THE WORLD BANK has become more bullish on China, at least for the near-term. In its newly published annual Global Economic Prospects, it has upped its estimate of GDP growth in 2017 to 6.8% (an 0.3 percentage point increase from its forecast a year ago and reiterated in June) and said it expects 6.4% growth this year (an 0.1 percentage point increase from its previous number).
China benefited, the Bank now says, from the recovery in world trade last year, fiscal stimulus and the rebalancing of the economy, which eased the drivers of the economy away from state-led investment. Inflation rose but was still within target and housing price increases moderated in response to policy measures.
The current account surplus continued to narrow, but the clampdown on capital outflows meant that exchange-rate pressures eased and foreign-exchange reserves recovered modestly.
On the flip side, non-financial sector debt continued to grow, reaching 260% of GDP, regardless of further monetary and regulatory tightening. Credit growth still outpaces nominal GDP growth.
The Bank says that financial sector vulnerabilities — particularly high corporate indebtedness in sectors with overcapacity and deteriorating profitability — are one of the key downside risks to growth.
Others include the possibility of protectionist policies in advanced economies (for which read the United States) and rising geopolitical tensions (for which read mainly North Korea).
The Bank also expects the economy to continue its measured deceleration, averaging 6.3% growth in 2019 and 2020, and less beyond that as adverse demographics kick in over the next decade.
A steeper-than-expected slowdown or debt- or geopolitical-driven financial stress would have impacts well beyond China’s borders.
The Bank’s view is that authorities have substantial ‘policy buffers’ to absorb financial shocks. Nonetheless, it, like others, calls for further structural reform to reallocate economic activity towards more productive sectors.
This would include financial and corporate sector reform as well as greater efforts to deleverage and improve the fiscal sustainability of provincial, municipal and local government.