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在海一方

尔朱铭兰

 
 
 

日志

 
 

全球经济的中国茶叶占卜术  

2009-08-29 20:21:44|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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    早上读《加拿大环球邮报》看见这篇关于中国经济可爱的文章。

    另外还有一篇更可爱的文章,名为《论乔布斯和中国的共同点》,大意是说莫非,全球对中国经济的依赖性就如苹果公司对Steven Jobs的依赖。乔布斯同学换个肺,苹果的股票就全线下跌。这个作者是不是神叨叨地可爱?

    没错,现在全球的经济学家,经济评论家,财经专家都抱着杯中国茶,努力读懂茶叶排列的含义,占卜全球经济的未来。谁也没有想到,当英国产的立顿红茶袋随着美国快餐连锁店麦当劳的纸茶杯占领地球村的大部分地盘的时候,有一天,真的有一天,各位食家还是要把纸袋撕开了(谁让现在现在经济不那么好呢),把茶包里的茶叶倒出来权当喝叶茶了:)而且,那些茶叶末子,居然整整齐齐的排除5个星星呢?

    一个偶然机会,居然能问出过著名领导人传记的龙安志几个问题,我问他,有人说***和Allen GreenSpain都应该为中国经济和世界经济目前的局势负责。我知道一碰见这样的场合,我就总想当“杀手”(提Killer Question)。他果然被激到,哗啦哗啦谈了大概五分钟,当然是为中国经济喊好。

    我看,无论是国内的还是国外的老外,都看出个好来。谁要说不好,那一定是“别有用心”:)但是好不好,还是“羊群效应”,以人为本,只有中国的老百姓知道。

 

    (我其实挺想全文翻译以下文章,可是,字数实在太多了。大家自己看看吧。)

Investment banker全球经济的中国茶叶占卜术 - 兰格格 - 在海一方 Ken Courtis has his own personal gauge for determining the health of the Chinese economy, and it has nothing to do with often-questionable government statistics, an overheated stock market or soaring purchases of commodities.

If traffic is light enough that he can make it to five or more meetings a day in the usually choked streets of Beijing or Shanghai, and if people can actually fit him into their schedules, he knows business is bad. Conversely, if he can be squeezed into only two meetings a day, it means business is booming.

And these days? “At the moment, you can do three,” says Mr. Courtis, a former vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs Asia. It's as good a signal as any that China's economy is on the rebound.

Reading the Chinese tea leaves has become a prerequisite for global business. Every reported statistic is carefully scrutinized, and every blip – whether up, down or sideways – has the ability to move equity, bond and commodity markets全球经济的中国茶叶占卜术 - 兰格格 - 在海一方 around the world. Quite simply, the planet is pinning its hopes of a recovery from the depths of the worst recession since the Dirty Thirties on China being able to sustain its surprisingly boisterous growth of recent months.

Yet no one, least of all the experts, is sure about the true state of the Chinese economy, or whether it has the ability to carry the rest of the world on its coattails.

On paper, China's economy is blowing the doors off the West. Despite sharply falling exports, it grew at an impressive 7.9-per-cent annual clip in the second quarter from a year earlier, according to government data, and a stunning 15 per cent from the first quarter of 2009. There are predictions China will overtake Japan to become the world's second-largest economy by 2010. Five years ago, that didn't seem likely until 2020 at the earliest.

But China's all-star performance comes with a major-league-sized caveat: Official data are notoriously unreliable. Even the most bullish analysts concede the GDP numbers are flawed. That's because the Chinese rely on lower levels of government to collect the data.

Local officials win promotions based on the figures they produce, so they have a strong incentive to exaggerate. Each level is eager to juice the numbers to please those above.

China's National Statistics Bureau recognizes this and typically cuts the tallied figures, which helps explain why, even in the official statistics yearbooks, the provincial and national figures rarely add up.

The official stats also fail to account for the enormous impact of China's burgeoning underground economy, which includes such services as restaurants and an army of small, illegal mining operations.

