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China Doubts Cloud US Rate Decision – Analysis

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By Michael Lelyveld

As China’s economy shows signs of slowing, the effects are playing a greater role in economic policy decisions of the United States.

Last month, Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen cited China’s economic downturn as a consideration in the U.S. decision to delay raising interest rates.

Worries about China were seen as a key concern for the Fed in postponing the expected move to increase rates from near-zero for the first time in eight years.

At a Sept. 17 press conference, Yellen said that “some slowing in Chinese growth over time” had been anticipated as the country rebalances its economy. But misgivings about China had already moved beyond that stage.

“The question is whether or not there might be a risk of a more abrupt slowdown than most analysts expect,” she said.

Yellen cited a series of sharp market fluctuations in August, saying they “in part reflected concerns that … there was downside risk to Chinese economic performance and perhaps concerns about the deftness with which policy-makers were addressing those concerns.”

The comments raised significant issues on at least three counts.

First, U.S. policymakers have had to take the concerns about China’s economy into consideration after weeks of volatility, reflecting greater importance than the usual variations in the market.

Second, U.S. regulators have had to weigh the effectiveness of China’s economic management and uncertain consequences for world markets, as well as the United States.

Third, the remarks may be a measure of the rising impact of China’s economy on U.S. and global markets, even as it grows at a diminished pace.

Dwight Perkins, Harvard University research professor of political economy and a leading China scholar, said the Fed concerns about China reflect its rise in influence on the world economy, commodity prices and trade.

“No question about it,” Perkins said in a phone interview.

“Chinese demand has certainly played a significant role in sustaining high natural resource prices in a wide variety of natural resources and commodities,” Perkins said.

“The slowdown and the shift in the structure of the Chinese economy together have greatly reduced that demand,” he said.

With that, commodity prices have dropped, affecting inflation, which is the Federal Reserve’s chief concern.

The Fed has been expected to act at the first sign that the improving U.S. economy is reviving inflation by raising rates off the zero-floor to head it off.

But with cooling demand in China, commodity prices have sagged, keeping inflation far below the Fed’s 2-percent target for growth.

Focus on uncertain developments

Yellen has indicated that the long-awaited hike in the federal funds rate is still expected by the end of the year, although a weak U.S. jobs report last week could delay action further.

But the Fed’s focus on uncertain developments in China may be unprecedented.

Gary Hufbauer, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said the Federal Reserve has been historically reluctant to cite economic factors abroad as influencing its deliberations.

“However, Yellen mentioned China several times in this most recent statement, and it was the clearest acknowledgment that I’ve seen of external forces weighing very heavily on the Fed’s decisions,” Hufbauer said.

“The cloudiness over to what extent the Chinese economy is slowing down all weighed pretty heavily on the Fed’s decision not to raise rates in September,” he said.

The decision was not without its critics, however, particularly on the grounds of ambiguity about the Chinese economy and its role in U.S. policy considerations.

A Reuters report cited complaints from investors “who believe the U.S. rate cycle and global markets are now hostage to Chinese fortunes.”

Most voiced impatience with the market uncertainty of waiting for the Fed to act on rates, a condition of limbo that has been compounded by questions about Chinese economic management and growth.

“The thought of having to monitor China’s notoriously opaque policy-making process to get a better reading of Fed policy and global liquidity has left investors flustered and dismayed,” Reuters said.

Investors have been wary since Aug. 11, when the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) stunned world markets with a “one-off” devaluation of the yuan by nearly 2 percent, which then threatened to spin out of control in subsequent trading.

The surprise move on the currency shook world markets, sparking a selloff of stocks and fears of instability around the globe.

Confidence was further shaken by a series of unpredictable rules changes for investors in China after a near-40 percent slide in stock market prices since July.

The greatest uncertainty

But the greatest uncertainty has centered on the state of China’s economy and widespread skepticism over the official claims that the growth of gross domestic product (GDP) has held steady at 7 percent.

Doubters point to a slew of indicators like industrial output and electricity consumption that suggest weaker performance. In the first eight months of the year, power use edged up only 1 percent, according to the National Energy Administration (NEA).

Perkins dismissed the suspicions of GDP data inflation, arguing that critics have given short shrift to the growth of services and their contribution to GDP growth after decades of lagging behind.

