Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Chetan Ahya, Chief Asia Economist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives. I'll be talking about the prospects for China's recovery amid regulatory, monetary and fiscal policy easing. It's Tuesday, December 21st at 7:00 p.m. in Hong Kong.
China's policy stance is clearly shifting from over-tightening to easing, and with it, we think the cycle is also turning from a mini downturn to an upswing. We are more bullish than the consensus and see GDP growth accelerating to 5.5% in 2022.
Over the years, China has experienced a number of mini cycles. These mini cycles in growth tend to follow the policy cycles. While tightening starts out as countercyclical, it eventually becomes pro-cyclical, and sometimes because external demand conditions deteriorate - for example, the onset of trade tensions in mid-2018. Once growth decelerates beyond policymakers' comfort zone, their priorities shift to stabilizing growth and preventing an adverse spillover impact into the labor market.
In the current cycle, with sharp pick-up in external demand, policymakers stuck to their playbook and tightened macro policies to slow infrastructure and property spending. But from the summer of this year, as Delta wave-led restrictions weighed further on consumption growth, continued policy tightening pushed growth lower than policymakers' comfort zone.
This time around, policy tightening was unusually aggressive, leading to a 10 percentage point drop in debt to GDP in 2021. Indeed, we have not seen this magnitude of debt to GDP reduction in a year since 2003-07 cycle. Moreover, the rapid succession of regulatory tightening actions related to the tech sector and decarbonization has taken markets by surprise, adding uncertainty and keeping market concerns on the boil.
Now, with GDP growth decelerating to just 3.3% on a year-on-year basis in 4Q21, which would be 4.9% adjusted for high base effect, policymakers have hit pause on deleveraging and began to ease both monetary and fiscal policy a few weeks ago. Bank reserve requirement ratio cuts were coupled with guidance to banks to allocate more credit to priority sectors. At the same time, local government bond issuance has increased significantly, which in turn will translate into stronger infrastructure spending. And several local governments have also lifted property purchase restrictions.
Two Fridays ago, policymakers convened at the Central Economic Working Conference - an annual meeting that sets the agenda for the economy in the year ahead - and the resulting statement suggested to us that there is a clear shift in policy stance, and they will continue to take action in a number of areas to stem the downturn, increasing our confidence in China's recovery.
These policy easing measures will complement the sustained strength in exports and a pickup in private capex, driving the recovery.
And in terms of market implications, our China Equity Strategy team continues to prefer A-shares rather than offshore markets, and our China Property and Asia Credit Strategy analysts are optimistic on the China property sector as well as China high yield property.
The key risk to our call in the near-term is the Omicron variant. The effectiveness of China's containment and tracing capabilities has improved over time, such that each successive wave of COVID outbreaks has had a smaller impact on mobility and growth. However, Omicron's greater transmissibility suggests to us that it will keep China's COVID zero policy in place for longer and potentially force China to impose more selective lockdowns than during the Delta wave.
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