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Here's how China became the world's No. 2 economy and how it plans on being No. 1 – CNBC

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China’s President Xi Jinping raises his glass and proposes a toast at the end of his speech during the welcome banquet for leaders attending the Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on April 26, 2019.

Nicholas Asfouri | AFP | Getty Images

China is on the cusp of keeping a big promise — a vow to double its GDP and income in a decade and take the country to the forefront of the global economic power structure.

The nation now faces the challenge of keeping the momentum going in the face of mounting challenges.

The ascension began in the late 1970s with a move to more open markets. It continued through aggressive central planning, utilizing the advantages of cheap labor, a devalued currency and a robust factory system to spread its products around the world.

All of that changed the economy from slumbering rural decay to a prospering diverse superpower. The country now seems on a inexorable path to No. 1.

China has climbed to No. 2 in the world, with a GDP of $13.1 trillion that, while still trailing the U.S., keeps getting closer. Forecasters expect that growth just north of 6% in 2020 will get to the stated goal of doubling the economy from 2011-20.

On the other hand, China also is a country that appears to be taking the worst of the trade war with the U.S. and faces myriad other challenges to keep up to torrid pace of growth.

The future awaits, then, however complicated.

“Going forward, China is going to continue to be very competitive,” said Michael Yoshikami, founder of Destination Wealth Management. “China is still going to be a global player. But it’s a matter of managing expectations relative to what you think is going to happen.”

Soldiers wait for a container ship to berth at Qingdao Port on March 8, 2018 in Qingdao, China.

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Indeed, a nation with growth that would be the envy of virtually anywhere else in the world is seeing, in relative terms at least, a significant slowdown. Growth peaked at 14.2% in 2007 but has declined to below 7% annually each year since 2015, according to World Bank figures.

‘Tariffs are hurting’

Yoshikami’s firm is based in San Francisco, but he does significant investing business with China and travels there frequently.

What he sees is a nation leading the way in education and technological innovation but suffering under the weight of U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, as well as the rising cost of labor and slowing manufacturing.

“The Chinese economy is targeted to grow at 7%. It was growing at 14%. If it grows at 6%, that’s still a lot, but you’re going to see a lot of negative sentiment,” Yoshikami said. “If you talk to people in China, the average person is not as optimistic as they were two years ago or four years ago or six years ago.”

One big negative has been the trade war.

While the two sides appear on their way to a small-scale phase-one agreement on tariffs, much is left to be done, and the ramifications are being felt through the Chinese economy.

A truck moves a shipping container at Qingdao Port on January 14, 2019 in Qingdao, Shandong Province of China.

VCG | Getty Images

“The average person believes that the trade tariffs are hurting,” Yoshikami said. “Inflation is up. The cost of basic foodstuffs has gone up 10% to 15%. The cost of pork has gone up 100%. So you literally have people changing their diet because they simply can’t afford the product anymore.”

“It’s hurt them a lot,” he added. “The U.S. would certainty welcome a deal. But China really needs a deal.”

On one hand, Yoshikami sees rapid and widespread advancements that allow consumers to buy goods on apps like AliExpress that provide cheap products at no shipping charges. Consumers line up for Levi Strauss jeans and other products as they still covet American goods as symbols of U.S. economic hegemony.

But there’s an overhang.

Taking stock of tariffs

The trade war damage to the economy is palpable and measurable.

Fiscal revenue growth has fallen to 3.8% in 2019 from 6.2% a year ago as the rise in tax receipts has been barely positive after increasing 8.3% in 2018, according to Nomura Global Economics, citing data through October. In addition, export growth declined 0.3% through November after rising 9.9% for the same period a year ago, due to the collapse of U.S. exports, which declined 12.5% in 2019 compared to 2018 growth of 8.5%.

That export slowdown itself took 1.3 percentage points off China’s GDP this year, according to Nomura.

“We have been leading the call on a growth slowdown since mid-2018, and we wish to maintain this lead by calling the recovery,” the Tokyo-based research firm said in a lengthy year-ahead look at China. “Unfortunately, we have to reiterate that the [worst] is not yet over and 2020 looks set to be yet another tough year.”

ispyfriend | E+ | Getty Images

Among the obstacles Nomura sees for China are a slowing real estate sector, less room for stimulus, particularly the credit easing that fueled a growth spurt in 2016-17, and continued issues with leverage.

