China must batten down for a rough ride in global markets this year

The day of reckoning will arrive when global markets factor in the risks from Brexit, Trumponomics, and the rise of the right in European geopolitics

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 January, 2017, 1:52pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 January, 2017, 10:50pm

China’s growth locomotive is starting to lose traction, slipping to its lowest rate of economic expansion for a quarter of a century.

Alarm bells must be sounding for the nation’s policymakers, as the economy desperately needs a clear path for growth to pick up speed again. In short, China is desperately dependent on a strong and stable global economy for growth to prosper.

The problem is that sound conditions for a flourishing world economic outlook are in short supply right now. Economic forecasters seem to be making light of the more upbeat mood for global recovery with US President Donald Trump picking up the reins of power, but, in truth, the road ahead in 2017 is littered with potential pitfalls and problems.

The list of systemic risks is long and growing.

The global stock market recovery looks all but spent, already running out of the vital monetary juice needed to keep the bull market booming. Doubts about Trump’s effectiveness and longevity are already starting to creep in. Europe remains a massive sink hole threatening to swallow up global economic confidence. And the spectre of an emerging market credit crisis is never too far away.

China might be looking to replace its growth model from export dependency to greater domestic-generated demand, but it’s a process that will take decades to put in place.

For the time being, 6.7 per cent growth for the mainland Chinese economy might look solid for now, but remains extremely vulnerable to events from the outside world, especially while China’s export sector remains such a vital workhorse.

China can ill-afford to rely on the US being a future source of global economic solidity and political stability.

There is so much hype surrounding what Trump can deliver for speeding up US economic expansion and boosting American jobs that the risks of failure are high. Creating 25 million new jobs and doubling US GDP growth to 4 per cent may sound good from the election rostrum, but turning those promises into reality could be into a bridge too far.

So-called Trumponomics will be fighting against the tide. The Federal Reserve should be true to its word on tightening US interest rate policy on at least another three occasions this year, if not more, considering its worries about an impending supply side shock due to hit the economy.

It means US and global borrowing costs will be pressing higher while US long term bond yields continue to rise.

US monetary policy is already tightening by proxy, thanks to the stronger US dollar squeezing America’s exporters. Based on monetary equivalence, the US dollar’s 12 per cent appreciation over the last year is the same as an extra 3 per cent levy on short term US interest rates. So, the stronger the dollar, the tougher it will get for US growth prospects ahead.

If the chances of failing to meet economic expectations are high, the political risks surrounding the Trump presidency could hit epic proportions this year.

The US media is already awash with possible impeachment speculation surrounding the new president. Meanwhile, Trump’s confrontational politics are causing deep rifts with major trading partners such as China and Mexico. World trade flows have been weakened enough in recent years without the threat of tit-for-tat trade wars breaking out.

As for China’s second largest export market, Europe, the outlook is far from bright.

In fact, Europe could be a can of worms for the global economy this year. Europe’s recovery is losing momentum, not a good sign since the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing operations are due to be tapered down later this year. That is not good news for China especially as its European export share has fallen from a peak of 20 per cent down to 15 per cent in the last decade.

Stormy European politics could pose the greatest threat this year, especially if France’s far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen wins May’s French presidential elections.

Le Pen’s threat to take France out of the euro single currency and possibly even the EU could be cataclysmic for global financial stability and growth.

Global stock markets still seem to be a long way from factoring in these prescient risks right now. But as sentiment finally catches up with reality there will be a day of reckoning.

China will need to batten down for a potentially rough ride this year, leaving this year’s growth outlook under a cloud of doubt.

David Brown is chief executive of New View Economics