Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Jan 16, 2024

The Growth Outlook for China’s Tech Sector


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Shawn Kim, Head of Morgan Stanley's Asia Technology Research Team. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll talk about the impact of macro factors on China's technology sector. It's Tuesday, January 16th at 10 a.m. in Hong Kong.

Over the past year, you've heard my colleagues discuss what we call China's 3D journey. The 3Ds being debt, deflation and demographics. As we enter 2024, it looks like China is now facing greater pressure from these 3Ds, which would cap its economic growth at a slow pace for longer. Given this investor’s currently debating the potential risks of a prolonged deflation environment. In fact, the situation in China, including the rapid contraction of property sales and investment, default risk and initial signs of deflation, has led to comparisons with Japan's extended period of deflation, which was driven by property downturn and the demographic challenge of an aging population.

At the same time, within the past decade, China has quickly emerged as one of the most important end demand markets for the global information and communication technology industry, accounting for 12% of market share in 2023 versus just 7% back in 2006. This trend is fueled by China's economic growth driving demand for IT infrastructure and China's large population base driving demand for consumer electronics. China has also become the largest end demand market for the semiconductor industry, accounting for about 36 to 40% of global semiconductor revenues in the last decade. As it aims to achieve self-sufficiency and semiconductor localization, China has been aggressively expanding its production capacity. It  currently accounts for about 25% of global capacity.

Over the long term, we believe China's economic slowdown will likely lead to lower trade flows in other countries, misallocation of resources across sectors and countries, and reduced cross-border dissemination of knowledge and technology. China's semiconductor manufacturing, in particular, will continue to face significant challenges. As the world transitions to a multipolar model and supply chains get rewired, a further gradual de-risking of robotic manufacturing away from China is underway, and that includes semiconductor manufacturing. In a more extreme scenario, a complete trade decoupling would resemble the 1980s, when the competition between the US and Japan in the semiconductor industry intensified significantly.

Our economics team believes that China can beat the debt deflation loop threat decisively next 2 to 3 years. It's important to note, however, that risks are skewed to the downside, with a delayed policy response potentially leading to prolonged deflation. And this could send nominal GDP growth to 2.2% in 2025 to 2027. And based on the historical relationship between nominal GDP growth and the information and communication technology total addressable market, we estimate that China's ICT market and semiconductor market could potentially decline 5 to 7% in 2024, and perhaps as much as 20% by 2030, in a bear case scenario.

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Although China has emerged as one of the world’s largest end markets for technology, its tech sector faces some significant macro hurdles. Here’s what investors need to know.