“Amid worsening growth prospects, Beijing needs to do more to bolster growth,” Nomura economist Ting Lu and others wrote. “However, we recommend caution on the speed, scope and efficiency of Beijing’s stimulus measures, due to surging debt, including foreign debt, a much lower return on capital, the smaller current account surplus and falling FX reserves.”

The upside

Wall Street, though, thinks the issues in 2020 could be a turning point.

Looking further out on the timeline, there are plenty of reasons to expect that China’s drive toward No. 1 will have strong tailwinds, which will be propelled by amplifying what pushed the country’s growth over the past decade.

There’s a multi-faceted bull case for China that starts with the emergence of multiple “supercities.”

As the transition takes place, some 23 of these supercities will have populations greater than New York and five alone will combine to house 120 million people, according to projections by Morgan Stanley.

By bringing workers from the countrysides into the massive population centers, the supercities are aimed at arresting the drag that an aging population is putting on the broader Chinese economy

“We believe the answer to these challenges is a new phase of urbanization with the potential to create productivity gains by facilitating the freer movement of enterprises and workers while generating synergies between diverse industries,” Morgan Stanley economists said in a report.

Room for investing

China also is investing heavily in 5G technology as part of the modernization and urbanization efforts. The purpose is to get houses connected so that they are heavily automated, while students can use virtual reality learning to help with everything from online tutoring to homework.

As an investable situation, Morgan Stanley advises clients to look to technological infrastructure, the Internet of Things and software as one theme; digitalization of old-economy industries as another, and the supercities trends as a third, looking at smart appliances and vocational education among other innovations.

J.P. Morgan Chase advises clients to watch for a bottoming in industrial investment and cyclical trends and for improving momentum as 2020 progresses. The firm recommends a switch from defensives to cyclicals, in particular real estate, industrials and health care.

Goldman Sachs sees opportunity as well in pro-cyclical parts of the market as well as 5G-focused tech strategies and some leading consumer stocks.

But for Yoshikami, the Destination Wealth Management investor, the picture is still a bit cloudy as some of the more immediate issues remain largely unresolved.

“Investing in China is a dangerous game, because they are in between being an emerging market and a developed market,” he said. “I’m not sure the valuation is worth it at this point.”

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Vaccine-Resistant Variants Could Result in a Stop-Go World Economy – Bloomberg

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Despite the rise of the delta variant, Bloomberg Economics’ base case remains that the world economy will see a continued recovery in the second half of 2021, underpinned by strength in the U.S., acceleration in Europe and India moving out of its slump. Further out, the increase in cases is a reminder that Covid-19 is likely here to stay, raising the prospect of permanently lower output relative to the pre-Covid path as contact intensive services suffer. In the worst case scenario, the appearance of vaccine resistant variants could result in a stop-go world economy, with sporadic lockdowns and reopening dragging major economies in and out of recession.

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What Does the Delta Variant Mean for the U.S. Economy? – The New Yorker

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People dining in a restaurant both indoors and outdoors.
Veteran economists are optimistic yet concerned that the Delta variant could prompt new closures that might slow American economic recovery.Photograph by Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis / Getty

What a difference a couple of months makes. “As hopes rise that the pandemic is ebbing in the United States and Europe, visions of a second ‘Roaring Twenties’ to match the last century’s post-pandemic decade have proliferated,” the Associated Press reported, in late May. “For some, it feels like party time.” That was when the daily tally of new COVID-19 cases in the United States had dipped to about twenty-two thousand and the number of people vaccinated was rising sharply. The travel-and-leisure sector appeared to be rebounding strongly. Economists were predicting that the gross domestic product would grow at an annualized rate of close to ten per cent in the second quarter, followed by continued strong growth through the rest of the year and into 2022.

Now that the spread of the Delta variant has pushed the seven-day average of new cases above fifty thousand, and the number of hospitalizations has jumped by more than fifty per cent in two weeks, economists and investors are reassessing the prospects. Last Monday, the stock market tumbled on concerns about the variant, before rebounding on Tuesday. Later this week, the Department of Commerce will publish its initial estimate of actual G.D.P. growth in the second quarter. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s GDPNow model, which incorporates a range of recent economic releases, estimates the figure at 7.6 per cent. In normal times, that would be a blockbuster figure. However, it is significantly below some of the estimates from May, and it shows how in some regions and industries, even before the rebound in COVID cases, shortages of labor, computer chips, and other components were holding back the recovery. Now worries about the resurgent virus have been added to concerns about supply constraints. Where will the economy go from here?

