China is Okay

NEW HAVEN – Concern is growing that China’s economy could be headed for a hard landing. The Chinese stock market has fallen 20% over the past year, to levels last seen in 2009. Continued softness in recent data – from purchasing managers’ sentiment and industrial output to retail sales and exports – has heightened the anxiety. Long the global economy’s most powerful engine, China, many now fear, is running out of fuel.

These worries are overblown. Yes, China’s economy has slowed. But the slowdown has been contained, and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. The case for a soft landing remains solid.

The characteristics of a Chinese hard landing are well known from the Great Recession of 2008-2009. China’s annual GDP growth decelerated sharply from its 14.8% peak in the second quarter of 2007 to 6.6% in the first quarter of 2009. Hit by a monstrous external demand shock that sent world trade tumbling by a record 10.5% in 2009, China’s export-led growth quickly went from boom to bust. The rest of an unbalanced Chinese economy followed – especially the labor market, which shed more than 20 million jobs in Guangdong Province alone.

This time, the descent has been far milder. From a peak of 11.9% in the first quarter of 2010, China’s annual GDP growth slowed to 7.6% in the second quarter of 2012 – only about half the outsize 8.2-percentage-point deceleration experienced during the Great Recession.