China second-quarter GDP growth likely to cool as Beijing targets property, debt risks

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is expected to report on Monday that its economy grew 6.8 percent in April-June from a year earlier, cooling from the previous quarter’s robust 6.9 percent pace as policymakers seek to rein in property and debt risks.

A general view of Shanghai's financial district of Pudong is seen in Shanghai, China April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song

Beijing is trying to defuse property bubbles and curb a debt build-up amid fears such risks could derail the world’s second-largest economy if not handled well, but policymakers look to be treading warily ahead of a key party meeting later this year.

Authorities’ restrictive measures on the property sector have slowed investment, while a regulatory crackdown on unscrupulous lending and a modest shift to tighter monetary conditions have started to drive up funding costs for banks and companies.

Most economists polled by Reuters expected China’s second-quarter gross domestic product growth to slow from a stronger than expected 6.9 percent rise in the first quarter, which was the fastest expansion in six quarters.

“China GDP surprised on the upside last quarter. The key driving force came from the industrial sectors but the momentum does not seem to be lasting long. Investment was the reason behind such rapid growth but it’s now slowing down,” analysts at Natixis said in a research note.

“The good thing is that trade and consumption are still holding up but not enough to fully offset the slowdown in investment.”

A surprisingly upbeat reading would likely lift stocks and global commodity prices, but a weak outcome could boost bearish bets on the yuan CNY=CFXS, which has gained about 2 percent against the dollar so far this year.

Economists in the poll estimated GDP grew 1.7 percent quarter-on-quarter, versus the first quarter’s 1.3 percent pace.


An upturn in global demand for Chinese products could be a boon for the country’s leaders as they seek to contain a dangerous build-up in debt that has ballooned to 277 percent of GDP.

Meanwhile, authorities have been pushing forward supply-side reforms to cut excess capacity in steel and coal sectors.

Data on Thursday showed both China’s exports and imports rose faster-than-expected in June from a year earlier, which could offset weakness in other parts of economy in the second quarter.

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded its credit rating in May, saying it expects the country’s financial strength will erode in coming years as growth slows and debt continues to rise.

On Friday, Fitch Ratings affirmed its A+ rating for China but flagged rising debt levels as a risk.

Beijing has set a slightly more modest growth target of around 6.5 percent for 2017, theoretically offering more wiggle room for reforms after the economy grew 6.7 percent in 2016 - the weakest pace in 26 years.

China’s economic growth is expected to cool further to 6.6 percent in 2017, according to a Reuters poll of analysts, with the pace of expansion slowing steadily in the third- and fourth-quarter.

The People’s Bank of China shifted to a modest tightening bias at the start of this year, guiding market interest rates higher during the first quarter, including immediately after the U.S. Federal Reserve raised rates in March.

But the central bank injected substantial liquidity last month to help avoid an end-quarter cash crunch as Beijing tightened regulations to force banks to deleverage.

For now, China’s economy may have to rely on new credit to generate growth as productivity slows, despite worries about debt risks, analysts said.

Data on Wednesday showed Chinese lenders extended more credit than expected in June, as home lending stayed buoyant while a clampdown on shadow financing activities forced banks to shift more loans onto their books.

Reporting by Kevin Yao; Editing by Sam Holmes