Such under-the-radar activity accounts for about 20 per cent of China's economy, says Scotia Capital China analyst Na Liu. But it never shows up in the figures of economic output. “It's like a major city in China never goes shopping, according to the GDP,” Mr. Liu says.

ALTERNATIVE INDICATORS

To get a better read on the country's economic health, China watchers are increasingly turning to alternative indicators to supplement the government stats. They're tracking everything from electricity consumption to satellite images from Google Earth to make their calls on the economy.

What they're finding are reasons for equal measures of optimism and concern.

A massive four trillion yuan ($586-billion U.S.) stimulus package全球经济的中国茶叶占卜术 - 兰格格 - 在海一方 has spurred a deluge of domestic infrastructure projects. Looser credit conditions have spawned a record 7.4 trillion yuan in new loans in the first six months of the year – that's nearly a quarter of China's gross domestic product, and well in excess of the government's own target of five trillion yuan in new loans for the entire year.

As much as one-third of this cheap money has flowed straight into speculative investments in real estate, stocks and commodities全球经济的中国茶叶占卜术 - 兰格格 - 在海一方. And at least another third has gone to shore up struggling businesses in a tough economic environment. But there has been enough government money sloshing around to trigger fresh growth – and to create furious demand for Western commodities, including copper, iron ore and oil.

But the infrastructure spending and access to easy credit will soon come to an end. And that is where things could get dicey for China's economy.

The government's moves have likely exacerbated the overcapacity and inefficiency issues that have plagued some of China's largest state-controlled industries, such as steel making, that have received the lion's share of the new business loans. At the same time, smaller, more dynamic and entrepreneurial businesses, considered vital to China's long-term economic transformation, have been largely shut out of the government's stimulus and lending schemes.

Meanwhile, long-dormant Chinese consumers have sprung to life amid the current economic renaissance. Sales of vehicles and appliances have soared with the help of government rebates. But domestic consumption won't be enough to sustain current domestic growth once the stimulus measures peter out, let alone drive the global economy the way the American consumer did for so many years.

Daniel Rosen, a partner with the Rhodium Group, a New York-based advisory firm, is concerned that the rest of the world has become complacent about China's growth and “too laudatory” about what China has done to contribute to global recovery.

While China has admirably handled the stimulus element of its economic plan, it has failed to address deep-rooted constraints on the domestic economy. The Chinese remain too reliant on exports: “They haven't made the jump to domestic consumption-driven growth yet,” Mr. Rosen says.

Trying to decode the signals from China's hulking economy these days is no easy task. There are legitimate reasons to believe that a rebound is under way – but also signs that it may be fragile and unsustainable, once such vital props as unprecedented government spending and extremely loose monetary policy disappear.

COMMODITIES

A labourer loads steel wire coils at a steel market in Taiyuan, Shanxi province. Output from China’s gigantic steel sector has soared in response to the stimulus package and lending, boosting demand for foreign iron ore and coking coal. But with the stimulus money drying up, there are concerns that China’s appetite for commodities is beginning to slow.

No sector has benefited more from China's current financial might. China's aggressive purchasing has almost single-handedly driven an incredible rebound in copper prices and helped keep demand for iron ore and oil strong.

Amid the market meltdown last fall, China took advantage of low prices to stockpile copper in anticipation of the need for the metal used to make wire and pipe that would result from the slew of infrastructure projects. The buying also correctly predicted a pickup in housing construction.

“Looking at the commodities can give you a lot of confidence of where the economy is,” says Mr. Liu of Scotia Capital, who specializes in tracking Chinese commodity data as a gauge of overall economic health.

Last winter, when much of the world was bearish on China amid economic statistics indicating a major slowdown due to slumping export demand, Mr. Liu turned exceedingly bullish.

“When everybody was so bearish and thought things were going in the toilet, I talked to local people [in China] and I understood that people were buying copper and molybdenum and coking coal. Talking to these people, you were able to understand the tide was changing even though the macro data was still negative,” Mr. Liu says.

