Chinese Growth Slows Most Since Lehman; Capex Worst Since 2001; Electric Output Tumbles To Negative

While China may have mastered the art of goalseeking GDP, always coming within 0.1% of the consensus estimate, usually to the upside, even if the bogey has seen dramatic declines in the past few years, dropping from double digit annualized growth to just 7.5% currently and the projections hockey stick long gone...

... it may need to expand its goalseek template to include the other far more important measure of Chinese economic activity, such as Industrial production, retail sales, fixed investment, and even more importantly - such key output indicators as Cement, Steel and Electricity, because based on numbers released overnight, the Q2 Chinese recovery is now history (as the credit impulse of the most recent PBOC generosity has faded, something we have discussed in the past), and the economy has ground to the biggest crawl it has experienced since the Lehman crash.

What's worse, and what we predicted would happen when we observed the collapse in Chinese commodity prices ten days ago, capex, i.e. fixed investment, grew at the slowest pace  in the 21st century: the number of 16.5% was the lowest since 2001, and suggests that the commodity deflation problem is only going to get worse from here.

As JPM summarized earlier today, pretty much every economic data release was a disaster, missing consensus significantly, and suggesting GDP is now trending at an unprecedented sub-7%.

"Today China released major indicators of economic activity for August. Industrial production growth slowed to 6.9%oya (consensus: 8.8%), slowest pace since the global financial crisis period of late 2008/early 2009, suggesting that the economy has lost  momentum again following the 2Q recovery. On the domestic front, both fixed investment and retail sales came in weaker than expected. Fixed investment growth decelerated notably to 16.5%oya ytd in August (J.P. Morgan: 16.8%, consensus: 16.9%), the slowest pace of growth since 2001, while retail sales increased 11.9%oya (J.P. Morgan: 12.4%; consensus: 12.1%). Recall that August merchandise exports (released on Monday) still showed solid growth pace at 9.4%oya, while imports disappointed, falling 2.4% y/y".

It wasn't just the economic indicators: there was pronounced weakness in the biggest Chinese asset, far more important to the local economy than stocks: the housing market:  Home sale area fell 13.4% Y/Y in August, compared to the fall at 17.9% Y/Y in July. In value term, home sale fell 13.7% Y/Y in August, compared to the fall at 17.9% Y/Y in July. In other words, those predicting the bursting of the Chinese housing bubble better be paying attention as it is currently taking place.

Which also means that with organic cash flow plunging, real estate developers had to resort to the capital markets increasingly more, and raised 7.9 trillion yuan year-to-date by August (up 2.7% ytd), compared to 6.9 trillion yuan year-to-date by July (up 3.2% ytd). Basically, this means that in order to delay the hard landing, China is now pushing its banks into the all-in moment as everyone is mobilized to stop the one event that could result in a global depression: recall - Chinese banks have over $25 trillion in assets, the bulk of which is backed by housing.

Finally, and perhaps most disturbing, was that alongside a slowdown in cement and steel production, Chinese electrical output saw its first Y/Y decline since Lehman, dropping by a "shocking bad" 2.2% (in Bloomberg's words) by far the best economic indicator of what is going on in the middle kingdom.


Putting it all together, here is JPM: "Overall, the August activity points at some downside risks going ahead. Note that trade surplus is strong in recent months, but this is mainly because weaker-than-expected import growth, which is related to the story of weak domestic demand. The weakness in domestic demand is not only reflected in real estate activity, but also in manufacturing and other sectors. To some degree this is good news, as slowdown in manufacturing and real estate investment is a critical part of economic re-balancing. Nonetheless, it remains unclear what other sectors could arise and provide alternative source of growth in the near term."

Or, as Bloomberg's Tom Orlik shows, based on these real-time economic indicators, China's GDP has tumbled to a shocking 6.3% from 7.4%, and far below the 7.5% GDP target set by the premier.


And since it is unclear what can drive growth, JPM is happy to provide one solution: more easing of course. Then again, even JPM confirms that this will be an hard uphill climb: "Despite the weak data in August, there is no sign that the Chinese government will ease macro policies in the near term. In a speech earlier this week, Premier Li reiterated that China’s growth is within a reasonable range, and the government will rely more on structural reform, rather than stimulus, to support economic growth."

But recall that China has used big words before, such as last summer when it swore it would engage in a 1 trillion deleveraging, only to quickly forget all about it when its banking system nearly collapsed after overnight repo rates soared to 25%.

So what are the options? Here, again, is JPM:

What measures could be introduced to stabilize the growth momentum?


First, the central bank has adopted unconventional measures to ease the monetary policy since 2Q. These include a target for relatively low market interest rates (e.g. repo rates and SHIBOR); targeted credit easing, such as the PSL, re-lending, targeted RRR and target rate cut; tighter rules on shadow banking activity and improve the credit support to the real sector (via compositional shift from shadow banking to bank loans in total social financing). It is likely that the PBOC will expand the PSL operation in the coming months to support targeted sectors (e.g. environment, water conservation, small business).


Second, given the limitations in fiscal policy to support investment in 2H14, the government may introduce measures to encourage the participation of private investment. Such measures include removing government control, opening market access, or the public-private-partnership (PPP) model.


In addition, we expect housing policies will be further eased to slow down the adjustment process in the housing market. Many local governments have removed or eased the home restriction policies in recent months, and since July mortgage support for first-home buyers has improved (e.g. lower mortgage rates and improved mortgage availability). In recent weeks some real estate developers were allowed to raise funds from the bond and equity market. A next possible policy option could be the easing in loan-to-value restrictions for second-home buyers, which now is subject to a maximum LTV of 40%.


More importantly, this administration has announced some supply-side policy measures. It remains to be seen whether these measures will be implemented in practice. The areas that are worthy of special attention include: (1) administrative reform, i.e. removal of government control and private access to sectors used to be controlled by the state sector; (2) reduction of the tax and fee burden for the corporate sector; (3) reduction of funding cost for business borrowers especially for small business.

In other words, we are now in a world in which the biggest economy, Europe, is about to enter a triple-dip recession, and the third largest standalone economy, China, is undergoing an economic standstill, and all hopes and prayers are that China will join the ECB in activating monetary easing once again. But yes, the Fed will not only conclude QE but will supposedly begin rising rates in just over two quarters.

Good luck with that.