China was for a long time the world's fastest growing economy, powering ahead with double digit GDP growth. But the Chinese dragon showed signs of fatigue when the official GDP estimates, which experts have been skeptical of in the past, fell below 7%. There was a lot of optimism about the Chinese economy since beginning the implementation of free-market reforms over 30 years ago, but recently it has made headlines for all the wrong reasons, whether it is slow growth or currency devaluation.
In case you didn’t know, here are five interesting facts about the Chinese economy.
According to the purchasing power parity measure of comparing total gross domestic product (GDP), China had the largest economy in the world estimated to be $19.95 trillion in 2015. Using the market exchange rates for making inter-country comparisons, China ranks second behind the U.S. with a total GDP estimated at a little more than $11 trillion in 2015.
Regardless of the measure, China’s economy is massive as it accounts for 15% of total world output and has been responsible for about half of global output growth in recent years.
Largest Energy Consumer
In 2010 China became the world’s largest energy consumer and stands as the second biggest consumer, albeit the world’s largest net importer of oil. This makes China extremely significant for global oil demand and consequently oil prices. In fact, slower growth in China is definitely a major factor in the recent plunge in oil prices over the past year.
The double-digit growth that China has experienced in recent years is likely to be a thing of the past and hence lower oil prices could also be the new status quo, at least for the near future. (For related reading, see: Why Is China Stockpiling Millions of Barrels of Oil?)
Again, massive is the best word to describe China’s two stock markets—the Shanghai Stock Exchange (SSE) and the Shenzhen Stock Exchange (SHZ)—that have a combined market capitalization of $7.8 trillion that is second only to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
Yet, despite their size, less than 7% of urban Chinese citizens invest in the stock market and less than 5% of total corporate financing is funded by equity; debt and retained earnings are the primary source of funding for Chinese companies. Evidently, China’s stock markets play a much smaller role in the Chinese economy than U.S. stock markets do in the American economy. (For more, see: The Origins of the Chinese Stock Market Collapse.)
Officially, China’s currency goes by the title of the renminbi (RMB), but it is more commonly referred to by its basic unit of measure—the yuan.
China has been criticized by U.S. lawmakers for keeping the value of the yuan artificially low relative to the U.S. dollar in order make its exports more competitive.
In August 2015, struggling with a sluggish economy, China devalued its currency to boost exports. The move not only came as a surprise, but was also seen as China's admission of the weakness in its economy wreaking havoc in markets across the world.
However, the move by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) to devalue was welcomed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The fund views the new lower value as more consistent with a value determined by market forces. (For more, see: What China Devaluing Its Currency Means to Investors.)
In 2016, China had more than 100 companies make Fortune’s "Global 500" list, ranking it second behind the U.S. And while Wal-Mart continues to rank #1, the next three spots are occupied by Chinese firms. The number of Chinese companies making the top 500 list has been growing rapidly as only 10 companies were based in China in 2000 and only 46 in 2010.
Perhaps even more interesting is that many of companies are state owned. In fact, these state-owned enterprises (SOEs) make up a full quarter of China’s mainland economy. The SOEs have been able to garner generous state support throughout the years helping to insulate them from private competition.
Yet, consistent with China’s attempts to move from a communist to a more market-oriented capitalist economy, recently the Chinese State Council has approved new measures to create greater distance between the government and the day-to-day operations of its SOEs.
The Bottom Line
China managed to become an economic powerhouse in a relatively short period of time and has become a major factor in international economic affairs. But, as China looks to implement further free-market reforms and transition from an export and investment-driven economy to a consumer-driven economy, its growth rates are likely to be permanently lower than they have been over the past 30 years. While this should provide for more stable growth, the rest of the world will have to get used to lower global demand, at least in the short term.