There’s a sociopolitical notion floating around out there, dear readers, that everything has its own momentum. Not Just billiard balls and airplanes, but institutions, even countries. And right now we’d be hard-pressed not to conclude China’s momentum is trending just a teensy bit downward.
It began with word that China’s trade surplus has risen yet again to a record high as both imports and exports continued to fall. China’s Northeast was once more smothered by smog, though apparently that’s not about to stop construction of more coal-fired power plants—nor is slowing growth in demand, apparently. Meanwhile factory output fell by 5.6%, growth in property investment slipped to 2%, and growth in fixed asset investment edged down to 10.2%. Practically the only positive from the latest raft of data was retail sales, which grew 11% in October.
And no doubt retail will do quite nicely in November, as this year’s Singles’ Day – once a self-deprecating mock holiday celebrating lonely singlehood in China, long since co-opted by e-commerce companies – was no less an orgiastic celebration of consumption than those of years prior, with Alibaba emceeing.
We understand foreign celebrities were involved? There was a gala of some sort? Jack Ma wore a bowtie? Frankly we couldn’t be bothered to tune into the corporate-propaganda schlock-fest for anything more than the bottom line: $14 billion, all told. Certainly all that filthy lucre headed Alibaba’s way will make its shelling out billions for the acquisition of Youku Tudou a smidge less painful.
But impressive as all that blatant consumerism was, dear readers, a single nudge skyward isn’t going to do a whole heck of a lot if gravity’s taken rapt hold of your hull. Can Beijing’s policymaker pilots glide the aircraft of this tortured China metaphor in for a soft landing?
That seems to be the general plan in light of the latest policy pronouncements: We’re sure nothing cushions the blow of overcapacity quite like the easy money that comes from fast-tracking project approvals, and you’ll no doubt have heard that fiscal spending rose mightily last month. Perhaps it’s not as bad as all that.
But with new bank loans on the mainland having fallen by a gob-smacking half-trillion yuan last month and global banks warning that new draft rules meant to crack down on high-frequency trading could choke off billions in foreign investment, we’d suggest keeping a parachute close at hand. As far as we’re concerned everything’s still up in the air—though for how long we daren’t say.