On Friday, July 23rd, I spoke with two veteran economists who have been following developments closely since the start of the pandemic. They both expressed optimism that the Delta variant wouldn’t derail the recovery, but they also expressed some serious concern, especially if the spread of the variant persists into the fall. Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, told me that he and his colleagues are still expecting a “very strong second half of the year.” More specifically, they are predicting that G.D.P. will expand at an annualized rate of about six per cent, and total employment will rise by more than five hundred thousand a month, on average. For the variant to have a major impact on G.D.P. and employment, Zandi said, businesses would have to close down again and people would need to go back to sheltering in place, both of which he considers very unlikely.

Moody’s Analytics has constructed a “Back-to-Normal Index,” which tracks real-time economic data, such as restaurant bookings, the number of people flying, and initial claims for unemployment benefits. At the national level, there is little sign that the variant is affecting these statistics, Zandi told me. However, the index has dropped in some hard-hit states, such as Florida, where case numbers are rising fast and the number of hospitalizations has returned to levels last seen in February. “Six or eight weeks ago, Florida had completely recovered from the pandemic: the index was back to one hundred,” Zandi said. “Now it’s moved back to the low nineties. That’s consistent with the idea that the Delta variant is having some impact.”

Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, pointed out that many of the states where the Delta variant is spreading rapidly are low in both population and G.D.P. “To move the needle on a macro level, things will have to get a lot worse,” he said. “I’m still bullish on the second half of the year because I don’t think Delta is going to go exponential nationally. If it just moves up fairly steadily, and it doesn’t lead to a big wave in hospitalizations, I think most people will be fairly relaxed about it, and won’t change their behavior much.”

Shepherdson, who works in both the United States and Britain, pointed to the example of the United Kingdom. The number of infections has increased dramatically since the start of June, particularly among younger people, but the number of hospitalizations and deaths has remained fairly low. Last week, the British government lifted nearly all of its COVID restrictions, which led to scenes of jammed night clubs and bars. “Most people still wear masks in shops, but they go out and spend,” Shepherdson said. “The general attitude is, I might get it, but it’s not going to make me really sick. After sixeen months of this, many people have had enough.”

As the Delta variant continues to spread on this side of the Atlantic, many Americans may adopt the same attitude. But Shepherdson also noted that it’s possible to build “a more negative scenario” for the United States. In the places where Delta-variant cases are multiplying fastest, far fewer middle-aged and older people have been vaccinated than in the United Kingdom, which makes the situation potentially more dangerous. Also, there is much less testing in this country, which makes it harder to know what’s really happening. On a per-capita basis, the number of tests being carried out in the United States is one-eleventh of the figure for Britain, Shepherdson said. “I can say right now Delta isn’t a big macroeconomic issue, but it can go from zero to sixty really quick,” he added.

Both economists said that a key moment will come in a month or so, when schools are scheduled to reopen across the country. The forecasts of rapid employment growth in the second half of this year hinge on many more parents, particularly women, returning to work as child-care concerns ease. Over the past twelve months, Shepherdson pointed out, there has been virtually no change in the labor-force participation rate of females aged thirty-five to forty-four, and the participation rate of women older than fifty-four has actually fallen a bit. “The reopening of the schools potentially brings a lot of people back into the labor force,” Shepherdson said. But if a surge in COVID prompts school boards in large population centers to reintroduce remote classes, that scenario could be upended.

Zandi said that the possibility of further school closures, or partial closures, is just one example of how a COVID-19 resurgence could stunt the longer-term growth of the economy. As the Delta variant spreads in other parts of the world, particularly Asia, it could accentuate problems in the global supply chain, which are already affecting the industries behind products like cars and semiconductors. And, on the demand side of the economy, the rise in cases could undermine the confidence of consumers and business leaders, which has rebounded sharply since the depths of last year. “It puts into clear relief the fact that the pandemic is still here—is raging in some areas,” Zandi said. “And why would this be the end of it? There will likely be other variants. We are in an arms race with the virus.” For reasons of both economics and public health, he added, policymakers should take steps to arrest the rising case numbers. “I would go back to the mask mandate, particularly in urban areas, for things like ball games, mass transit, and large gatherings. It would be prudent to be cautious here.”

