Experts doubtful about China-led recovery

SHANGHAI: With booming retail sales, record lending and a soaring stock market, China accounted for nearly all of the world's growth last quarter, but experts warn not to expect a China-driven global recovery.

The global economy grew 1.6 percent quarter-on-quarter in the three months ending June 30. Yet excluding China's 14.6 percent rise in gross domestic product, world GDP was flat or contracted slightly, according to Barclays Capital.

But as the world searches for a beacon of growth, economists warn China alone is not big enough to offset plummeting US consumption and a growing number of voices here and abroad are skeptical of the Chinese figures.

"China cannot be the locomotive for global growth," American economist Nouriel Roubini, who became famous for predicting the financial crisis, told a conference in Australia this week.

Roubini forecast US unemployment would rise to 11 percent next year, consumers would remain "shopped out" and industrial production would continue to fall -- huge challenges that China is simply not equal to yet.

China's growth has long been driven by US demand and even with 1.3 billion consumers, economists say it is nearly impossible for China to pick up the slack.

Household consumption in China was 15 percent of US levels last year. For every one percent drop in American consumption, Chinese consumption would have to increase by 6.5 percent to offset US belt tightening, Hong Kong-based Merill Lynch economist T.J. Bond said.

Chinese consumption grew at 9.6 percent last year and Bond predicted that growth would remain roughly flat in the next two years.

"It would be overly optimistic to expect it to head towards mid-double digits," he said.

The biggest winner in any spending spree would be China itself. Consumer goods only account for 12.5 percent of China's imports, Bond said.

Other countries have benefited more from China's investment boom over the past five years, with commodities accounting for 31 percent of GDP and capital goods making up 23 percent, Bond said.

"A consumer boom in China would have a much smaller spillover impact on the rest of the world," he said.

Other countries may benefit from Beijing's four trillion yuan (586 billion dollar) stimulus plan to steer China through the financial crisis by spending heavily on infrastructure projects, Sherman Chan, a Sydney-based economist at Moody's Economy.com said.

"If construction is gathering steam again, it means it will help other exporters such as Australia or Latin American countries that export resources to China," she said.

But many, including the finance ministry, fear stimulus money from the package and the record 7.4 trillion yuan in new loans extended in first half of the year was diverted into stocks and property for quick profits instead of helping the real economy.

The flood of easy credit has helped push the value of the Shanghai market up nearly 90 percent since the beginning of the year.

At the same time, skepticism over China's economic data is also rising.

The central government's GDP data did not match what was released individually by China's 31 provinces and municipalities, with the regional sum totalling 15.38 trillion yuan ten percent higher than the figure released by the National Bureau of Statistics.

Guffaws greeted the statistics bureau's announcement that average urban wages rose 13 percent in the first half, reported The Global Times, a newspaper published by the Communist Party.

An editorial in The China Daily this week cited a new survey indicating 91 percent of respondents doubted official figures.

In an article entitled "Bogus Boom", former US Treasury Department consultant John Makin warned the statistics can be misleading because Beijing measures GDP growth by counting money dispersed to state-owned enterprises or provincial governments even if a use for the funds had yet to be found.

"So the government can easily control the pace of growth by the pace at which it releases funds," Makin wrote.