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Canadian businesses have much to lose if China puts security over economy, experts say – CBC News

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China’s mediocre economic growth, paired with the issue’s neglect during the recent 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, has raised concerns about the country’s lack of attention to economic policy.

According to experts, that disregard by the world’s second-largest economy could have a damaging impact on Canadian business and beyond.

China announced on Monday that its gross domestic product had risen 3.9 per cent in the third quarter compared with the same period a year earlier. The figure fell below Beijing’s 5.5 per cent growth target and well behind the eight per cent experts say is required to support future population and economic growth in China.

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Beijing had delayed releasing its GDP data on Oct. 18, the second day of the party’s congress. It’s likely that Beijing wanted to keep economic growth and its consequences out of the headlines during the congress, which ended on Oct. 22, said John Gruetzner, co-founder of Asia-focused business advisory firm Intercedent and a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

The weeklong party congress, held twice a decade to appoint new leaders, assess the constitution and affirm China’s ideological orientation, is perhaps the most significant event on the Chinese Communist Party’s calendar. It ended with President Xi Jinping securing an unprecedented third term as party leader, presiding over a cabinet loyal to his ambitions of consolidating power, deterring opposition and extending term limits.

A man standing at a public display case reads newspaper coverage of the 20th Communist Party Congress, in Beijing on Monday. The weeklong party congress, held twice a decade, is perhaps the most significant event on the party’s calendar. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Canada’s exports to China rose in 2021

Withholding data that’s as significant to trade relations as GDP was “pretty much unprecedented for any major trading country,” said Charles Burton, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a former counsellor at the Canadian Embassy in China and an associate professor of Chinese and comparative politics at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., until 2020.

“I’m not sure what signal China’s sending to global trading partners by not providing us with the normal kind of interaction we would expect, which would be a statement of China’s economic prospects,” Burton said prior to the GDP release.

China’s 3.9 per cent third-quarter growth was a bounceback from spring’s measly growth of 0.4 per cent. In the end, “the number came back stronger than many had anticipated, including us,” said Andrew Hencic, senior economist with TD Bank. Its economists had estimated growth of 2.8 per cent.

New vehicles ready for export are parked at a dockyard in Yantai, in eastern China’s Shandong province, on Oct. 13. China’s 3.9 per cent GDP growth in the third quarter was a big improvement from spring’s sluggish growth of 0.4 per cent. (Chinatopix/The Associated Press)

“Looking forward, we’ll see to what extent that moment can be carried through,” Hencic said. That’s especially true as countries around the world, including Canada, are anxious to see whether, to their detriment, Xi will place national security and politics ahead of economic performance.

“It’s clear that over a period of time, one-party states ultimately tend to hit a wall,” Gruetzner said. “If you don’t have multiple inputs into your economic and social policy, you’re ultimately going to have an economic growth problem.”

Canada counts China as its third-most valuable trading partner, behind the United States and the European Union, but second if EU countries were counted individually. Canada’s exports to China grew steadily throughout 2021 to $28.8 billion, according to the University of Alberta — the highest amount since before the COVID-19 pandemic and $10 billion more than was exported in 2016.

The agriculture, meat, paper and mining industries, which drive Canadian exports to China, must be cognizant of how GDP slowdowns might impact their investments in China’s economy, Gruetzner said.

Miners work underground at Vale’s Thompson mine in northern Manitoba. Along with the mining industry, agriculture, meat and paper drive Canadian exports to China. Canada counts China as its third-most valuable trading partner, behind the United States and the European Union. (Katie Nicholson/CBC)

Iron ore, oil, coal and copper prices, in particular, react “very, very quickly” to shifts in Chinese GDP growth, he said. “There’s a whole portion of the Canadian economy that requires China to have the demand. Certainly in the western provinces.”

Share prices in Canadian fertilizer company Nutrien, based in Saskatoon, and Teck Resources Ltd., an agricultural feed developer and metals company headquartered in Vancouver, both saw dips on the Toronto Stock Exchange the day of China’s GDP release ($113.07 to $108.33, and $48.05 to $46.95, respectively).

GDP growth in China faces obstacles

China’s zero-COVID policy and housing crisis have continued to hold back the world’s second-largest economy from a full economic recovery post-pandemic, Burton said. Both will likely impact China’s export-oriented economy and “could be quite disturbing for Canadian business and the global economy in general,” he said.