In the first six months of this year, China's consumption of refined copper jumped 48 per cent or 1.2 million tonnes. Even Chinese pig farmers have been jumping on the stockpiling bandwagon, storing scrap copper in their barns as a speculative investment.

China's massive steel industry has also picked up sharply, driving demand for iron ore and coking coal.

Mr. Rosen of The Rhodium Group agrees that commodities are a “fairly powerful” indicator, in part because the data is reliable. China's demand for foreign commodities can be correlated with export statistics from producing countries.

“There is no way for China to hide the supply and demand for things like iron ore and oil,” Mr. Rosen says.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Vehicles drive Jianguo Road in Beijing's central business district. Government statistics used to gauge the health of the Chinese economy are notoriously unreliable. They are compiled by local government officials who have an incentive to inflate the results. China watchers say, however, that the trend of the data can be trusted, if not the detailed numbers themselves.

New roads, bridges, tunnels, railways – they're all getting the green light in China right now.

The bulk of China's $586-billion stimulus package is flowing to infrastructure and there's no shortage of projects. Scores of construction plans that had been delayed during the heady days of 2006 and 2007, when the government was actually trying to temper growth, have now been given the go-ahead.

“The stimulus has simply brought the future expenditures to the forefront,” says Michael Deng, a China specialist with Canaccord Adams based in Calgary.

“The reason they can ramp up so quickly is because these projects had already been planned, but over a longer period. Now they are accelerating it.”

Infrastructure initiatives create jobs, improve the standard of living in underserviced areas and keep China's economy growing. As long as the money keeps flowing, there's almost no end to potential projects to finance because of China's sprawling geography and underdeveloped system of roads and railways.

LENDING

Credit is easy to come by in China today. The record pace of loans has helped prop up struggling businesses and offered consumers and industry the funds needed to expand.

Loosening credit flows is exceedingly simple in China. Under the state-controlled banking system, Beijing doesn't ask banks to lend. It orders them to. So far, the stimulus has not stoked inflation. In fact, Chinese consumer prices have been falling.

The majority of the record 7.4 trillion yuan in debt doled out this year has gone to state-controlled companies instead of more-vibrant private firms that are expanding at a quicker pace.

Critics argue that China's banks are setting themselves up for a wave of bad debt in coming years that could shake confidence in the country's financial institutions. But others believe that most of the debt has been adequately vetted.

“A lot of the feasibility for the new loans was made years ago,” says Scotia's Mr. Liu. “In the past few years, the Chinese government was fighting against overheating, so they killed a lot of legitimate investment projects.”

Fears of a U.S.-style real estate meltdown driven by easy mortgages are also overblown, argues Mr. Liu. Chinese home buyers generally put down 30 per cent of a property's value. For a second home, they must put down 40 per cent.

THE TREND

Even if one doesn't believe China's economic stats, the trend can still be a friend. Most China watchers say the data is more than accurate enough to show the overall direction of the Chinese economy, and that is all that really matters.

“There is so much data on the Chinese economy today and so much is integrated with the global markets that while the headline statistical releases from Beijing do generate considerable debate about Chinese statistics, by and large people feel they can gauge the general direction of China's economic movement,” Rhodium Group's Mr. Rosen says.

OFFICIAL STATISTICS

To put it simply, many of China's statistical indicators can be extremely opaque. Those that aren't, often don't add up. The most recent example came earlier this month, when first-half GDP figures released individually by China's 31 provinces were 10 per cent higher than the data released by the National Bureau of Statistics.

At a time when the world is looking to China as an engine of growth, the inconsistencies have become a continual source of embarrassment to the central government. Most analysts don't rely on the government-issued numbers.

Take the nearly-useless unemployment stats, for example. The Chinese version measures only local employment and completely ignores the vast numbers of migrant workers, who number about 150 million people – nearly five times the population of Canada. Beijing recently announced that nearly all of the more than 20 million migrant workers laid off earlier this year from their factory jobs had managed to find new jobs when they returned home. But the government didn't explain where it got such good news.

