China’s President Xi Jinping
China’s President Xi Jinping is due to arrive in India tomorrow, and for a change he’s the one with an economy heading in the wrong direction, not Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After several dismal years, growth in India is rebounding, and the stock prices of companies selling to Indian consumers are benefiting from the surge in optimism that accompanied Modi’s landslide election victory in May. Britannia Industries, the Kolkata-based maker of cookies and other food products, is up 55 percent so far this year and today hit a 52-week high. “The Indian consumption story is back,” Credit Suisse analysts Neelkanth Mishra and Ravi Shankar wrote in a report published today.
Meanwhile, China is struggling as the troubled banking system and property markets put a damper on the economy. Hit by a slump in the property market, the Chinese economy expanded at an annual rate of 6.3 percent in August, a dramatic slowdown from the 7.4 percent growth in July and nowhere close to the government’s target of 7.5 percent. So far this year, the area of new property under development has declined 14.4 percent. The data from last month “made depressing reading,” Bloomberg economist Tom Orlik wrote in a report published yesterday.
The role reversal could lead to a world-turned-upside-down moment as early as 2016. That’s when India, always the laggard, may pull ahead of China and became the fastest-growing of Asia’s giants. India is likely to enjoy 7.2 percent growth in 2016, says Rajeev Malik, senior economist in Singapore with CLSA, compared with China’s 7.1 percent. Given the structural problems Xi faces and the slack Modi inherited, “China has to slow down, and India can do much better,” he says.
India has suffered from a chronically high inflation rate, but there are signs that pressure is easing, albeit slowly. Consumer prices last month rose 7.8 percent, a slight improvement from July’s 7.96 percent. Yesterday, the government reported wholesale prices rose 3.74 percent in August. That’s the best result in five years.
One of the major challenges for Xi is weaning China off of its habit of using state-owned banks to give the economy a jolt whenever it might miss a growth target. That has led over the years to misallocation of capital for infrastructure projects and property development. The amount of outstanding debt in the banking system has gone up five- or sixfold over the past decade, Global Distressed Solutions President Jack Rodman told Bloomberg Television today. “The outstanding amount of loans—the majority of which went to infrastructure and real-estate property projects—is probably at the highest level of any country in the world,” said Rodman, who added that a Japan-style funk is “very possible.”