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With Covid-19 Under Control, China’s Economy Surges Ahead – The New York Times

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BEIJING — As most of the world still struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, China is showing once again that a fast economic rebound is possible when the virus is brought firmly under control.

The Chinese economy surged 4.9 percent in the July-to-September quarter compared with the same months last year, the country’s National Bureau of Statistics announced on Monday. The robust performance brings China almost back up to the roughly 6 percent pace of growth that it was reporting before the pandemic.

Many of the world’s major economies have climbed quickly out of the depths of a contraction last spring, when shutdowns caused output to fall steeply. But China is the first to report growth that significantly surpasses where it was at this time last year. The United States and other nations are expected to report a third-quarter surge too, but they are still behind or just catching up to pre-pandemic levels.

China’s lead could widen further in the months to come. It has almost no local transmission of the virus now, while the United States and Europe face another accelerating wave of cases.

The vigorous expansion of the Chinese economy means that it is set to dominate global growth — accounting for at least 30 percent of the world’s economic growth this year and in the years to come, Justin Lin Yifu, a cabinet adviser and honorary dean of the National School of Development at Peking University, said at a recent government news conference in Beijing.

Chinese companies are making up a greater share of the world’s exports, manufacturing consumer electronics, personal protection equipment and other goods in high demand during the pandemic. At the same time, China is now buying more iron ore from Brazil, more corn and pork from the United States and more palm oil from Malaysia. That has partly reversed a nosedive in commodity prices last spring and softened the impact of the pandemic on some industries.

Still, China’s recovery has done less to help the rest of the world than in the past because its imports have not increased nearly as much as its exports. This pattern has created jobs in China but placed a brake on growth elsewhere.

China’s economic recovery has also been dependent for months on huge investments in highways, high-speed train lines and other infrastructure. And in recent weeks, the country has seen the beginning of a recovery in domestic consumption.

The affluent and people living in export-oriented coastal provinces were the first to start spending money again. But activity is resuming now even in places like Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the new coronavirus first emerged.

“You’ve had to line up to get into many restaurants in Wuhan, and for Wuhan restaurants that are popular on the internet, the wait is two or three hours,” said Lei Yanqiu, a Wuhan resident in her early 30s.

Credit…Hector Retamal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

George Zhong, a resident of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province in western China, said that he had made trips to three provinces in the past two months and has been actively shopping when he is home. “I spend no less than in previous years,” Mr. Zhong said.

China’s economic growth in the past three months came in slightly below economists’ forecasts of 5.2 percent to 5.5 percent. But the performance was still strong enough that stock markets in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong rose in early trading on Monday.

The country’s broadening recovery could also be seen in economic statistics just for September, which were also released on Monday. Retail sales climbed 3.3 percent last month from a year ago, while industrial production was up 6.9 percent.

China’s model for restoring growth may be effective, but may not be appealing to other countries.

Determined to keep local transmission of the virus at or near zero, China has resorted to comprehensive cellphone tracking of its population, weekslong lockdowns of neighborhoods and cities and costly mass testing in response to even the smallest outbreaks.

Credit…Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

China’s rebound also comes with some weaknesses, particularly a surge in overall debt this year by an amount equal to 15 to 25 percent of the economy’s overall output. Much of the extra debt is either borrowing by local governments and state-owned enterprises to pay for new infrastructure, or mortgages taken out by households and companies to pay for apartments and new buildings.

The government is aware of the risk of letting debt accumulate quickly. But reining in new credit would hurt real estate activity, a sector that represents up to a quarter of the economy.

Another risk to China’s recovery is its heavy dependence on exports. The surge in exports in the past three months, along with lower prices for imports of commodities, accounted for a big chunk of economic growth, one of the largest shares of any quarter in a decade. Exports still represent over 17 percent of China’s economy, more than double the proportion that they make up in the American economy.

China’s leaders recognize that the country’s exports are increasingly vulnerable to geopolitical tensions, including the Trump administration’s moves to unwind trade relations between the United States and China. Shifts in global demand might also threaten exports, as the pandemic batters overseas economies.

Credit…Jane Barlow/Press Association, via Associated Press

Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, has increasingly emphasized self-reliance, a strategy that calls for expanding service industries and innovation in manufacturing, as well as enabling residents to spend more.

“We need to make consumers the mainstay,” said Qiu Baoxing, a cabinet adviser who is a former vice minister of housing, at the news conference in Beijing. “By focusing on domestic circulation, we are actually enhancing our own resilience.”

But empowering consumers has long been a challenge in China. Under ordinary circumstances, most Chinese are compelled to save for education, health care and retirement because of a weak social safety net. The economic slowdown, and the pandemic, have meant lost jobs, compounding the problem, particularly for low earners and rural residents.

