In a setback for China’s economic recovery efforts, the nation slipped back into deflation in October, raising doubts about the effectiveness of domestic demand stimulation. China’s National Bureau of Statistics reported a 0.2% YoY drop in consumer prices, exacerbated by a significant 30.1% decline in pork prices, a staple in the country’s consumption basket. The oversupply of pigs and weakened demand played pivotal roles in this decline, contributing to the 13th consecutive month of factory deflation.
China’s Deflation: Core Inflation Slows, PPI Falls
Core inflation, excluding food and fuel, decelerated to 0.6% in October from 0.8% in September, indicating China’s ongoing battle against disinflationary forces. The Producer Price Index (PPI) witnessed a 2.6% YoY fall, surpassing September’s 2.5% drop. These figures hint at the potential challenge of achieving the government’s full-year inflation target of 3%, underscoring the fragility of China’s economic landscape.
Persistent Deflation Challenges Policy Makers
Bruce Pang, Chief Economist at Jones Lang Lasalle, highlights the formidable challenge for Chinese policymakers in combating persistent disinflation amidst weak demand. He emphasizes the need for a judicious policy mix and supportive measures to prevent a downward drift in the economy. It contradicts the optimistic stance a Statistics Bureau official expressed in August, asserting that there would be no deflation in the future.
Domestic and International Factors Contribute to Low Inflation
Bloomberg’s analysis suggests that domestic factors like a housing slump and subdued consumer confidence influence China’s low inflation. Simultaneously, international factors such as a decline in global commodity prices and weakened demand for Chinese goods have reduced exports, compounding the economic challenges.
China’s Deflation Dual Face: A Consumer Conundrum
While deflation may benefit consumers by increasing purchasing power, it poses substantial risks to various sectors. Falling prices negatively impact goods, services, labour, and capital, and borrowers repay loans with more valuable money than borrowed. Furthermore, deflation weakens investor confidence and discourages consumption as individuals anticipate further price declines.
Navigating Economic Challenges
China’s economic indicators remain mixed, with challenges in real estate, local debt risks, and policy divergences complicating the recovery process. The government has implemented significant sovereign bond issuance measures, allowing local governments to utilize part of their 2024 bond quotas. However, the property crisis and broader economic headwinds pose hurdles to a robust recovery.
The Global Landscape and Downside Risks
As China grapples with deflationary pressures, it reflects the broader concerns of a global economic slowdown. While imports unexpectedly grew in October, exports contracted, and indicators showed a factory and services activities contraction. The first-ever quarterly deficit in foreign direct investment highlights capital outflow pressures following Western governments’ risk mitigation efforts.
China’s Deflation: Future Outlook
Despite challenges, Moody projects China’s economy to grow by 5.0% in 2023, meeting authorities’ targets. However, downside risks persist due to structural factors. The declining prices in various sectors indicate a lack of consumer spending, driven by a fall in confidence and the lingering effects of strict pandemic restrictions.
Implications of Falling Prices on China’s Economy
The price decline, particularly in the real estate sector, signifies weak demand and oversupply, impacting household wealth. With apartments representing a significant portion of family assets, falling prices deter spending. Existing home prices have witnessed an average drop of nearly 18% since August 2021, further contributing to consumer reluctance.
A Challenging Economic Landscape
China’s return to deflation presents a formidable challenge to policymakers aiming for sustained economic recovery. The interplay of domestic and international factors and structural issues requires a comprehensive and nuanced approach to navigating the complex economic terrain. The road to a robust and balanced recovery remains uncertain as the nation grapples with declining prices.