Although Beijing’s zero-COVID policy has kept total infections in the country of 1.4 billion people to just over one million, it’s hampered the efficiency of China’s ports, decommissioned half of its highways and instituted a total shutdowns of cities that together account for 40 per cent of China’s GDP, according to a report from Alicia Garcia Herrero, the chief economist  for Asia-Pacific at French investment bank Natixis.

China strengthened its commitment to the zero-COVID policy this week, sealing buildings, locking down districts and placing millions at home as the country on Friday reported 1,000-plus cases for three consecutive days.

People wearing face masks stand in line at a COVID-19 testing site in Beijing on Oct. 12. Although China’s zero-COVID policy has kept cases relatively low in the country of 1.4 billion people, it’s come at the expense of the economy. (Mark Schiefelbein/The Associated Press)

China’s housing sector is also in the midst of a serious crisis. A lack of government funds has led to several delays in housing construction, and Chinese borrowers who paid for their homes in advance have been left without their investment, Burton said. Local governments in China traditionally fund operations through land auctions and have felt the consequences in their coffers.

Were Chinese economic growth to stay below eight per cent, there would be consequences for the country’s ability to meet its more than $9 trillion US debt obligations, as well as youth unemployment, Gruetzner said.

In 2020, China’s Ministry of Education reported that nearly a quarter of college graduates could not find work, following years of plentiful jobs due to strong economic growth over the past two decades.

Reports from China’s 20th Communist Party Congress suggest that the government will nonetheless prioritize national security and military growth in the face of U.S. competition ahead of focusing attention on the economy for its own sake and that of its trading partners, Burton said.

WATCH | China’s leader calls for military growth at Communist Party Congress:

Xi kicks off Communist Party Congress, calls for China’s military growth

13 days ago

Duration 3:25

China’s Communist Party kicked off its 20th Congress in Beijing, with President Xi Jinping calling for faster military growth. Xi also touted his government’s COVID-19 policies and refused to rule out the use of force against Taiwan.

China is on record as wanting to redirect its agricultural and commodity imports away from Western suppliers and toward those in South America and Africa, Gruetzner said.

Burton said both should be a consideration for Canada as it openly reassess trade relationships in the region.

Workers wearing face masks ride on tricycle carts loaded with goods in Beijing last month. China’s zero-COVID policy and housing crisis have continued to hold back the world’s second-largest economy from a full economic recovery post-pandemic, one analyst says. (Andy Wong/The Associated Press)

Canada plans to release Indo-Pacific policy

During a speech in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 12, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland suggested Western democratic countries prioritize free trade with one another and limit opportunities for states actively working against their values. Governance in Russia and China, for example, has become increasingly consolidated and autocratic.

Those considerations could be a feature of the upcoming Indo-Pacific policy statement, which Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, Mélanie Joly, said would be released following the Chinese party congress and before the end of the year.

Mélanie Joly, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, right, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speak at the federal government’s official guest house in Ottawa on Thursday. Joly announced that Canada plans to seek membership to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity. (Blair Gable/Pool/The Associated Press)

“In the coming decades, developments in the Indo-Pacific region will have profound impacts on the lives of Canadians from coast to coast to coast,” Joly said in a news release, adding that Canada is committed to strengthening its presence in the region.

On Thursday, during a visit to Ottawa by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Joly announced that Canada plans to seek membership to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity to boost economic co-operation.

“There will be a strong section on implications for the economy” within the coming policy statement, Burton said. “A lot of businesses would like to see what the government’s intentions are before they consider their choices with regard to investment in China.”

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China’s Economy Is In for a Bumpy Ride as Covid Zero Comes to an End

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(Bloomberg) — Three years after the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Wuhan, Chinese policymakers must now grapple with how to live with the virus while keeping the economy growing fast enough to stave off public anger.

With the Covid Zero policy being rapidly dismantled, the threat of economic disruption remains high. Infections are likely to surge, forcing workers to stay home, businesses may run out of supplies, restaurants could be emptied of customers and hospitals will fill up. Even though there’s optimism the economy will recover as China opens up to the rest of the world, the next six months could be particularly volatile.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. expects below-consensus economic growth in the first half of next year, saying the initial stages of reopening will be negative for the economy, as was the experience in other East Asian economies. Morgan Stanley predicts China’s economy to remain “subpar” through the first half of next year. Standard Chartered Plc said growth in urban consumer spending will still lag pre-pandemic rates next year given the hit to household incomes during the pandemic.