Beijing’s approach to helping ordinary Chinese during the slowdown has been to provide companies with tax rebates and large loans from state-owned banks, so that businesses would not need to lay off workers. But some economists argue that Beijing should instead be handing out coupons or checks to more directly assist the country’s poorer citizens.

Millions of Chinese migrant workers endured at least a month or two of unemployment in the spring as factories were slow to reopen after the epidemic. Young Chinese found themselves dipping into their savings to eat or taking on second jobs to make up for slashed wages.

But Chinese government economists are wary of providing direct payments to consumers. They say that the government’s priorities are investment-driven growth and measures to improve productivity and quality of life, such as digging new sewerage systems or adding elevators to three million older apartment towers that lack them.

Credit…Keith Bradsher/The New York Times

“We’ve seen a lot of suggestions to increase consumption, but the crux is to enrich people first,” said Yao Jingyuan, a former chief economist of the National Bureau of Statistics who is now a policy researcher for the cabinet.

Western governments have experimented with providing extra-large unemployment checks, one-time payments and even subsidized meals at restaurants. These payments have been aimed at helping families sustain a minimum standard of living through the pandemic — which in turn has fueled demand for imports from China.

Michael Pettis, a finance professor at Peking University, said that as people in other countries supported by government subsidies continue to turn to China for products during the pandemic, “we’re going to see a resurgence of trade conflict, and not just U.S.-China, but global.”

Liu Yi and Amber Wang contributed research.

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Japan raises view on demand, but says economy in severe situation – SaltWire Network

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By Daniel Leussink

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s government upgraded its view on consumption in a monthly report in October on stronger demand for electronics and higher travel spending, but cautioned broader economic conditions remained severe due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Authorities maintained their assessment that the world’s third-largest economy was showing signs of picking up from the fallout of COVID-19, which included a hit to Japan’s exports from a slump in global demand.

“The Japanese economy remains in a severe situation due to the novel coronavirus, but it is showing signs of picking up,” the government said in its October economic report.

The economy suffered its worst postwar contraction in the second quarter and analysts expect any rebound to be modest.

The government already has announced $2.2 trillion in economic stimulus in response to the virus crisis, and analysts polled by Reuters said it should compile a third extra budget for the current fiscal year.

The government said the impact from policy measures at home and improvement in economic activity overseas supported hopes for a continued rebound in the economy.

But it also flagged the risk that coronavirus infections could further weigh on domestic and overseas economies.

While many countries eased coronavirus restrictions earlier this year, some have had to resume curbs as they face a second wave of infections.

Japan’s government upgraded its view on private consumption for the first time in seven months due to more robust domestic demand for household electronics and higher nationwide hotel occupancy rates, especially in Hokkaido in northern Japan.

“It’s very encouraging that consumption is picking up,” Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said at a news conference after the cabinet approved the report.

“While capital spending, exports, production and employment are improving, it of course can’t be said (economic conditions) have completely recovered so the overall assessment was left unchanged,” he said.

The government stuck to its assessment that exports are picking up, according to the report.

But it downgraded its view on imports for the first time in seven months due to relatively weak shipments from the United States and the Asian region, a Cabinet Office official said.

The government’s assessment of the remaining components in the report remained unchanged.

(Reporting by Daniel Leussink; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Kim Coghill)

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Japan raises view on demand, but says economy in severe situation – The Journal Pioneer

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By Daniel Leussink

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s government upgraded its view on consumption in a monthly report in October on stronger demand for electronics and higher travel spending, but cautioned broader economic conditions remained severe due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Authorities maintained their assessment that the world’s third-largest economy was showing signs of picking up from the fallout of COVID-19, which included a hit to Japan’s exports from a slump in global demand.

“The Japanese economy remains in a severe situation due to the novel coronavirus, but it is showing signs of picking up,” the government said in its October economic report.

The economy suffered its worst postwar contraction in the second quarter and analysts expect any rebound to be modest.

The government already has announced $2.2 trillion in economic stimulus in response to the virus crisis, and analysts polled by Reuters said it should compile a third extra budget for the current fiscal year.

The government said the impact from policy measures at home and improvement in economic activity overseas supported hopes for a continued rebound in the economy.

But it also flagged the risk that coronavirus infections could further weigh on domestic and overseas economies.

While many countries eased coronavirus restrictions earlier this year, some have had to resume curbs as they face a second wave of infections.

Japan’s government upgraded its view on private consumption for the first time in seven months due to more robust domestic demand for household electronics and higher nationwide hotel occupancy rates, especially in Hokkaido in northern Japan.

“It’s very encouraging that consumption is picking up,” Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said at a news conference after the cabinet approved the report.

“While capital spending, exports, production and employment are improving, it of course can’t be said (economic conditions) have completely recovered so the overall assessment was left unchanged,” he said.

The government stuck to its assessment that exports are picking up, according to the report.