While growth in the industrial sector has cooled, the less energy-intensive service sector rose 8.4 percent from a year earlier in the first half to account for 49.5 percent of GDP, according to official figures.

The service sector used 12.9 percent of China’s electricity in the first eight months. While the secondary industry, or manufacturing, accounted for 43.6 percent of GDP in the first half, it consumed 71.8 percent of the power in the eight-month period.

Analysts have challenged China’s GDP estimates with calculations based on power consumption data and other indicators in the past, but Perkins said their work is “just wrong.”

“These people fade from the scene and their work is long forgotten,” he said.

But doubts about the data aside, the nontransparency of China’s decision-making have become an issue for world markets and U.S. economic policy.

“We regard the transparency of Chinese economic decisions as lacking. It could be much, much better,” said Hufbauer.

“It’s all much more opaque than it should be, and it does lead to considerable fears in the Western press that China has a lot to hide,” he said. “I think the lack of transparency actually hurts China in terms of its economic policy.”

On China’s side, the official press seemed to breathe a sigh of relief at the U.S. delay in the rate hike after weeks of trying to blame the pending decision for stock market tremors due to fears of capital outflow.

Chinese reports have raised concerns that the decline in PBOC foreign exchange reserves may accelerate if the Fed turns the tide on interest rates with an increase on the U.S. side.

On Sept. 18, the official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary that the postponement “has given emerging markets, including China, some breathing room, but the Fed must stay cautious of the havoc a future rate hike could cause.”

Hufbauer said he had met recently with senior Chinese officials who voiced nervousness about the consequences.

But the effect on China’s ample reserves is unlikely to be a concern for U.S. rate decisions.

“I don’t think the Fed would give a hoot if there was more outflow from China in terms of foreign exchange,” Perkins said.

RFA

RFA

Radio Free Asia’s mission is to provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press. Content used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.

One thought on “China Doubts Cloud US Rate Decision – Analysis

  • Avatar
    October 7, 2015 at 8:25 am
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    The Fed does not make a decision regarding raising the interest rate depends on China’s economic growth. The argument by the Fed’ chair about China slowdown was misleading and a big lie. The lie was in the same line as that of Iraq had chemical weapons of mass destruction to destroy Washington DC and the world. The ruling class in USA and its representative such as Yellen and the white man before Yellen is just trying to diffuse the fact by blaming others for the ill of the US monopoly capital. The Fed has become the central planner when it sets the interest rate at zero. There is nothing free under monopoly capitalism, and people remember the arguments of free market economists on socialism and how socialism would not work because central planners set prices below the market equilibrium, prices that do not reflect the opportunity cost or the market value of commodities and resources and how that sin creates distortions and inefficient allocations of economic resources. Now, the Fed is doing the same thing as the Soviet central planners did. The Fed is setting the interest rate at zero because it has become hostage not to China but to the financiers who are making huge money and wealth at the expense of others. Financers and Ponzi business (banks) are profiting of the zero rate, and depositors are losing part of their wealth to these banks. And the Pension funds of trillions of dollars will be looted sooner. Financiers are buying and selling derivatives to make high returns, and bankers are looting money through exchange rate manipulation and other business tricks that are known to the public. Banks steal money in billions and pay fine in millions for their action: good deals for bankers. Money laundering continues, generating significant increases in property prices in London and other countries. There are more than 150 trillion dollars in debt and any increase in interest rate will cost borrowers money in billions. Rising interest rate will lead to a collapse in junk bond issued by oil producers. US government has to pay higher cost on its 16 trillion dollar debt, and other US 40 trillions in debt will face the higher interest charges as well. The US economy does not create a high rate of growth in jobs and wages, and labor participation rate is at 62.4 percent, the lowest in 40 years. If you correct that actual rate of unemployment and you take the difference in labor participation rate between the high and the current low, you end up with more than 30 million workers having no jobs, given some other millions of them have lousy or low paying jobs. (Next time US media will blame President Putin for the global slowdown ). As is well-known fact the few financiers are holding the wealth and benefits and the rest gets little. Again, it is about the expansion of the economic pie for the rich: dictatorship of the financiers. (Like Ben before her, when she leaves the Fed the millions of dollar will come to her as consultant attending four meetings a year if she has time. And like Ben, she will blame some captains of finance for the slowdown and how some of them should go to jail.)

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