wei23_Kevin FrayerGetty Images_empty china Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Will the Coronavirus Cause a Major Growth Slowdown in China?

Some fear that the timing of China’s coronavirus outbreak – at the start of the country's week-long New Year celebration, and in the middle of traditional school-break travels – will exacerbate the economic fallout from the epidemic. But three important factors may limit the virus’s impact on Chinese and global GDP.

NEW YORK – The panic generated by the new coronavirus, 2019-nCov, which originated in Wuhan, one of China’s largest cities and a major domestic transport hub, reminds many of the fear and uncertainty at the peak of the 2003 SARS crisis. China’s stock market, after rising for months, has reversed itself in recent days, and global markets have followed suit, apparently reflecting concerns about the epidemic’s impact on the Chinese economy and global growth. Are these worries justified?

My baseline projection is that the coronavirus outbreak will get worse before it gets better, with infections and deaths possibly peaking in the second or third week of February. But I expect that both the Chinese authorities and the World Health Organization will declare the epidemic to be under control by early April.

Under this baseline scenario, my best estimate is that the virus will have only a limited negative economic impact. Its effect on Chinese GDP growth rate in 2020 is likely to be small, perhaps a decline on the order of 0.1 percentage point. The effect in the first quarter of 2020 will be big, perhaps lowering growth by one percentage point on an annualized basis, but this will be substantially offset by above-trend growth during the rest of the year. The impact on world GDP growth will be even smaller.

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