IMF Cuts Its China Growth Forecasts Sharply

Screenshot of cover of IMF' July 2022 update to its World Economic Outlook

THE INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND has sharply cut its forecast for China’s growth this year and next as part of a gloomy mid-year update to its World Economic Outlook.

The Fund is now expecting China’s economy to grow 3.3% this year and 4.6% next, which is 1.1 percentage points and half a percentage point lower, respectively, from its April forecast.

The IMF cites the lockdowns to contain Covid-19 and the deepening real estate crisis, causing a sharper-than-expected slow down in the first half of the year, as the reasons it lowered its forecast. It warns that both could worsen, further reducing growth, while geopolitical fragmentation could impede global trade and cooperation.

The slowdown has already added to global supply chain disruptions.

COVID-19 outbreaks and mobility restrictions as part of the authorities’ zero-COVID strategy have disrupted economic activity widely and severely. Shanghai, a major global supply chain hub, entered a strict lockdown in April 2022, forcing citywide economic activity to halt for about eight weeks. In the second quarter, real GDP contracted significantly by 2.6 percent on a sequential basis, driven by lower consumption—the sharpest decline since the first quarter of 2020, at the onset of the pandemic, when it declined by 10.3 percent. Since then, more contagious variants have driven a worrisome surge in COVID-19 cases. The worsening crisis in China’s property sector is also dragging down sales and real estate investment. The slowdown in China has global consequences: lockdowns added to global supply chain disruptions and the decline in domestic spending are reducing demand for goods and services from China’s trade partners.

Chart showing impact of Covid-19 outbreaks in China on global supply chains. Source: IMF July 2022 update to World Economic Outlook

Growth of 3.3% would be China’s slowest growth in four decades, excluding the initial COVID-19 crisis in 2020. The official target of above 5% growth seems increasingly out of reach regardless of the infrastructure spending stimulus being poured into the economy.

Higher energy and food prices because of the war in Ukraine are external headwinds beyond Beijing’s control, as is policy tightening by the major central banks to tame inflation. What is in Beijing’s remit, a recalibration of the zero Covid strategy to reduce growth trade-offs, will be minimal at most.

Downside risks include larger-scale outbreaks of more contagious virus variants that trigger further widespread lockdowns under the zero-COVID strategy. In addition, delayed price and balance sheet adjustments in the property sector could cause a sudden, wider crisis or a protracted adjustment with broader macro-financial spillovers. A sustained slowdown in China would have strong global spillovers, whose nature will depend on the balance of both supply and demand factors. For example, further tightening of supply bottlenecks could cause higher consumer goods prices worldwide, but lower demand might ease commodity pressures and intermediate goods inflation.

Overall, the IMF expects slower growth and trade and higher inflation globally. It now puts global growth at 3.2% this year and 2.9% next, although it acknowledges that the risks are ‘overwhelmingly tilted’ to the downside. Its ‘plausible alternative scenario’, in which risks materialize and global growth slows to 2.6% this year and 2.0% in 2023, looks as plausible as its baseline scenario.

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