Explainer | What is China’s cross-cyclical economic policy strategy and how does it differ from countercyclical?
- A cross-cyclical approach means taking action sooner, in smaller steps and with a longer time frame in mind, government advisers
- It is a departure from countercyclical policy, which is when central banks and governments add stimulus to spur a slowing economy
The Chinese Communist Party has a new catchphrase to guide its economic policy, a so-called cross-cyclical approach that government advisers say means taking action sooner, in smaller steps and with a longer time frame in mind.
Officials have not outlined what cross-cyclical policy entails, but several economists with links to the government say the objective is to take action that is pre-emptive and moderate to smooth out fluctuations in growth.
But what can be expected from the policy shift?
Longer time horizon
A cross-cyclical approach suggests authorities are considering economic performance over a longer time period when deliberating policy tools, according to Zhang Xiaojing, deputy director of the National Institution for Finance & Development, a state think tank under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
“Policymakers will look past volatility at present, and aim to make sure the economy stays on track over the next two to three years,” said Zhang.
Authorities will make more forward-looking adjustments to the economy, like cutting the RRR to provide liquidity even before economic data showed a slowing momentum, according to Zhong Zhengsheng, chief economist at Ping An Securities, who consulted Premier Li Keqiang last year.
“The central bank went ahead of the curve” because policies usually have a delayed effect on the economy, Zhong said.
China’s economy rose 7.9 per cent year on year in the second quarter of 2021
Authorities will cut their reliance on large-scale fiscal and monetary stimulus, and “use smaller quantities of policy to achieve the goal of smoothing out economic cycles,” said Zhong.
This new approach underscores the lesson China learned from its massive 4 trillion yuan (US$564 billion) stimulus unleashed in the wake of the global financial crisis, which led to severe overcapacity in the economy starting from 2013, he said.
Unlike in previous downturns, authorities probably will not relax tight curbs on the property sector, nor drop their focus on reducing local governments’ off-balance sheet debt, said Zhong.
China has steadily tightened restrictions in the real estate market over the past year, reining in developers’ borrowing and increasing scrutiny on mortgages.
Balancing financial risk and economic growth is key to implementing a cross-cyclical policy, according to Zhang from the National Institution for Finance & Development.
This means China must keep its debt ratio stable and improve the structure of its debt, he said. The central government should take on more borrowing to replace the off-balance sheet debt among local governments, he added.
The government could also have more flexibility when implementing policies. For example, it may be able to go beyond its budgeted fiscal deficit set at the beginning of the year to provide support for the next year, he said.
Monetary and fiscal policies “must serve the medium to long-term goals” and provide more support to solve structural issues in the economy, said Liu Yuanchun, vice-president of the Renmin University of China, who attended an economic round-table chaired by President Xi Jinping last year.
The policy shift could also foreshadow more reforms on the supply side of the economy, to allow private capital greater access to industries from education to medical services and tourism, which will help address a structural shortage of quality supply in those sectors, according to Zhang.