Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Dec 12, 2023

2024 China Outlook: Can Growth Rebound?

With Laura Wang and Robin Xing


Laura Wang: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Laura Wang, Morgan Stanley's Chief China Equity Strategist.

Robin Xing: And I'm Robin Xing, Morgan Stanley's Chief China Economist.

Laura Wang: On this special episode of the podcast, we'll discuss our 2024 outlook for China's economy and equity market and what investors should focus on next year. It's Tuesday, December 12th, 9 a.m. in Hong Kong.

Laura Wang: Robin, China's post reopening recovery has been lackluster in 2023, disappointing expectations. We've seen significant challenges in housing and local government financing vehicles, which are pressuring the Chinese economy to the verge of a debt deflation loop. Can you explain some of these current dynamics?

Robin Xing: China is in this difficult battle against the it's 3D problems, namely debt, deflation and demographics. China has stepped up reflationary measures since the July Politburo meeting, including immediate budgetary expansion, kick start of local government debt resolution and easing on the housing sector. Growth also bottomed out from its second quarter trough. That said, the reflationary journey remains gradual and bumpy. In particular, the downturn in the housing sector and its spillover to local government are still lingering. And it might take some time until it converges to a new steady state. Against this backdrop, we expect China to continue to roll out stronger and more coordinated fiscal, monetary and housing easing policies.

Laura Wang: What measures does China need to undertake to avoid a debt deflation loop?

Robin Xing: Well, there is no easy way out. We think China needs a systematic macro solution, including both cyclical stimulus and structural reforms, to decisively fend off a debt deflation loop. In particular, we proposed a 5R action plan. Reflation, Rebalance, Restructuring, Reform and Rekindle. So that includes reflecting the economy with policy stimulus to support aggregate demand. Rebalancing the economy towards consumption with structural initiatives such as fiscal transfer to the households. Restructuring balance sheets of troubled sectors, including property and financing league of Local Government. Reforming the SOE's of the public sector and rekindle the private sectors animal spirit. So far, Beijing has only completed 25% of the 5R strategy, led by some stimulus in reflation sector and also restructuring its local debt. We expect the progress to reach 50% by end 2024, and China could lead to this debt deflation loop in about two years after 2025.

Laura Wang: Debt and deflation are 2 of the 3D's in what you call China's 3D journey. Demographics is the third challenge on this list. Why are demographics an economic headwind and how is China handling this challenge now?

Robin Xing: Well, Laura, there is a little dispute on China's aging population. This will diminish capital returns and drag growth. So in our long term growth forecast, labor quantity will lower overall GDP growth by 40 basis points every year between 2025 to 2030. Though the declining labor quantity is unlikely to be reversed, Beijing would make more efforts in better utilizing higher labor quality, which has been increasing steadily. On that front, Beijing could step up reviving private sector confidence, which will bring more jobs and translate to labor with higher education into stronger output. Detailed measures could include, they start to issue the financial license to FinTech and resumption of offshore IPO by firms with sensitive data. That could send a clearer message to the end of regulatory reset since 2021.

Laura Wang: With all these macro backdrops, what are your expectations for GDP growth in 2024 and 2025, and what are some of the biggest economic challenges facing China over this forecast horizon?

Robin Xing: Well, we expect a modest growth recovery next year. Real GDP growth could edge up mildly from 4% two year kegger in 2023 to a slightly better 4.2% in 24. And the GDP deflator, which is a broader defined inflation indicator, it could rebound from a -.8% in this year, to .6% in 2024. But this is still way below a 2 to 3%, the level of inflation. So China will continue to grow and reflate at a subpar rate next year. The biggest challenge here is stabilizing the aggregate demand amid continued housing and the local government deleveraging. That requires more debt initially, particularly by the central government, to cushion this downturn. We expect a 1.5% point widening in China's government deficit next year. Led by a rising official budget and some increase in local special purpose bond. Monetary policy will likely remain accommodative as well. We expect a 25 basis point cut and the cumulatively another 20 basis points interest rate cuts in 2024. Now, Laura, turning it over to you. Over the past the year, the debate on investing in China has shifted profoundly towards long term structural challenges, we just discussed. And you have argued that this would continue into 2024. So what is your outlook for Chinese equities within the global EM framework over the next year?

Laura Wang: We see a largely range bound market at best in our base case for China equity market at the index level. For example, our price target for MSCI China by end of 2024 is 60, suggesting very limited upside from its current level. Such upside puts China very much on par with what we expect from the broader emerging market index, MSCI EM. Therefore, we retain our equal weight rating on China within our EM API allocation framework. There will still be quite strong headwinds on corporate earnings as we go through the earnings results season for the rest of the year and then into the first quarter of 2024. This could lead to continuous downward revisions of consensus estimates. For example, we Morgan Stanley expect 9% earnings growth for MSCI China in 2024 compared to consensus at 16%, which we think is overly positive. Such downward revisions could also cap the valuation rerating opportunities.

Robin Xing: Given this backdrop, Laura, how should investors be positioned in 2024 in terms of Chinese equities?

Laura Wang: The Asia market, if we use CSI 300 as a proxy, has been outperforming the offshore MSCI China index for five years in a row. We expect this trend to continue at least in the next 3 to 6 months, given that the top down easing policies are starting to pivot to further support economic growth. And Robin, you are still expecting some easing on the monetary side with PSI rate cuts and the triple R cuts. Those usually tend to have a bigger impact on the Asia market than on the offshore space. Plus, I think we're also expecting some further currency weakness in the first half of next year and A-shares tend to be more resilient in such a scenario.

Robin Xing: Finally, Laura, what is the market missing right now when it comes to Chinese equities?

Laura Wang: As investors are still debating over the beta opportunities being largely absent for the past couple of years. We think some investors may easily come to the conclusion that there are not good investment opportunities in China anymore. We disagree with that. There are still plenty of alpha generating opportunities and particularly high quality names in the growth categories who can offer a strong earnings and ROE track record, good management teams and limited reliance on foreign technology input or on domestic government policy support. We believe those names can offer strong downside protection and help minimize your portfolio's volatility, while also offer the upside from their respective growing sectors when the market turns around. We have put together selected names that we believe meeting these criteria, and we call them the China best business model.

Laura Wang: Robin, thanks a lot for taking the time to talk.

Robin Xing: Great speaking with you, Laura.

Laura Wang: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today.

China continues to face the triple challenge of debt, deflation and demographics. But are investors missing an opportunity in China equities?