China Growth Picks up as Stimulus Takes Hold. This publication is a new regular report focusing on macro developments in China relevant to investors across asset classes and markets.
- China steps up monetary and fiscal stimulus, marking a key policy turning point
- The People’s Bank of China (PBoC) cuts reserve ratios for small and rural banks
- Data releases over the past months indicate stimulus policies are starting to have an impact
- Structural reform remains high on the policy agenda, but growth takes precedenc
China steps up monetary and fiscal stimulus, marking a key policy turning point. Over the past month a number of fiscal and monetary policy initiatives and speeches by senior leaders has made it clear that China will “do whatever it takes” to ensure growth stays in the 7%-8% range, with the upper half of the range preferred. We believe growth bottomed in Q1, with a relatively robust rebound in store in H2, marking a key economic turning point after three years of slowdown.
The People’s Bank of China (PBoC) cuts reserve ratios for small and rural banks, adding monetary stimulus to the fiscal stimulus already announced earlier this year. While in of themselves the cuts are unlikely to be highly stimulative, they signal the government is serious about improving credit conditions for certain segments of the economy, including rural areas and small enterprises. Remarks by PBOC officials indicate that targeted credit easing is now being encouraged.
Data releases over the past months indicate stimulus policies are starting to have an impact. Industrial production, retail sales, loan growth, fixed asset investment, exports and inflation have all picked up over the past two months, and we anticipate further gains in H2 2014.
Structural reform remains high on the policy agenda, but growth takes precedence. The clampdown on corruption and non-productive lending, the move to a true market-driven economy, improvement in environmental standards, and improved land rights for rural citizens remain key goals of the government. However, maintaining strong employment growth and social stability will take priority if there are short term conflicts between the two agendas – as there have been recently.
STIMULUS MARKS POLICY TURNING POINT
We expect China economic growth to pick up in the second half of the year, supported by loosening fiscal and monetary policy as well as improving external demand. China’s Premier has made it clear that he will do ”whatever it takes” (to paraphrase Mario Draghi) in order to maintain economic growth close to 7.5%, a level considered necessary to maintain full employment and social stability. In addition to the fiscal loosening announced earlier this year, monetary easing has now started earlier than most analysts expected.
Reserve requirement rate cut
The People’s Bank of China (PBoC) cut the reserve requirement ratio for small and rural banks by 50bps, effective June 16th. The announced cuts are in addition to the 50-200bps reserve ratio cuts for rural banks in April 2014. The cuts have been limited and carefully targeted, leaving plenty of dry-powder for deeper and broader cuts down the line. The cuts are also in line with the longer term moves to liberalise the banking system through gradual deposit interest rate liberalisation and bank consolidation.
Estimates of how much new liquidity the moves will inject vary from 95 billion Yuan to 50 billion Yuan. The change in the reserve ratio will apply to approximately two thirds of city commercial banks, 80% of non-county level rural commercial banks and 90% of non-county level rural cooperative banks.
Monetary and credit growth appears to be responding positvely to the cuts in the reserve ratios for rural banks earlier this year.
Potential changes to the loan-to-deposit ratio
The Deputy Chairman of China’s banking regulator, Wang Zhaoxin, said on 6 June that the regulator is considering adjusting the calculation of loan-to-deposit ratios (LDR). Many banks have hit the 75% cap and therefore their capacity to lend is constrained. It is expected that over the medium term, China will move to a liquidity-at-risk framework, eliminating the LDR requirement. But that would require a change in the Commercial Bank Law. For now, it is likely the changes will entail excluding certain types of loans from the calculation to allow banks to lend more freely, especially to small-to-medium sized companies.
Two-way currency risk maintained
The PBoC allowed the renminbi appreciate by 0.6% in the first half of June, defying those who thought the country had switched to currency depreciation strategy. The authorities have been at pains to introduce two-way currency risk to encourage better market discipline and prepare the country for further financial and currency market liberalisation. In our view, with the balance of payments still in regular surplus, reserves continuing to accumulate and the government actively encouraging a shifting emphasis from external to domestic-led growth and a continued move up the value-added chain, the renminbi will maintain a medium-term appreciation trend.
Local government financing reform being eased in
Following abuses in the early 90’s, local governments have been largely excluded from issuing bonds, with bank loans the main source of financing. However, reform is now being introduced, with the government stepping up its efforts to develop the municipal bond markets (with encouragement from the IMF) in order to increase transparency and reduce the growing reliance on hard to measure and control “shadow-banking” financing vehicles.
While the full development of a municipal bond market is some way off, the Ministry of Finance has been issuing bonds on behalf of local governments and some local governments are able to issue bonds within a quota. A total of 10 local governments can issue bonds with Beijing, Jiangxi, Ningxia and Qingdao being added to the list last month. The Ministry of Finance last week introduced the requirement that local governments must obtain credit ratings to issue bonds in a bid to bolster credit risk management. Last week the Ministry auctioned 51.6bn Yuan (US$8.3bn) worth of 3 and 5 year local government bonds.
Local government’s role in achieving targets reaffirmed
Premier Li Keqiang pressed local leaders last month to help the economy achieve its annual growth target. Li reminded local leaders of their “inescapable responsibility” to achieve this year’s economic targets and stressed that “no delay in action is allowed”.
Real economy responding to fiscal stimulus
Last month the State Council announced it will boost public investment in railway, highway, waterways, and aviation-network construction in the Yangtze River basin and cut some utility companies’ taxes by a total of about 24bn Yuan (US$3.9bn) a year. That will be positive for growth this year.
The real economy is already beginning to respond to the stimulus put in place earlier this year with industrial production, retail sales, loan growth, fixed asset investment, exports and inflation all rising and coming in higher than consensus expectations this month.
Investor sentiment is starting to improve
Recent actions and statements by key government officials and policy-makers make it clear that China will continue to pursue its reform agenda – at a more moderate pace if necessary – while loosening fiscal and monetary policy in order to reverse the three year economic slowdown. With economic data becoming more consistently positive and the government’s easing stance becoming more transparent, the China’s local A share market has started to trend higher. As one of the world’s cheapest equity markets, we believe that if the current policy stance continues and growth rebounds in H2, China domestic equity markets are in a position to outperform.
This communication has been provided by ETF Securities (UK) Limited (”ETFS UK”) which is authorised and regulated by the United Kingdom Financial Conduct Authority (the ”FCA”).