The economy was already in bad shape this year because of the Covid outbreaks and a property market crisis. While China’s zero tolerance approach to combating infections has kept infections and deaths relatively low for most of the pandemic, the rapid spread of the highly infectious omicron variant exposed the challenges of maintaining strict controls. From snap city-wide lockdowns to almost-daily Covid tests, the restrictions have taken a heavy toll on people’s lives and the economy.

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That discontent manifested in mass unrest at the end of last month. People in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere started to reject demands for quarantines or lockdowns of their housing estates, and between Nov. 25 and Dec. 5, at least 70 mass protests occurred across 30 cities, according to data compiled by think-tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Authorities have moved to quell public anger by relaxing some Covid requirements around testing and quarantine — although the sudden and confusing changes to the rules over the past few weeks have injected more uncertainty about the economy’s outlook.

Here’s a deeper look at the economy’s downturn and the challenges it faces as China exits Covid Zero.

People have been cooped up in their homesChina’s cities have been hit hard by Covid restrictions, with mobility across the country’s 15 largest cities plummeting in recent months, according to congestion data released by Baidu Inc.

Major hubs are showing strain, including the capital Beijing, as well as Chongqing and Guangzhou. Trips there have plunged in recent months below levels in previous years, according to subway data compiled by Bloomberg.

Few have borne the brunt of China’s Covid Zero policy more than the financial hub of Shanghai, a major epicenter for recent protests. After a two-month lockdown this year to tackle a major outbreak, China’s richest city is still struggling to get back up off its knees.

Malls have seen a surge in vacancies, consumer spending has plunged, and spending in areas like food and beverages has been depressed, mirroring the national trend.

Lack of spending has hit the economy hardCovid restrictions have battered the economy, with consumers pulling back on spending and business output plunging. Retail sales unexpectedly contracted 0.5% in October from a year earlier, with economists surveyed by Bloomberg predicting an even worse outcome of a decline of 3.9% in November.

The government is expected to miss its economic growth target of around 5.5% by a significant margin this year. The consensus among economists is for growth of just 3.2%, which would be the weakest pace since the 1970s barring the pandemic slump in 2020.

With onerous testing rules, flare ups in holiday spots, and official advice discouraging travel, holidaymakers have stayed home, adding a further drag on retail spending. Tourism revenue declined 26% to 287 billion yuan ($40.3 billion) over the week-long National Day holiday in October compared to the same period last year. Flight travel also dropped to its lowest levels since at least 2018.

Youth unemployment is near a record high

That’s all combined to drive growing economic malaise among the country’s youth, with the unemployment rate among 16-24 year-olds soaring to a record high of about 20% earlier this year. Joblessness among young people is more than triple the national rate, with many graduates struggling to find work in the downturn, especially in the technology and property-related industries.

Unemployment will likely get worse next year, when a new crop of 11.6 million university and college students are expected to graduate, adding to pressure in the labor market. Factories are still struggling to cope with Covid outbreaks

So far during the pandemic, the industrial sector has held up better than consumer spending since factories were protected from Covid outbreaks and global demand for Chinese-made goods was strong. That’s changing now.

Export demand is plummeting as consumers around the world grapple with soaring inflation and rising interest rates.

The disruption at a major assembly plant in Zhengzhou for Apple Inc.’s iPhones and violent protests there last month also show the damage that outbreaks can have on production.

The housing market crisis continues to simmer

China’s ongoing real estate slump has also been a source of unhappiness for homebuyers.  The property market, which has long been a major driver of the country’s economy, is in its worst downturn in modern history, with sales and prices plummeting. Cash-strapped property developers struggled to finish building homes, prompting mortgage boycotts by thousands of buyers in the summer.

Despite authorities introducing a spate of measures recently to help make borrowing easier and ease tight cash flows for developers, the economy’s downturn and lack of confidence mean the housing market continues to be depressed. The slump is not expected to end soon, with Bloomberg Economics expecting a 25% drop in property investment in the coming decade.Local governments are struggling to fund their spending

Government finances have come under severe pressure as the economy slumped. Land revenues have plummeted and local governments have had to boost spending on Covid control measures. The broad measure of the fiscal deficit in the first 10 months of the year is nearly triple the amount it was in the same period last year.