Even the Chinese media is doubting the data. China Daily, a state-backed English-language news outlet, quoted a poll recently that said 91 per cent of respondents are skeptical of the government official numbers, up from 79 per cent in 2007.

THE CONSUMER

Chinese shoppers are definitely spending more, with retail sales growth of 15 per cent in the first half of the year. But they remain frugal by Western standards. Chinese household spending as a percentage of GDP is about 35 per cent, half the U.S. level and well below even the Japanese ratio.

Eugene Hoshiko/AP

A customer walks out from a small clothing shop in Shanghai, China. The Chinese consumer is spending more. Retail sales increased 15 per cent in the first half of the year. Sales of autos and appliances have been boosted by government incentives. However, China’s transformation from an export-driven economy to a consumer-driven economy is still in its infancy.

The consumer expansion roughly offsets the decline in export earnings, leaving stimulus spending and public sector investment to account for just about all the current growth in the economy. Private sector investment is noticeably absent, as might be expected when the most profitable part of their business, exports to Western consumers, has fallen off a cliff.

Government largesse is not the recipe for sustained consumer-led growth. That task belongs to the private sector and the jobs it is capable of creating, provided it has access to the capital needed to shift away from exports and ramp up production of goods and services targeted at the domestic market.

To replace its reliance on exports, China is going to have to boost household consumption to 50 per cent of GDP, a tall order in any economy. In China, it will require a dramatic shift of capital and resources that could take years.

“They can't turn themselves inside out overnight,” says Mr. Courtis, the Hong Kong-based investment banker.

PERSISTENT OVERCAPACITY

Eugene Hoshiko/AP

Piles of containers at Waigaoqiao Container Port are seen in Shanghai, China. China’s struggling export market remains a key driver of the economy. The government hopes its stimulus spending will offset the export market until Western demand for Chinese goods recovers.

The flow of easy credit to inefficient state-backed entities in sectors like steel and cement has been a setback to hopes of purging China's economy of its less-competitive companies. For China's economy to truly mature, more financing must be made available to small and medium-sized businesses and private companies. Instead, 70 per cent of all loans still go to state-owned enterprises.

Chinese officials said this week that they intend to curb overcapacity in steel and cement, which have expanded as a side effect of the stimulus package, the construction boom and easy credit.

These statements, however, exacerbated concerns that China's commodity consumption is slowing, and the so-called restocking process is now largely complete. Chinese steel prices are falling after months of gains. The head of BHP Billiton Ltd., the world's largest mining company, has warned of sluggish Chinese metals demand.

The fear now being voiced in some circles is that any significant Chinese cutback will send shock waves through world commodity markets and cause prices to crash again. China could, in fact, spur another downturn in resource-producing nations such as Brazil, Russia and Canada.

FEAR OF SOCIAL UNREST

The biggest threat facing China's economy is what happens when the funds from the stimulus package and government loans have been exhausted. The fledgling Chinese consumer can't do the heavy lifting for the global economy, which means that Western demand for China's exports will have to come to the rescue. “I would argue we're probably going to be seeing a W-shaped recovery,” says Jennifer Richmond, senior China analyst with Stratfor, a global intelligence firm based in Austin, Tex. “Everything that they're doing really isn't long-term. They're still not addressing some of the root issues.”

Within the corridors of power in Beijing, the darkest fear is that economic change will bring with it social instability. In the northeastern province of Jilin last month, a mob of steel workers beat an executive to death after he arrived to tell workers their factory was to be privatized in a takeover that would lead to job cuts.

The paramount need to maintain stability at any cost underlies every economic policy move. It explains why, for example, long before the global downturn, Chinese banks were providing cheap credit to anyone promising to employ people, no matter how shaky their business plan. And it is also the reason Chinese authorities have started fretting about asset bubbles.

The last thing Beijing wants is an inflation problem. “It's so hard to manage social stability when you've got inflation,” Ms. Richmond says. “When people can't be fed, that's when you've got a problem.”

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