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更新时间:2015-8-13 19:28:52 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

Devaluation Hints at China’s Rising Distress Over Economy

HONG KONG — Whenever China’s economy swooned in recent downturns, its currency never buckled. It held steady, or strengthened, even as China’s neighbors or trading partners scrambled to cut the value of their own currencies to deal with the fallout.


With the Chinese renminbi now taking its biggest plunge in decades, the worry is that the country’s already slowing economy is even worse off and the government is panicking.


By the official measures, the economy is growing at 7 percent, right in line with government targets. It is a steady pace that the leadership has indicated can support decent job growth and put more money into consumers’ pockets.


But a look below the surface shows a different, more worrisome picture.


Core parts of the economy, like construction, are weaker than ever as the real estate industry struggles. Consumer spending, which was supposed to pick up the slack, is not that strong. And financial services, a major driver of economic growth when the stock market was booming, are slipping.


The data coming out of China, too, is somewhat suspect. Economists now wonder whether, despite official figures showing growth, some provinces and regions could be dealing with outright recessions.


“To be honest, no one has a clue where the economy is, and I don’t think that it’s properly measured,” said Viktor Szabo, a senior investment manager at Aberdeen Asset Management. “Definitely there is a slowdown. You can have an argument about what level it is, but it’s not 7 percent,” he added.

“老实说,没有人知道经济的现状如何,我不认为它得到了恰当的衡量,”安本资产管理(Aberdeen Asset Management)的高级投资经理维克多·萨博(Viktor Szabo)说,“经济放缓肯定是有的。至于放缓到何种程度,你可以有不同意见,但肯定不是 7%。”

The government’s aggressive action on the currency has brought the economy into sharp focus.


China allowed the renminbi to weaken even further on Wednesday after a sharp devaluation the previous day. The currency’s official fixing against the dollar is down 3.5 percent over the last two days. On a typical day, the renminbi rises or falls just a small fraction of a percentage point.


While the government said the decision was intended to make the currency more market oriented, the devaluation was also largely a gift to exporters. In relative terms, it makes China’s shipments of clothing or electronics to consumers in the United States or Europe more affordable.


“I don’t see this mini-devaluation as some kind of outrageous act,” said George Magnus, an economic adviser to the bank UBS and an associate at Oxford University’s China center. “But it is part of an array of other economic and financial stimulus measures designed to shore up the flagging growth rate.”

“我不认为这种小幅贬值是过分的举动,”瑞银(UBS)经济顾问、牛津大学(Oxford University)中国中心研究员乔治·马格努斯(George Magnus)说。“但它是旨在促进增长的一系列经济和财政刺激措施的一部分。”

The government has taken the usual steps by cutting interest rates and freeing up more money for banks to lend. But the leadership has also turned to more unconventional means in recent months to try to cushion the blow as the economy’s once-runaway expansion sinks back to earth.


It relaxed a rule that banned investment companies tied to local governments from piling on debt. When the stock market slumped, it aggressively moved to halt the slide. It has also pledged tens of billions of dollars in support to state-controlled policy banks for loans to favored projects.


China’s plan has been to wean itself off a debt-driven growth model that has led to wasteful, government-led investment. Instead, policy makers want consumers to become the main engine for the economy, but that will take time.


They hoped to maintain growth by keeping credit flowing to favored projects, a nationwide program that amounts to trillions of renminbi worth of investment in new infrastructure. The money is going to redevelop shantytowns, expand road and rail networks and build wastewater treatment facilities.


In the city of Liupanshui in Guizhou, one of China’s least affluent provinces, the local government is building its first subway line. Local officials hope to bring in private investment to help finance the line, which is to be 49 kilometers long, at a budget of 10 billion renminbi, or about $1.6 billion.


But such efforts have not been enough.


Infrastructure investment is rising, but it has failed to offset the nationwide pullback in spending on new factories and apartment block towers. In July, overall investment in fixed assets rose 11.2 percent, the slowest increase in 15 years.


The troubles can be seen in midtier cities like Zhanjiang, on the southern coast, which is home to the navy fleet that patrols the South China Sea. While property prices in major metropolises like Shenzhen or Beijing have rebounded, those are exceptions. Prices of new homes in Zhanjiang fell 9.8 percent in June from a year earlier, the most recent data available.


China’s builders just aren’t building as much.


For years, double-digit growth was the norm in construction materials, as cities and towns across the country went on a building spree. That situation has reversed sharply, and output of many crucial materials has been declining this year.


Cement output fell 5 percent by volume last month, while plate glass production declined 13.5 percent. Steel output fell 1.8 percent in July, the most on record. Exports of steel soared as mills, many of them operating at a loss and unable to find buyers at home, shipped their excess stock overseas.


Consumers aren’t yet able to shoulder the burden of driving the economy. While incomes are still rising, the job market has started to show signs of stress. Vacancies are declining across the market as companies reduce hiring in response to slowing business growth.


The stock market slump has also taken a toll, with the main Shanghai index down about a quarter from its peak two months ago. Ordinary investors have poured money into the markets over the last year, and many are now sitting on losses.


The overall result is that consumers are spending less.


Retail sales grew 10.5 percent in July from a year earlier, near their slowest pace in a decade. Big multinationals that sell heavily into the China market, like LVMH, the spirits and luxury goods retailer, or Yum Brands, which operates KFC and Pizza Hut fast food chains, have seen their share prices suffer since the renminbi’s devaluation.

7月,零售业销售额同比增长10.5%,接近十年来的最慢增速。自人民币贬值以来,大量面向中国市场销售的大型跨国公司,如烈酒和奢侈品零售商LVMH,及旗下拥有肯德基和必胜客快餐连锁的百胜(Yum Brands),股价都受到了影响。

Even e-commerce companies, held up by China’s leaders as builders of a new economy, have not escaped the rout. Shares in Alibaba, in New York, and Tencent, traded in Hong Kong, have both declined over the last two days.


One irony of the fallout from the central bank’s move to devalue the currency: In the long term, freeing up exchange rates would give it another powerful tool for managing economic slowdowns, just like the one China faces now.


“Having an exchange rate that adjusts means that other parts of the economy, like interest rates or wages, don’t have to adjust so much,” said Arthur Kroeber, the managing director at Gavekal Dragonomics, a financial consultancy in Beijing.

“让汇率可以浮动,意味着经济中的其他组成部分,如利率或工资,不用进行太大的调整,”北京的金融咨询公司龙洲经讯(GaveKal Dragonomics)总经理葛艺豪(Arthur Kroeber)说。

“The economy has clearly been weakening, and basically they have tied one hand behind their back,” he added, “because they’ve been unwilling to let the renminbi go down against the dollar, which is what the market would have done if it had been left to itself.”