Relaxing testing and quarantine rules will help ease pressure on local government finances. However, it remains to be seen how far and fast authorities will go in dismantling Covid Zero if a surge in Covid cases puts strain on the healthcare system, a likely outcome given that a significant portion of the country’s elderly and vulnerable population are still unvaccinated or lacking booster shots.

–With assistance from Kevin Varley, Jin Wu, Danny Lee and Fran Wang.

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The US Fed’s Balance Sheet Shows What’s Happening To The Economy

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The mother of all charts is below. This is the Federal Reserve balance sheet history straight from their website:

This is where the world’s inflation comes from. Not all, of course, because central banks around the world have done the same. In goes new money and up goes the price of stuff. Now if there is less stuff, then up goes the price even more. However, without new money prices cannot rise across the board, inflation is always about money supply.

This is why the Fed is reining it in. Down goes money supply, down goes asset prices.

Now there is one modifying factor. If you pump new money into an economy and that money goes to drive up the prices of illiquid assets, then the inflationary impact will be in those illiquid assets and the new money will be locked up there and will only dribble into the “real economy.” Let’s say you pump in money and make it easy to be grabbed by people buying houses or stocks but make it hard to be grabbed by people buying groceries, well then up will go the price of houses and stocks but groceries will not be that much affected. The lucky (rich) folk with the stocks and house will get much richer and the people who need to buy groceries will get left behind somewhat but at least there won’t be runaway inflation outside of stocks and houses. Woe betide an economy that hands out money to people to buy groceries because boy is everyone in for a bout of inflation then.

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Ring any bells?

So to get prices under control you have to drain money from the system because when there is too much in the wrong places it starts rushing around bidding up the price of everything.

There is too much money in the system and that money is parked and it’s parked at the Federal Reserve where banks who can’t use a big chunk of this new money have kind of handed it back to the Federal Reserve to look after. That is the reverse repo which has gone out of whack with all the new money magicked up to bridge the pandemic.

Here is a chart of it:

Note how it matches the Fed balance sheet in character. This money is a bulwark for the banks if things get tricky as they can pull this cash out and back into play in the real economy, but in normality it would be down at 2014-2018 levels if there was just about the right level of money in the system. The Fed will feel there is plenty of room to tighten while these balances are high because if banks need liquidity, there it is.

This is where the big call lies. If banks were to say to the Fed, nope we aren’t going to lend to anyone but you and turn the real economy into a credit desert while damming up the cash with the Federal Reserve then there is no hope of a “soft landing.” If the money stays in the system as is then inflation should run its course and the new money supply would match new price levels, which wouldn’t be so bad, but the trouble is government fiscal deficits would then necessitate further money supply increases creating further inflation which could only be combatted with more interest rate rises, causing a vicious circle of high inflation and stagnation. That is what happen in the 1970s…

But that is all “what if.”

The real map is the progress of these two charts. If these balances fall without much drama then all is working out well, but if tightening starts to badly disrupt the economy without these levels falling materially then it will be a signal to take cover.

The institutions think inflation is about to fall sharply and that then new QE will restart. I say ‘good luck with that.’ However, these charts will provide the guidance necessary to judge the likely outcome ahead.

For me there needs to be a capitulation to define the new beginning we are entering and that hasn’t happened yet.

Once again these charts will give a solid indication of what’s up next.

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Quebec looking at $8-billion contingency fund ‘for economic risks’

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QUEBEC — Following up on those pre-Christmas cheques for millions of Quebecers, the Legault government now is coming to the aid of seniors struggling with the cost of living.

But the government is warning the days of Quebec’s record economic growth are coming to an end as the full effects of a worldwide slowdown take hold. To that end and “as a precaution,” Quebec has developed an alternative scenario in which the province’s economy would enter a recession.

The scenario, or Plan B, includes an $8-billion contingency fund — spread over five years — “for economic risks” and to offset the downturn.

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Tabling his fall economic update Thursday, Finance Minister Eric Girard confirmed previously announced plans to increase the maximum amount of the refundable senior assistance tax credit from $411 a year to $2,000, beginning this year.

