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IMF first deputy MD Gita Gopinath. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/REUTERS
IMF first deputy MD Gita Gopinath. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/REUTERS

China’s economy is set to expand 5.4% this year, having made a “strong” post-Covid recovery, the IMF said on Tuesday in revising its earlier forecast of 5% growth, though it expects slower growth next year.

The IMF said continued weakness in the property sector and subdued external demand could restrict GDP growth to 4.6% in 2024, which was still better than the 4.2% forecast contained in its World Economic Outlook report published in October.

The upward revision comes after China’s decision to approve a 1-trillion yuan ($137bn) sovereign bond issue and allow local governments to front-load part of their 2024 bond quotas, in a move to support the economy.

“We have revised up growth by 0.4 percentage points in both years relative to our October WEO [World Economic Outlook] projections, reflecting stronger-than-expected growth in the third quarter and the new policy support that was recently announced,” IMF first deputy MD Gita Gopinath said in Beijing.

Growth is projected to gradually slow to about 3.5% by 2028 amid headwinds from weak productivity and population ageing, Gopinath told a news conference to mark the release of the fund’s Article IV review of China’s economic policies.

China has introduced numerous measures to support the property market, but more is needed to secure a quicker recovery and lower economic costs to bring it down to a more sustainable size, she said.

“For the real estate sector, such a policy package will require accelerating the exit of non-viable property developers, removing impediments to housing price adjustment, and increasing central government funding for housing completion, among other measures,” Gopinath said.

The combination of the downturn in the property sector and local government debt crunch could wipe out much of China’s long-term growth potential, economists say.

Local debt has reached 92-trillion yuan ($12.6-trillion), or 76% of China’s economic output in 2022, up from 62.2% in 2019. China’s politburo, the top decision-making body of the ruling Communist Party, said in late July it would announce measures to reduce local government debt risks.

“The central government should implement co-ordinated fiscal framework reforms and balance-sheet restructuring to address local government debt strains, including closing local government fiscal gaps and controlling the flow of debt,” said Gopinath.

China should also develop a comprehensive restructuring strategy to reduce the debt level of local government financing vehicles (LGFVs), she added.

LGFVs were set up by local governments to fund infrastructure investment but now represent a major risk to China's slowing economy, with their combined debt ballooning to roughly $9-trillion.

“Improvements to local governments’ fiscal transparency and risk monitoring are necessary to prevent new vulnerabilities emerging, Gopinath said, adding “financial stability risks are elevated and still rising.”

Reuters

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