But it downgraded its view on imports for the first time in seven months due to relatively weak shipments from the United States and the Asian region, a Cabinet Office official said.

The government’s assessment of the remaining components in the report remained unchanged.

(Reporting by Daniel Leussink; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Kim Coghill)

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Four ways to rescue the economy from the pandemic – The Conversation US

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In many western countries, COVID-19 infection rates are rising again. For some like the UK, France and Spain, it appears that the second wave of the pandemic is already here. The science also tells us that we may see a further upsurge in 2021. We do not know how effective early vaccines will be, and the rollout of vaccination programmes will be gradual.

A major issue for governments is the extent to which they have the fiscal firepower to protect jobs and economic activity. In the UK, the government’s spring and summer measures to protect businesses and jobs were expected to add £192 billion to the budget deficit, increasing the debt-to-GDP ratio from 85.4% in 2019 to 106.4% by March 2021.

These are the highest levels of debt since the early 1960s, and record budget deficit levels for peacetime. And yet the second wave of COVID-19 is going to strain the fiscal response much further. Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s newly revamped job support scheme and other measures to help businesses suffering under the latest restrictions will cost further billions.

To get a possible sense of where this might be heading, the Institute for Fiscal Studies in June modelled for a scenario in which there was a second wave of COVID-19 in the fourth quarter of 2020 and targeted regional lockdowns in the first half of 2021. It predicted that this would produce a budget deficit of over 20% of GDP this year – equivalent to second world war levels – and a debt-to-GDP ratio of nearly 120% by 2024-25.

If this is the kind of situation that many countries are now facing, what options are open to governments, and what key indicators should they focus on?

1. Growth first, sound money second

Governments must prioritise resuming economic growth from 2021 onwards. Put simply, this will require them to go easy on raising taxes or cutting spending quickly to stabilise the debt-to-GDP level. The fiscal correction which would be required to stabilise public finances will be less if a faster recovery can be engineered.

Governments must focus on public investments, particularly those aimed at boosting research and development spending and productivity growth. Many observers have recommended that governments put money into greening the economy. Not only will this stimulate growth in sectors for the future, it will also help address the climate crisis.

2. Build confidence

There needs to be a clear strategy to restore economic confidence, which is inextricably linked to people’s confidence in how the pandemic and its economic fallout is being managed. Even before the second wave took hold, it was clear that the economic recovery was slowing during the summer in many advanced economies.

The OECD reported in September that Google data on people’s shopping and recreational activity (as a proxy for what they are consuming from social businesses) had not returned to pre-pandemic levels. Order books in most advanced economies (except China) did not fully recover either.

Retail is still a hard sell (unless you’re Amazon).
EPA

It’s clear that consumer and business confidence cannot fully bounce back until uncertainty on the duration of the pandemic begins to subside. This is one reason why a number of economists have urged countries like the UK, where the economic hit has been worse, to focus on protecting employment. The furlough scheme in the UK should probably have been extended into this second wave, and the chancellor’s latest expansion of the job support scheme looks like a partial U-turn.

3. Test and trace still vital

Linked to this need to reduce uncertainty, there is no trade-off between health and the economy. Countries which have done better at keeping infection rates low have also done well at reducing the economic slump.

Some of that success with infections may have been good fortune, or early action in closing travel down quickly in early 2020. But countries such as Finland and Germany also had a strong capacity for testing and tracing and very quickly built it up further. Even at this stage, countries like the UK need to look at whether test and trace can be quickly improved, even at the cost of increased investment.

4. More targeted support

As the recovery begins to strengthen during 2021, a key conundrum for policymakers will be whether to prioritise stimulating aggregate demand in the economy, such as using tax cuts, or more targeted support measures for particular sectors or parts of the workforce.

It has recently been said that the recovery after a second wave might be more W-shaped as a whole, but K-shaped for individual sectors. In other words, while sectors like online retail and technology/software are booming, others like conventional retail, travel and hospitality will take a long time to recover.

Business support may need to switch to a more sectoral approach. The UK has done a little here with the “eat out to help out” scheme and now small monthly grants for firms in sectors like hospitality and leisure.

Hotel concierge talking to a taxi driver
Sectors like hospitality need more help than others.
EPA

Similarly, governments will have to focus their support on those in the labour market for whom the “scarring effects” of unemployment will be most serious. For instance, the crisis will particularly affect the job prospects of young people whose transition from education to work is being disrupted. At the recovery stage, support will therefore need to be switched to job creation – for example, by lowering employer national insurance contributions for employers creating new jobs.

We are entering a pivotal period in our fight against COVID-19. While there is no denying the challenges ahead, we are also better prepared and more knowledgeable than in March. Policymakers must use this to their advantage and craft an economic response which is comprehensive and nimble in equal measure.

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