China Growth – encouraging the greenshoots?

Will China’s disappointing activity gauges lead to a more proactive policy response?
Will China’s disappointing activity gauges lead to a more proactive policy response?

China zero-covid policy and growth

Calls for stepping up policy support in China are getting louder after domestic activity gauges (Purchasing Managers Indices (PMIs)) slipped back into contraction territory in March (see chart below). Quarterly business confidence surveys released by the central bank (PBoC) showed a similar picture, with sharp declines across the board in Q1. The downside surprises were linked to the Omicron outbreak and the resulting mobility restrictions. We might see further deterioration in April because the latest surveys have not yet reflected the month-end surge in infections.

China as global growth driver

The activity slump raises three immediate questions.

Question #1: What are the downside risks to China’s 2022 growth outlook? The consensus forecast – which incorporates the improved expectations for Q1 – is already below the official growth target of about 5.5%. If the lockdowns are not lifted within the next few days, we might see further near-term growth downgrades, which can push the consensus forecast below 5% (=bad “optics”).

Question #2: What is the global impact of China’s local mobility restrictions? China is the only independent global growth driver in emerging markets (EM), and the fact that the Omicron surge is taking place in major ports (Shanghai, Ningbo) raises concerns about worsening supply chain disruptions and further upside inflation risks both in EM and developed markets (DM).

Question #3: How much additional policy support should we expect in the coming weeks? The central bank indicated yesterday that it stands ready to dispense more counter-cyclical measures, but this statement does not look that different from previous communications, which also called for more “proactive” and “effective” policies. Unlike many of its peers, China does have room for more policy support – both on the fiscal and monetary sides – but it has so far been reluctant to deviate from the (mostly) “targeted” approach. We continue to think that “blanket” measures like cuts in the reserve requirements and policy rates are still on the table, especially if the 2022 growth forecast dives below 5%. 

Chart at a glance: China activity gauges – back in contraction zone

Source: Bloomberg LP

Published: 31 March 2022

Any views expressed are opinions of the author at the time of writing and is not a recommendation to act.

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