China

China faces slower growth

Monday, January 17th, 2022

China’s GDP development in the whole of 2021 (+8.1 percent) seems to look fine at the first sight. However, this high number has to be seen in the light of the weak growth of 2020 (recently revised downward to 2.2 percent) and, consequently, the low comparative levels from 2020.  GDP growth in Q4 (4 percent yoy) reflects current reality much better and must be seen as a disappointment and clear slowdown both by global analysts, their colleagues in China, Chinese politicians and also by many domestic and international companies outside China.

The problem of credibility and the way of sending messages

The publication of the Chinese GDP development in Q4 and the whole previous year – again very early in the middle of January – is usually a major statistical event for Chinese and foreign analysts. This can be said despite the fact or concern that major progress in the statistical quality of China’s GDP as a whole and the different components still cannot be singled out. And certainly not either very much as far as the quality of economic growth itself is concerned since it remains impossible to deeply analyze all GDP components.

Many years of not really reliable Chinese GDP numbers unfortunately means that possible limited qualitative improvements initially remain difficult to be found or confirmed by external experts. Here we come to the psychology of sending and receiving messages, a well-known research area from behavioral finance. At the same time, it is known from research that improvements of institutional shortcomings tend to take quite some time to be visible and / or believable, in certain cases even generations.

What do the new growth GDP numbers really mean? 

If we look at previous official forecasts or objectives for 2021, one can compare with Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s forecast of “more than 6 percent”  for GDP growth at the National Party Congress (NPC) in the beginning of March last year. This objective has been clearly met by the published annual average growth number of 8.1 percent – one more time almost exactly in line with expectations.

Considering the outcome of GDP growth in Q4 leads, however, to the conclusion that Chinese growth has been slowing down markedly in the course of 2021(yoy Q1: + 18.3 %, Q2: + 7.9 %, Q3: +4.9, Q4: + 4.0) – due to gradually higher comparative GDP levels in the course of 2020, and in the last year to distortions from the supply side, corona (fears) and other contributions from uncertainty.

 

The outlook for 2022 – substantial problems are still there

In my view, China will be confronted with different kinds of problems also in 2022. It really should be emphasized that interdisciplinary analysis will be particularly important in 2022 and beyond. Examples of different non-economic approaches with possible impact on the economy can be given for the forthcoming quarters – and partly even years – from

¤  politics: relations to the US, the EU, protectionism;

¤  social challenges: handling  the pandemic (omicron included), demography;

¤  institutions: the ability of managing the real estate problems;

¤  health: the fight against covid-19;

¤ psychology: reactions on Chinese politics in China and abroad, confidence from consumers, investors, financial markets, etc.

Possible growth objectives and indications

Important indications come certainly from the most two most important influential members of China’s dominating political institution, the Standing Committee (of the Central Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China) – with President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang on the top. Probably at the NPC in March at the latest.

Three alternatives for the GDP-growth objective in 2022 are theoretically in the cards according to my view:

a) an optimistic one ->  would be back to (more than) 6 percent like for 2021,

b) a quite cautious one -> would be 5 percent or less,

c) a position somewhere between the optimistic and the cautious one -> would be around 5 percent.

Even if calculations of China’s potential GDP are extremely difficult to prepare because of the insufficient quality of necessary statistics, one can assume that potential GDP growth when applying official statistics currently may be around 5.5 percent or what I above define as “between optimistic and cautious” (reflecting only half of the potential growth rate that was achieved on average from 1980-2010). Could this current potential growth number turn out to be the official GDP objective for 2022?

Whatever the most correct number for potential GDP growth may be, China’s economic growth has been clearly downsizing in the past decade.

Hubert Fromlet
Affiliate Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
Editorial board

 

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China and India in a demographic perspective – a giant future issue

Thursday, December 16th, 2021

In my latest blog – to be found below this article in chinaresearch.se – I summed up a number of mostly economic areas which usually are influenced by demographic developments. There exists indeed a lot of scientific evidence showing many examples of relationships between demographics and, for example, labor markets, education or social welfare.

