Sunday, September 23, 2012

Michael Pettis — China rebalancing

The greater the local production component, the higher the subsidy created by an undervalued currency. The more labor intensive the manufacturer, the greater the subsidy created by low wages. And finally the more capital intensive the producer, the more it benefits from artificially low interest rates.
The mechanisms also distribute the costs in different ways. An undervalued currency hurts households in proportion to the value of imports in their total consumption basket. Low wages hurt workers. Low interest rates hurt households in proportion to the amount of their savings as a share of income. 
Because they boost economic growth at the expense of households, these three mechanisms cause the economy to grow much faster than household income. This is the root of China’s unbalanced economy – household income has grown so much more slowly than the economy that household consumption over the past three decades has collapsed as a share of GDP. Rebalancing in China means by definition, however, that the household consumption share of GDP must rise, and the only effective way to do this is by raising the household income share of GDP. Revaluing the currency is one way of doing so. It increases the real income of households by reducing the cost of imports, and it raises local production costs for manufacturers.
But it is not the only way. Raising Chinese wages increases household income too, while increasing labor costs for manufacturers. Finally, allowing interest rates to rise benefits households by increasing the return on savings, and it raises costs for capital-intensive manufacturers....
This is ultimately what rebalancing means. One way or another as China rebalances it will lose competitiveness abroad because it must raise the cost of production in favor of household income. In exchange, however, China’s domestic market will become a bigger source of demand as Chinese households benefit from rebalancing. Over the long term Chinese growth will be much healthier and the risk of a Chinese debt crisis much reduced, but over the short term, unless there is an unlikely surge in global demand, China cannot both rebalance and improve its trade performance.
China Financial Markets
Can China increase export competitiveness?
Michael Pettis

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