Coronavirus: China’s economy lost US$196 billion in January, February, says ex-IMF official
- Dips in tourism, consumer spending could reduce first-quarter growth by three or four percentage points, according to Zhu Min
- Massive effort now needed to help country rebound, economist says
The deadly coronavirus outbreak may have cost China as much as 1.38 trillion yuan (US$196 billion) in the first two months of the year because of huge dips in consumer spending and tourism, according to a former senior executive with the International Monetary Fund.
While online spending – particularly on education and entertainment services – would offset some of the losses, the total drain on the economy over the period could be as much as 1.38 trillion yuan, said Zhu, who is currently head of the National Financial Research Institute at Tsinghua University in Beijing, which organised the presentation.
Based on figures from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, that would represent about 3.3 per cent of the country’s total retail sales in 2019.
“The falling consumption in the first quarter could knock down growth by three or four percentage points,” Zhu said. “We need a strong rebound, and that needs 10 times as much effort.”
Consumer spending is a cornerstone of the Chinese economy, accounting for almost 60 per cent of its growth last year, but with the coronavirus still far from contained, many local governments are reluctant to allow public facilities like cinemas and restaurants to reopen.
Sales in the first two weeks of February fell 92 per cent from the same period of 2019, mainly due to showroom closures. Over the whole of 2020, the coronavirus epidemic could cost China 1 million car sales, or about 5 per cent of its annual total, the industry group said.
In an effort to minimise that impact, Beijing has told local governments to introduce stimulus measures to boost car sales, including raising licence quotas in areas where numbers had previously been restricted to help fight air pollution.
Commerce ministry official Wang Bin said on Friday that the central government expected consumer spending to bottom out in March before rebounding in the second half of the year.
Economists from French bank Natixis forecast China’s gross domestic product to grow by between 2.5 and 4 per cent in the first quarter, depending on how quickly the situation was stabilised and the effectiveness of the government’s stimulus measures.
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