I certainly will come back to the topic of demography in the future for focusing on different angles. Today, however, I will mainly look at the demographic outlook for China and India. Many pages could be written about this specific issue. But the limited volume for this blog does not allow for extended articles or papers.

Statistics tells a lot – despite shortcomings

We know that there often exist major difficulties for responsible authorities to count more or less exactly the number of their country’s population. Human or administrative resources may be too limited. A substantial part of the population may be migrating farmers accepting time-limited works in cities, often badly paid. Many workers also stay temporarily abroad for making (somewhat) more money – often under quite miserable conditions. We also know very well about the destiny of many refugees having left their home countries.

Consequently, we have to accept the population statistics that is available. There is no choice if demographic trends in emerging or very poor countries shall be analyzed. Foreign companies entering or making business in such a kind of country certainly want to have a population number for the country they are (interested) in. Therefore, I use to follow for my own purposes https://www.worldometers.info/world-population / – but there are many other sources as well and quite easy to find.

Important data for population statistics:

China India
Population (billion, 2020) 1.447 Trend since 2000 1.400 Trend since 2000
-yearly change 0.39 clearly decreasing 0.99 decreasing slowly
Median age 38.4 clearly increasing 28.4 increasing slowly
Life expectancy 77.5 70.4
Fertility rate 1.69 basically unchanged 2.24 decreasing slowly
Urban population (% of total) 60.8 strongly increasing 35.0 increasing slowly
Share of global population (%) 18.47 clearly down 17.7 increasing slowly

Of course, there are many more indicators and specific calculations that confirm additionally that India has more favorable demographic preconditions than China. Furthermore, China will increasingly feel the consequences of its perennial one-child policy which was relaxed only a few years ago after having applied this kind of birth control during 35 years – also having led to an increasingly uneven distribution between men and women – with negative demographic consequences.

Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen has been talking in such a context about the “missing women” which will be a burden for China many years ahead. The continuous urbanization process will give negative contributions to demography as well since the urban female labor force increasingly seems to change or reduce their family ambitions.

Demography favors India but more (other) progress is needed – China aims increasingly at new sources of economic growth

Altogether, China’s demographic outlook does not look encouraging. But what about India? The briefly summarizing table above seems to prove that India clearly will turn out to be the winner in the future demographic race and, consequently, the country with the better growth perspectives as many analysts predict. Indeed, this outcome could come true.

At the same time, we should recognize that also India will be facing growth obstacles in the forthcoming decades. Examples of these obstacles are, for example, India’s slow political reform procedures, insufficient financial resources, shortcomings in infrastructure and lagging broad education systems, etc. As one of India’s leading economists told me a few years ago, India is primarily enforced to improve and broaden its educational system – also geographically – for visibly benefiting from the demographic advantage.

Since we do not know to what extent India will be able to improve its weaknesses – education included – it remains uncertain whether India with its comparative advantage from demography will surpass China in GDP-growth terms in the very long run. China’s ambitions for the future are clearly based on mainly good infrastructure, broad education, new technology and the obvious upgrading of private consumption to counteract the negative demographic challenges. These efforts should be observed on a regularly basis.

Hubert Fromlet
Affiliate Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
Editorial board

 

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China’s weak demographic outlook – an “invisible” threat to economic growth

Tuesday, December 7th, 2021

There are not many growth indicators that can give more obvious indications on economic growth in the long run than demographics, determined by the future development of population in a country – both of working and non-working (retired) people. We know from research and experience in the real world that many economic and social areas can be influenced by demographic changes and needs – coming from or affecting (without special ranking) –>

# the composition, size and skills of the labor force,

# migration,

# education,

# public finance and debt,

# inflation, interest rates, monetary policy,

# pensions,

# health care,

# environmental needs and changes,

# housing and residential construction,

# urban and total infrastructure,

# institutions of all kinds,

# security (mainly locally),

# digital skill needs (including the elderly),

# new micro preferences created by the different population groups (e.g. “consumption habits”),

# the ever ongoing fight against poverty and/or social inequality in both advanced, emerging and poor developing countries and the access of unemployed to labor markets.

A very good article on the issue of demographics has been published by Loretta Mester a few years ago which I recommend interested readers to study further https://www.clevelandfed.org/newsroom-and-events/speeches/sp-20171116-demographics-and-their-implications-for-the-economy-and-policy.aspx.

