A Bull In China

Skeptics about China's continued economic rise are everywhere these days and many like to point to the similarities between today's China and 1980s Japan. But The Economist warns about too close a comparison this week and argues three main Chinese concerns - overvalued asset prices, overinvestment and excessive bank lending - may be healthier than they seem.

Start with asset markets. Chinese share prices are nowhere near as giddy as Japan's were in the late 1980s. In 1989 Tokyo's stockmarket had a price-earnings ratio of almost 70; today's figure for Shanghai A shares is 28, well below its long-run average of 37. Granted, prices jumped by 80% last year, but markets in other large emerging economies went up even more: Brazil, India and Russia rose by an average of 120% in dollar terms. And Chinese profits have rebounded faster than those elsewhere. In the three months to November, industrial profits were 70% higher than a year before.

China's property market is certainly hot. Prices of new apartments in Beijing and Shanghai leapt by 50-60% during 2009. Some lavish projects have much in common with those in Dubai—notably "The World", a luxury development in Tianjin, 120km (75 miles) from Beijing, in which homes will be arranged as a map of the world, along with the world's biggest indoor ski slope and a seven-star hotel.

Average home prices nationally, however, cannot yet be called a bubble. On January 14th the National Development and Reform Commission reported that average prices in 70 cities had climbed by 8% in the year to December, the fastest pace for 18 months; other measures suggest a bigger rise. But this followed a fall in prices in 2008. By most measures average prices have fallen relative to incomes in the past decade.

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