I am often asked if the one-child policy is still in force here in China. It is a confusing topic and I know there are lots of exceptions, but China Daily recently released some interesting information about the most recent population census. In 1990 there were 3.92 people in each family in China, on average. That declined to 3.44 people in 2000, and to 3.13 in the most recent census, which ended in early 2006. This seems to me to be a pretty dramatic decline in family size in such a short time.
People under the age of 14 represented 19.55% of the population in 2006, down from 22.89% six years earlier. The share of the population of people over the age of 65 rose from 6.96% to 9.10%.
Urban population in 2006 was 44.8% of the total population, compared to 36.1% in 2000. A rough back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that this implies net migration over the last six years if about 110-120 million, although I am sure this is understated, since many rural migrants are living illegally in the cities and are probably still listed as residing in their home towns – and although this should have been captured in the census, I am not sure illegal migrant workers are likely to want to talk to guys taking notes..
By the way, in another article today, the China Daily says, in reporting about the recently released (Thursday) annual report on social development by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences: “The Engel Index, a measure of what percentage of a person’s income goes into food, was 35.8 percent for urban residents, 1.9 percent less than in 2002. For rural residents, it was 43 percent, 3.2 percent less than in 2002.”
Adding all this stuff together, I get that food spending comprises 40% of total income on average for the country. I am not sure how you calculate the food component of the CPI basket from this, but I would guess that since total expenditures are less than 100% of total income, the food component of the CPI basket should be higher than 40%. I cannot reconcile this number with the claim that food comprises 33% of the CPI basket. As an aside the report says that 66.5% of urban respondents and 57.6% of rural respondents listed rising prices as the most worrying social issue of 2007.
On a separate note, in today’s edition the China Daily discusses a new report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences which claims that Chinese consumer spending will hit a two-decade record low this year:
Despite a rosy picture about income growth, consumption by Chinese residents remained at a low level. It contributed about 36 percent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in the first three quarters, according to the report. The 2007 figure would hit a record low against around 60 percent in the period from the country’s opening up initiative in 1978 to 2002. The figure had slipped by bigger margins thereafter to reach a low of 50 percent in 2006.
I haven’t seen the report, but the China Daily article suggests that the combination of high food prices, high real estate prices and monetary tightening measures are driving consumption down. If so, imports are also likely to decline, and with declining imports we will inevitably see more upward pressure on the trade surplus. As I wrote last week, the model you use to explain Chinese inflation will determine whether the tightening measures are likely to make things better or worse. I am afraid that a rising trade surplus will make things worse, not better. The next few months of inflation data will tell us.
Finally, and curiously, the PBC ended its annual policy meeting yesterday. I am still waiting for the translation of the statement coming out of the two-day conference to appear on the website, but from what I gather, what they did not announce may be more interesting than what they did.
The PBoC said it will take more steps to cool inflation and overheating, using “tighter monetary policy” to “prevent price increases from spreading.” No big surprise here, since the annual end-of-year Economic Conference last month made it pretty clear that overheating and inflation are the government’s top concerns for 2008. The PBoC also announced the standard stuff about reforming the exchange rate system and liberalizing financial markets. The statement seems to have been, however, a little skimpy on specifics.
More importantly the PBoC did not announce growth rate targets for money creation or new loans, which, if I remember correctly, they have always announced in previous years. Cary Huang of the South China Morning Post reports that “Sources said the meeting failed to announce the projected annual growth rate for the money supply or for lending due to differences among officials.”
There have been rumors for a while now about sharp disagreements between “pro-growth” elements of the leadership versus those who are worried about imbalanced growth caused by excess monetary expansion. The former see little to no overheating in the economy, are worried about a US recession and about domestic unemployment, think inflation is a one-off food problem that will soon be reversed, and want to leave the money spigots on more or less at full blast. The latter worry about overinvestment and excess capacity creation, rising inflation, and explosive growth in money and new lending, and are looking for ways to slow down money creation. For me the most important result of December’s Economic Conference was that it seemed to represent a shift in concern away from the former to the latter, but that doesn’t mean that the conflict is resolved.
In and around March there will be the major reshuffling of top level positions, including provincial governorships, decided during the Plenum, and traditionally the imposition of new leadership is a time of explosive growth in new investment projects as the new provincial leaders try quickly to make a favorable impression. That may be part of the reason for resisting caps, especially quarterly caps, on new loan growth. I understand also that a number of banks are under pressure to provide more loans to their best clients and are worried that they may be constrained from doing so. Finally, the possibility of a US recession is also weighing heavily on the minds of some.
The argument over China’s future monetary policy is far from over, and that is going to matter a lot in 2008, even if you believe, as I do, that their attempts so far to rein in excess money are focusing on the wrong things. If inflation and investment numbers stay high in the first quarter of this year, which I expect, the pro-growth groups may lose further prestige and power, but if China is indeed suffering from monetary expansion, as I think it is, the longer we keep this game going the harder it will be to adjust.