Global population still growing …

In general terms, we know that the whole global population will increase further in the forthcoming decades according to forecasts by the United Nations – from currently close to 8 billion people to almost 10 billion by the year 2050 before reaching a predicted peak of around 11 billion at the end of the century. This forecast assumes a continuous development to more global urbanization. However, despite the fact that population forecasts tend to be quite reliable, forecasts as much as 80 years ahead are certainly not an easy call.

Fast-growing populations – in absolute numbers with impact on global population – will be noted in the forthcoming decades, particularly in countries like India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Brazil. In this context, India is much better off than China – but needs to provide its (younger) population with enough encouraging education for managing a clearly positive GDP-contribution. In a continental perspective, Africa had in 2020 the fastest population growth (+2.49%) and Europe by far the weakest (+0.06 %). However, Africa must improve political systems, institutions (health), bureaucracy, education, digitalization, etc. for really taking advantage of its rapidly rising population.

Negative population trends are currently visible as well, totally in almost 30 countries. The source below gives many details about global population trends – and also expansions / declines in different continents and countries (https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/; each and every table there tells a lot about population developments).

Examples of shrinking population trends can currently be observed in Italy, Poland, the Ukraine, some countries in South Eastern Europe and Venezuela. Even Japan has been facing the same problem since a few years ago. China will be there not very far away from now. Demographic stagnation finally was noted a year ago, in, for example, Russia, Spain, the Netherlands and South Korea.

Normally, a weak or weakening population trend can be explained by a more rapidly ageing population, a declining share of birth trends and sometimes also by emigration waves. The birth-trend factor itself can be influenced by major social trends like a rapidly increasing entry of women into universities and labor markets. More women are also starting or predicted to change their historical family and fertility traditions.

Summing up: Remember that not all countries will have a growing population in the forthcoming decades! Negative trends will be in place as well.

… but down in China with weakening potential GDP growth 

China itself  is not very frequently talking about its future demographic challenges and instead playing down the risks that are obviously existing. It remains difficult to find Chinese statistical population sources going back in history. Western sources on the other hand offer mostly easier access to the Chinese development of population – but without pointing at the quality factor of all these figures (e.g. https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/china-population/ ;  https://www.statista.com/statistics/263765/total-population-of-china/; https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=CN).

 

Chinese population trends

  1995 2020
Total population (mill) 1241 1439
Change in population +1.07 +0.39
Median age 27.4 38.4
Fertility rate 1.83 1.69
Urban population (%) 30.9 60.8

 

Looking at this little table above explains partly the currently more slowly growing GDP – look hereby at the decreasing fertility rate, the rising average age and the rapidly accelerating share of the urban population in the past 25 years (with increasing environmental problems)!

Since there exists scientific evidence that more slowly growing or decreasing population  negatively affects potential GDP growth in a country, China’s expected population decline  will – ceteris paribus – reduce potential growth, starting probably at some point in the next decade. Before that, other factors may have already started a visible slowdown in the Chinese economy. Can all this be counteracted by major technological progress?

New demand patterns

In micro terms, the above-mentioned demographic trends – particularly the negative ones -point unavoidably at new demand patterns for many companies of all sizes. This includes new products, product innovation, design and volumes. More differentiation between countries, cultures and companies will be or may be needed – but also new angles for the location of production and other corporate activities. Demographic changes may concern demand side sectors like construction, communication, transports, urban apartments, furniture, services offered by banks and insurance companies, health and medicare services, food, leisure time, sports, concerts, etc. – all factors that will need environmental considerations as well.

More political attention needed to capture demographic changes

In a demographic perspective, more differentiation between age groups, cultures, countries, and companies will be needed for the analysis by corporations – also including new corporate strategic angles for the location of units for research, production, sales and purchasing.

Applying another angle: All the demographic challenges described above should lead to more political attention and action, too. This is still not happening ambitiously enough these days.

Unfortunately, neither in advanced nor in emerging / developing countries!

 

Hubert Fromlet
Affiliate Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
Editorial board

 

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