Over all, the message from Zandi and Shepherdson was somewhat reassuring. But both of them emphasized that the Delta variant has added a lot of uncertainty to the economic outlook, and raised the risks to the downside. The darkest economic scenario is the one that Zandi alluded to: the emergence of another highly contagious strain of the virus, one that is more deadly and resistant to vaccinations than the Delta variant. Assuming that doesn’t happen, the economic recovery seems set to continue, but talk of another “Roaring Twenties” was premature, at best. “I think the chances of the economy really taking off are fast diminishing,” Zandi said.


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Action on climate change can provide a shot in the arm for the global economy, economist says – CNBC

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An employee with Ipsun Solar installs solar panels on the roof of the Peace Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Virginia on May 17, 2021.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

Ramping up investment in policies and technologies to tackle climate change could play a significant role in the global economy’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

In a recent note, Charles Dumas, chief economist at U.K.-based investment research firm TS Lombard, said that action on climate change is often criticized as moving too slowly. However, with governments increasing spending to aid their post-Covid economies, they may start catching up. 

A key tenet of this is the ever-decreasing cost of electricity per megawatt hour, according to figures from TS Lombard, with costs of solar, offshore and onshore wind dropping over the last 10 years, while gas and coal have remained largely the same.

“Effectively by 2030 the cost of renewable electricity is going to be half that of coal and gas sourced electricity,” Dumas told CNBC.

These trends will bring many of the various pledges to reach net zero more closely in sight.

The fatal floods in Germany in recent weeks have put the impacts of climate change firmly in the spotlight again but they are only the latest in a series of devastating extreme weather events of late, including the sprawling wildfires in Oregon.

COP26 priorities

Amid this backdrop, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, better known as COP26, will meet in Glasgow in November. It will mark one of the most significant multilateral meetings on climate since the Paris agreement.

Dumas said that as COP26 approaches, governments need to understand their key priorities, and among them should be infrastructure investments as numerous technological and engineering challenges continue to obstruct renewable energy.

“I think the intermittency problem is pretty serious and it’s not just that the sun goes down at night,” Dumas said.

In the case of solar power, output can be mixed depending on the location of infrastructure like solar farms.

“There’s huge variation with sunny days in winter and sunny days in the middle of summer so the intermittency takes on a very big seasonal aspect,” Dumas said.

“You can have vicious weather for a long time in the middle of December or January and lo and behold you wouldn’t want to be depending on solar power.”

Energy transmission could be another bottleneck, he said. While the developing world, including several African nations, has great potential in developing sites for generating solar power, that power needs to move easily.

“The issue of transmission technology is really major. If you want Chad to be the new Saudi Arabia, because of the Sahara Desert there’s a lot of sun there, but you want the electricity to be used in Europe then you’re talking about some expensive processes and processes needing a lot of research and a lot of further investment.”

Storage and carbon capture are all areas that require hefty investment, Dumas added, if governments are to reach their net-zero targets.

“What we need is a very clear public policy lead in order to get anywhere near these net zero promises and I suspect that actually what it’s going to be about is a carbon tax, which the Americans may resist but will be necessary,” he said.

Job creation

Paul Steele, chief economist at an independent policy research institute called the International Institute for Environment and Development, said that climate action and renewable energy investments will serve the dual purpose of tackling the climate crisis while creating jobs for the post-Covid economy.

“One of the priorities coming out of Covid is to create labor intensive employment. Both in developed and developing countries, you can provide labor intensive employment through renewable energy,” Steele said.

One example, he said, was the retrofitting of boilers in homes in the U.K., which would help push the country toward its climate targets and create new jobs while being relatively inexpensive in the grand scheme of things.

Steele said that investments to drive a climate-friendly economy cannot be short term or have quick goals.

He pointed to the various government support schemes for the airline industry, which has been battered by the pandemic. Just this week, the European courts gave the nod to a $2.9 billion bailout for Air France-KLM’s Dutch business.

Bailout funds like these should be tied to sustainability commitments by the airline industry, he said, but that can be a dicey proposition to get over the line.

“Governments aren’t making the connections enough and traditionally treasuries and particularly the ministries of transport are still dominated by road building lobbies and people who like to build highways and increase transport rather than people who want to invest in sustainable alternatives.” 

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