China has not only accomplished considerable fiscal and monetary easing. By allowing the yuan to rise by 18% in trade-weighted terms over the past 12 months, Beijing is passing on some of that boost to the rest of the world.
The real question is whether China’s stimulus is big enough? Exports fell by a sharper-than-expected 26% in the year to February and may yet drop further. The 12-month rate of growth in industrial production also dropped to only 3.8% in the first two months of 2009, and retail-sales growth slowed to 15%. But there are some tentative signs of a recovery in domestic demand. As well as the increases in investment and bank lending, car sales and electricity consumption have picked up. Mingchun Sun of Nomura reckons that the stimulus will be enough to achieve 8% growth this year. But the government has made it clear that if the economy remains feeble, it will supply another fiscal boost.
Such injections may be able to drag growth back to 8% this year, but they cannot keep the economy running at this pace if global demand remains depressed. The need for China to shift the mix of growth from exports to consumption has become more urgent. Chinese officials are right to say that it will take years for higher public spending on health care and a social safety net to reduce household saving—all the more reason to speed up such policies. If not, even China’s fire could burn out.