous year the economy expanded 6.9 per cent.

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