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China on the Cusp of Deflation as Economic Indicators Plunge

China on the Cusp of Deflation as Economic Indicators Plunge

Recent economic data from China points to the nation inching towards deflation, signaling increasing threats to its economic stability. Inflation indicators Consumer Price Index (CPI) and Producer Price Index (PPI) have both missed expectations, raising fears of a worsening economic scenario and the possibility of stimulus measures to revive the economy.

Diving Indicators and a Possible Deflation

The June 2023 report from China's National Bureau of Statistics reveals that the nation's CPI was static, down from 0.2% in May. This is the weakest rate since February 2021, when falling pork prices caused the index to dip. The PPI or factory-gate prices nosedived 5.4% YoY, marking the largest drop since December 2015.

The sliding prices have escalated concerns about the risk of deflation and sparked speculation about a potential economic stimulus to bolster the economy. Notably, core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy costs, slowed to 0.4% from 0.6%.

Mounting Deflationary Pressure

Chinese producers have been grappling with depressed commodity prices and lukewarm demand both domestically and internationally for months. If this triggers consumers and businesses to delay spending or investment in anticipation of further price drops, it may result in a self-reinforcing price decrease spiral.


This situation bolsters the case for stimulus, which in turn could induce another upswing in commodity prices. Michelle Lam, Greater China economist at Societe Generale SA, emphasized the need for policy easing in response to the recent data.

A Familiar Quandary

China's economy hasn't endured prolonged consumer price deflation since the global financial crisis in 2009. Back then, Beijing implemented a 4 trillion yuan ($553 billion) stimulus package centered on infrastructure and industrial upgrades. While the plan temporarily boosted growth, it also led local governments to accrue more debt than permitted, inflating the national debt.

This time, however, options to counter deflation risks are more constrained, partly due to concerns over debt risks. As such, most measures to support the economy have been limited, with the central bank only making minor cuts to a key policy interest rate. There are also extensions of tax breaks for electric car purchasers.

A Balanced Approach to Economic Stimulus

Given the mounting deflation threats and the continuous slide of China's economy and property markets, Beijing may have no choice but to intervene. However, any measures are likely to be measured and targeted. Bruce Pang, chief economist at Jones Lang Lasalle Inc., stressed that it is improbable for the government to introduce exceptionally strong macro policies. The emphasis is on reliable and high-quality growth that ensures a balance between adjusting the structure of the economy and mitigating potential risks.

The specter of deflation now adds to the other economic concerns already faced by China, including a sluggish economy, record youth unemployment, and rising debt levels. If deflation becomes a persistent threat to growth, the calls for a more substantial stimulus package will likely intensify.

What could be the potential economic implications for China and the global economy if China's deflation trend continues, and how might the Chinese government's potential stimulus measures affect these outcomes?


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