White House’s Kudlow says China looks ‘terrible.’ Numbers paint a murkier picture

White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow says China’s economy looks “terrible,” and that investment there is “collapsing.” But the data show a more complicated picture.

“I’m not a China expert, although I’m boning up as fast as I can, I would just say right now their economy looks terrible,” Kudlow said Thursday in response to President Donald Trump‘s question at a Cabinet meeting about China’s prospects.

Kudlow also said the latest data showed that “retail sales, business investment is collapsing.” “There may be some manipulation” in the currency and “investors are moving out of China because they don’t like the economy,” he added.

Growth is slowing, and the latest economic reports did disappoint analyst expectations. Worries about high debt levels persist. The Chinese yuan has fallen to its lowest level in more than a year against the U.S. dollar.

The Chinese stock market also paints a depressing picture for investors. The Shanghai exchange, which is known to be more volatile and less efficient than U.S. markets, is down 25 percent from a high it hit in late January.

Other numbers paint a less dire picture than Kudlow’s comments suggest.

First, fixed asset investment did slow to 5.5 percent year-on-year growth in July, the lowest since 1999, according to Shanghai-based data company Wind Info. Retail sales growth of 8.8 percent in July from a year earlier missed expectations of 9.1 percent and fell from 9 percent in June, according to Reuters. But that is still better than the 6.4 percent year-on-year increase in U.S. retail sales reported for July.

Beijing is trying to transition China’s economy to a consumption-driven one from one reliant on manufacturing. The economic growth rate is bound to decline in this process, since the labor productivity of the services industry is significantly lower than that of the manufacturing industry, according to Lu Zhang, a Beijing-based economist at investment research firm CEBM. The quality of China’s growth is also improving, she noted.

Overall, China’s gross domestic product is expected to grow 6.6 percent this year, slower than last year’s 6.9 percent rate but still one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and far above the 3.9 percent global growth forecast, according to a July report from the International Monetary Fund. That compares with the IMF’s outlook for a 2.9 percent increase in U.S. GDP this year, up from 2.3 percent last year.

Second, the Chinese yuan has fallen more than 5.5 percent in 2018 against the U.S. dollar. However, it is down less than 1 percent versus the euro over that period.

Part of the weakness in the yuan is due to a slowing economy and easing domestic monetary policy. But at the same time, the U.S. dollar index has strengthened to its highest in more than a year amid Federal Reserve tightening.

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