[OPE-L] China´s Surge Raises Fears of Runaway Economy

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Thu Jul 20 2006 - 01:48:10 EDT

NY Times July 19, 2006

             China´s Surge Raises Fears of Runaway Economy

             By DAVID BARBOZA

SHANGHAI, July 18 - The world´s largest economies aim to grow by 3 or
4 percent; 5 percent is impressive; 7 percent remarkable; and 10 percent,
usually unthinkable.

But Tuesday, China said that its economy grew 11.3 percent last quarter,
the fastest pace of growth in about a dozen years, raising fears of a
runaway economy that ends in a hard landing and making the strongest
case yet for lifting the value of its currency.

Fueled by soaring exports, robust consumer spending and huge
investments in factories, malls, expressways and real estate, China´s
economy is growing almost as fast as it did in its peak years of growth, in
the early 1990´s, when the economy was much smaller. And that is
worrying government bureaucrats, economists and analysts who see
inherent risks of inflation and overheating when an economy blows off this
much steam.

"This is out of control," said Andy Xie, an analyst at Morgan Stanley in Hong
Kong. "The bottom line is lending is crazy even after repeated warnings
from the government."

The aggressive growth is likely to put more pressure on the Chinese
government to rein in overzealous investment. Analysts say the gains could
also prompt stronger calls for China to allow its currency, the yuan, to
further appreciate against other currencies to reflect more fully the country´s
growing economic power and perhaps help tame its growing trade surplus.

But few analysts seem to be betting against a bull run in the world´s most
dynamic economy. Indeed, economists were divided on the figures, with
some arguing that there were troubling signs below the surface, suggesting
that growth may actually have been even stronger and others saying that
there were few signs of inflationary pressure.

"Maybe this is a new economy," said Stephen Green, an economist at
Standard Chartered Bank. "Maybe China can grow fast without inflation."

Mindful of the dangers of a sizzling economy, officials in Beijing have
regularly tried to talk down the markets and warn of punitive action to rein in
irrational investments. Indeed, they announced administrative measures
recently that limit foreign ownership in property.

The growth spurts here are all the more remarkable, coming after two
decades of huge economic gains. No major economy has grown much
faster than 5 percent in the last 30 years. Even in the bubble era of the late
1980´s, Japan´s growth rate was closer to 4 percent.

So far, though, Chinahas navigated well enough to avoid major downturns
- although it has had miniature busts and government-engineered
slowdowns - and has been able to register record after record.

Last week, for instance, China said that its monthly trade surplus reached a
record $14.5 billion in June, putting the country on track to surpass last
year´s record $100 billion annual trade surplus.

That announcement came just weeks after China said that in February its
foreign exchange reserves reached $853.7 billion, overtaking Japan as the
world´s largest holder of such reserves.

Analysts then started projecting that China was on track to reach the $1
trillion mark by the end of the year. Earlier this week, China reported
reserves of about $941 billion at the end of June.

The figures are significant, economists say, because China is now a large
holder of American dollars, and its central bank can potentially exert some
influence on the direction of United States interest rates and the ability of
Americans to continue borrowing cheaply.

"With very little doubt, China is going to have the world´s biggest current
account surplus this year," said Nicholas R. Lardy, a senior fellow at the
Institute for International Economics in Washington. "They could reach
$240 billion. And it means they are going to be lending much of that money
to the rest of the world."

Last year, China´s economic growth rushed past Italy, overtook France, and
then inched past Britain to become the world´s fourth-largest economy with
$2.3 trillion, trailing only Germany, Japan and the United States. Part of that
sudden leap came after China reported a new economic census that led to
a decade´s worth of economic revisions because of growth figures hidden
from or overlooked by government bureaucrats. Economists say they now
expect the government to take new steps to rein in the economy, like
raising interest rates and putting new controls on lending and investment.
Still, many say they expect moderation, rather than a hard landing.

In fact, tightening measures were announced earlier in the year, but the
economy grew by 11.3 percent in the second quarter after a hot first
quarter, with growth of 10.3 percent. For the first half, the government said
the economy expanded by 10.9 percent.

But several economists said they doubted the government would move to
appreciate the currency, which has been a contentious issue with the
United States and the European Union because of China´s soaring trade

"I don´t think the government is prepared to sharply appreciate the
exchange rate," said Ha Jiming, chief economist in Beijing at the China
International Capital Corporation. "I think probably 3 to 5 percent a year,
that will last."

Many other economists, however, say pressure is building for China to
make another move on the currency and that is fueling huge inflows of
foreign capital.

Of course, most economists also predicted that growth would moderate in
the second half of the year, which would seem to be obvious, since few
economists would ever predict that an economy would grow by 14 percent.

"They grew at 14 percent in 1992," said Mr. Lardy at the Institute for
International Economics. "And many people thought they were actually
growing much faster than that."

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