In China, however, even this would understate the true stimulus, because some public-infrastructure investment will be done by state-owned firms or local governments and financed by banks. Tao Wang of UBS estimates that new infrastructure investment, tax cuts, consumer subsidies and increased spending on health care will amount to a stimulus by the central government of about 3% of GDP in 2009. Adding in bank-financed infrastructure spending might lift the total to 4% of GDP.
Chinese investment in railways, roads and power grids is already booming. In the first two months of this year, total fixed investment was 30% higher in real terms than a year earlier, and investment in railways tripled. China has been much criticised for focusing its stimulus on investment, rather than consumption, but in China in the short term this is the quickest way to boost domestic demand.
What about the other tool for boosting domestic spending, namely monetary policy? Since the start of last year, China has cut its interest rates by only half as much as America’s Federal Reserve has. New figures showing that consumer prices fell by 1.6% in the year to February have brought the first whiff of deflation, suggesting that China has not done enough to boost demand. But this is not true deflation, where falling prices are accompanied by shrinking money supply and credit. Bank lending grew by 24% over the past year. The true gauge of monetary easing is not the cut in interest rates, but whether it succeeds in spurring new lending. China is one of the few countries in the world where credit has accelerated since the start of the global credit crunch—though some of the lending is of the state-directed sort.