The measure applies to those 70 and older who already receive this tax credit, and adds to the list of eligible recipients, Girard said. The news means an additional 398,500 seniors will have access to the credit, for a total of 1.1 million people.

The money was a key election promise of the Coalition Avenir Québec, and is the final phase of the party’s so-called anti-inflation shield. A total of 65 per cent of the assistance will go to seniors with an annual income of less than $25,000. The measure will cost Quebec $8 billion over five years.

If you add all the previous measures announced for 2022, the total relief for eligible seniors living alone will be $3,100. For a couple, the amount is $2,200.

Girard has also announced a plan to index the income tax system and social assistance programs to reflect increases in the prices of goods and services, to the level of 6.44 per cent. That indexation kicks in Jan. 1 and represents an additional $2.3 billion in relief.

As an example, a couple with two children and a total income of $100,000 stand to make a gain of $1,004, which includes $537 from the indexing of the tax system and $467 from an increase in family allowance.

But one day before the National Assembly recesses for Christmas, Girard’s update confirmed what he has been saying for weeks: Quebec’s economy is slowing down at an alarming rate, with little relief in sight in the short term.

“The economic outlook for Quebec and Canada has deteriorated quickly,” the update states. “A high degree of uncertainty hangs over the economic and financial forecast.”

The document spells things out bluntly: Quebec’s economic growth is expected to slow from 3.1 per cent in 2022 to 0.7 per cent in 2023. In his March budget, Girard had predicted two per cent growth for 2023.

Job creation will also slow down, resulting in what Girard says will be a temporary rise in unemployment, to an average of five per cent per year in 2023.

And while Girard says he believes inflation peaked at eight per cent in June, the full effects of the slowdown and increases in lending rates by the central bank have yet to be felt.

As a precaution, he included the alternative scenario featuring an $8-billion contingency fund over five years.

“We believe the recession is, more or less, within a 50 per cent probability,” Girard told reporters at a news conference. “It’s good policy to have provisions for contingencies, whether they are pandemic- or economic-related.”

Under the recession scenario, economic activity would decline by one per cent in 2023 before increasing by 1.2 per cent in 2024. The overall negative impact on Quebec’s finances would be a whopping $5 billion in 2023, which would lead to a $4.1-billion deficit in 2023-24.

Various options are on the table to counter a recession, including more direct aid for households and businesses or an increase for public investments in infrastructure.

“For individuals, we have suggested if the economy slows down, it is the appropriate time for a fiscal stimulus,” Girard noted. “The fiscal stimulus we have highlighted as possible would be an income tax reduction.”

In the last election, the CAQ pledged an income tax cut — a promise restated by Premier François Legault in his interview with the Montreal Gazette last month.

For now, Girard’s budgetary deficit projection for 2022-23 remains lower than he said it would be in the March budget. That’s because that same high inflation rate has driven up Quebec’s own source revenues by about $14 billion.

Of that money, $13.2 billion is being turned back over to citizens by Girard with his cost-of-living measures.

Girard is also able to lower a projected $6.5-billion deficit for 2022-23 to $5.2 billion, including a mandatory contribution to the debt-reducing Generations Fund. Quebec is still on track to balance its books by 2027-28, Girard said.

The update represents a followup to a series of other measures promised by the CAQ during the election campaign to help Quebecers deal with inflation.

Up first were cheques of $400 to $600 for citizens who earned less than $100,000 in 2021. A Revenue Quebec spokesperson told the Montreal Gazette Thursday that more than half of the payments — in the form of direct deposit or paper cheques — have already been sent.

Two promised cost-of-living bills have also been tabled by the CAQ and should be adopted before the legislature recesses Friday. Bill 1 slaps a three per cent ceiling on government fee increases, while Bill 2 imposes the same ceiling on hydro rates.

The opposition parties were not impressed, with Québec solidaire saying the update does not include enough specific relief measures for citizens. QS wanted Quebec to immediately increase the minimum wage from $14.25 to $18 an hour and freeze all government fees.

“It’s not generous enough, it’s not targeted enough,” added Liberal finance critic Frédéric Beauchemin. He noted seniors will have to wait until they do their income taxes in order to get the CAQ tax credit, when they need the money now.

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