China recently reported its economic growth has slowed down. Global equity markets took a quick look, digested the news, then went on to other things.
Many U.S. investors ignore China — or look askance at its sometimes suspicious official numbers — but it’s worth considering how China’s economic news might affect where investors will want to put their money.
The Growth Story Slows
China’s GDP grew by 7.4% in 2014, down from 7.7% in 2013, and failed to meet its government’s 7.5% growth target for the year. China posted fourth-quarter GDP growth of 7.3%, which was unchanged from the previous quarter.
China, the world’s second-largest economy and a global growth engine, registered its slowest growth since 1990.
Behind the Trend
China, which has grown GDP by an average of roughly 10% annually for more than two decades, has seen its highly managed economy expand to the extent that it now makes up more than 10% of the world’s total economy. The Chinese government has backstopped the growth with massive lending for infrastructure, real estate and business, including the important export trade.
It’s worked so well that the Chinese economy has grown too fast, with the risk of overheating. In the last couple of years, though, and under new president Xi Jinping, China policymakers have attempted to cool its economy as well as engineer an important shift away from fixed investment to a more balanced consumer-based economy.
Currently China’s consumer spending accounts for only 36% of its GDP compared to 70% in the U.S. China’s policymakers want to grow this number to become a healthier portion of GDP.
One of the main things that’s cooled China’s red-hot economy is its cutback on commodity use. China uses nearly as much coal as the rest of the world, or 47% of global consumption. Its manufacturing of steel drove iron ore consumption and prices higher, as China is the largest consumer of iron ore.
With cutbacks in spending on industrial production and the property market — two areas of overcapacity, if not outright bubbles, China effectively ended the global bull market in commodities.
The Near Future
The International Monetary Fund projects 6.8% GDP growth for China in 2015 with 6.3% to follow in 2016. Policymakers in China have already lowered their benchmark interest rate from 6% to 5.6%, yet they are still explicitly in favor of their economy cooling off.
China’s government, however, has stepped in before when its economy faltered. In 2008-2009, it provided nearly $600 billion in stimulus. It has also consistently propped up its wildly inflated property market, and hasn’t delivered yet on its attempt to grow into a more balanced consumer economy.
The impact for global economies has already been profound. The weakened commodity trade is obvious. Although China oil consumption isn’t a major global driver of crude, China’s using less oil.
But trading partners in Europe have felt the sting of a trade dropoff, and the natural-resource-heavy economies such as Australia with its coal and Latin America are feeling the effects. Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO) and BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP) are two companies with significant China exposure. By contrast, U.S.-based consumer-oriented companies such as Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG), Yum Brands (NYSE: YUM), and others, are better able to weather China’s economic slowing.
And again, China’s policymakers, even amid the slowdown, want to promote more consumer economic activity. So China’s tech and Internet companies such as Baidu (NASDAQ: BIDU) and Ailbaba (NASDAQ: BABA) are likely to continue to grow.
While China’s economic slowdown will blunt the global economy to some extent, the U.S. should not be heavily affected by it. The U.S., for the moment, remains an economic shining star. With robust growth and a strong dollar, U.S. domestic-based companies should continue to reap the bounty of a strong economy. Retailers like Target (NYSE: TGT), search giant Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL), Delta Air ines (NYSE: DAL) and railroad CSX (NYSE: CSX) are the kinds of stocks to look at.
Home is where investors should continue to have plenty of exciting opportunities for growth. Take note of China, but look to keep investing in U.S. stocks.
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