Abbreviated from McKinsey: http://www.mckinsey.com/Insights/Strategy/What_might_happen_in_China_in_2016?cid=other-eml-alt-mip-mck-oth-1601
What’s in store for China in 2016?
The reality is that China’s economy is today made up of multiple subeconomies, each more than a trillion dollars in size. Some are booming, some declining. Some are globally competitive, others fit for the scrap heap. How you feel about China depends more than ever on the parts of the economy where you compete. In 2015, selling kit to movie theaters has been great business, selling kit to steel mills less so. In your China, are you dealing with a tiger or a tortoise? Your performance in 2016 will depend on knowing the answer to this question and shaping your plans accordingly.
Many well-established secular trends in China will continue in 2016. The service economy’s expansion is perhaps most prominent among them. In this piece, as usual, I won’t spend much time on the most familiar things. Instead, I will highlight what I believe will become the more important and more visible trends in 2016, either because they are now accelerating to scale or a discontinuity may become a tipping point. (For a quick summary, see sidebar, “The China Orr-acle: Gordon’s predictions for 2016.”) I hope you find my ideas valuable.
The 13th five-year plan—few surprises
Much of China’s 13th five-year plan will seem pretty familiar, as it has been flagged in advance at the Fifth Plenum and elsewhere. Perhaps the only challenge will be to interpret the plan’s intent clearly through the new “party speak” now coming to dominate government pronouncements.
The GDP growth target will still be 6 percent–plus, which will be softened a bit but not eliminated by parallel quality-of-life goals: the environment, health, income, and the like. Achieving the growth target will remain the core objective of fiscal and monetary policies, so expect lower interest rates and pressure on the exchange rate versus the US dollar in 2016. Financial reforms aimed at moving more of the economy toward a market-based allocation of capital will continue.
Meanwhile, there will be more progress on interest-rate deregulation, on the IPO process (registration rather than approval), on permitting new entrants (especially from the tech sector and from abroad) into financial services, and on reimplementing laws suspended in the summer of 2015. The plan will promote decentralization, but the reality is likely to be greater centralization. More infrastructure will be built, mainly to enhance intraregional development—for example, around Greater Beijing.
Green initiatives, reinforced by December 2015 commitments made in Paris and the “red alert” in Beijing that same month, will take center stage. The central government will make such big and visible commitments to its citizens that local authorities will have to mount a serious effort to deliver. There will be tougher emissions standards and more spending to support the development of nonfossil fuels. Green finance will be available. Both private-sector and state-owned companies will rebrand their ongoing initiatives as green. China will explicitly build new export engines from its emerging global leadership in green products; for example, expect to see lots of Chinese-made air-filtration products in Delhi and the rest of India in 2016. Beyond green initiatives, going global will remain a key theme, as detailed in the One Belt, One Road program.1
Finally, the plan will recognize China’s success in raising labor productivity over the past decade and prioritize the acceleration of productivity growth, for both capital and labor, from 2016 to 2020. The plan will raise the implications of higher productivity for workers: the disappearance of many traditional well-paying jobs and the need for increased labor mobility and for the lifetime renewal and development of skills. But I am concerned that implementation will be left to local administrators and that the regions requiring the most help will have the lowest amounts of money to invest in reskilling the workforce and the least impressive actual skills to deliver.
Fewer jobs, flatter incomes—and, potentially, less confidence
The workplace in China is already changing dramatically in ways that will create many individual losers—for example, workers in industry sectors in secular decline (such as steel or textiles) or in industries where technology is rapidly displacing people even as output grows (like financial services or retailing). The government must help these workers reskill themselves to deliver on its commitment that all parts of society will benefit from economic growth and to keep people actively engaged in the economy. It will not be enough for officials to visit major local employers, as they did during the global financial crisis, and press them to retain all their current workers.
The maturing of investing: More options for Chinese investors and foreign investment managers
Chinese investors today remain dependent on bank deposits and property. Yet after the volatility of the property and stock markets in 2015, investors want to diversify into more stable vehicles. The number of wealth managers seeking to address this need has increased massively. Often, their main challenge is not finding clients but rather credible products to sell. The main challenge for investors is to find advisers they can trust; most simply push the products that give them the largest commission.
Manufacturing in China is changing, not disappearing
The closely watched manufacturing purchasing manager’s index (PMI) remains below 50, which indicates deterioration, leading to talk that the country may be nearing the end of its time as a manufacturer for the world. Let’s be clear: manufacturing is not about to become irrelevant in China. However, the country is evolving toward extremes of performance: the truly awful and the genuinely competitive.
Agricultural imports are rising and rising
In 2016, China’s growing food needs will drive agricultural imports to record highs in both volume and value. A wider range of countries than ever before will find agricultural-export opportunities there.
The Chinese media, especially during President Xi’s increasingly frequent trips abroad, made it clear that economic decision making has been centralized over the past two years. China will become still more centralized in 2016, rolling back decentralization where it had unintended outcomes. For example, after local governments received authority to approve new power plants, more than 150 new coal-fired ones were green-lit in the first nine months of 2015—more than three times the number approved in 2013, under the old centralized decision-making process. Unsurprisingly, coal-producing areas granted the largest number of approvals for plants that weren’t required under any realistic demand projection, even setting aside the question of whether any new plants at all should be coal fired. State-owned enterprises are behind most of these projects and would expect to be bailed out if they fail. Thus, for multiple reasons, such decisions will be recentralized.
Moving people at scale—the middle class, not peasants
Despite prodigious investment, many Chinese cities cannot build enough quality infrastructure to avoid massive day-to-day congestion. Even though the new five-year plan will commit the country to build more of it, that will not solve these problems; growth has simply outstripped potential solutions. For example, Beijing’s population officially grew by 60 percent, to 21 million, in just the past 14 years—and unofficially by significantly more.
Movies in China: $$$
A Chinese movie will gross $500 million domestically in 2016. As a benchmark, the highest-grossing movie of all time on US domestic screens is Avatar, at $760 million. This year’s leading domestic productions in China were Monster Hunt (which has grossed $380 million as of September) and Lost in Hong Kong (more than $200 million). The leading international movie, Furious 7, grossed almost $400 million in China. The country’s box office has been set to grow by almost 50 percent in 2015, and new screen additions alone should deliver 20 percent–plus growth in 2016. More than half of the top-ten movies for 2015 (as of late November) are domestic productions, and 60 percent of the box office comes from Chinese movies. The country’s producers and directors have clearly tapped into what excites local moviegoers (and what censors permit).
China continues to go global, with the United Kingdom as a new focal point
China’s outbound investment will accelerate in 2016, with One Belt, One Road–related initiatives driving much of it. A second driver will be distressed-asset acquisitions in basic materials and related sectors: Chinese acquirers may plan not to extract the assets in the near term but simply to stockpile them as long-term insurance. Finally, a growing share of the acquisitions will come from private-sector companies that aspire to global leadership. These companies are increasingly sophisticated buyers, conducting quality due diligence, working with traditional advisers, and focusing on countries where they think that warm political relations will make it easier to do deals.
And finally . . .
My enduring prediction that big business would embrace soccer in China has finally been realized, even if that happened more slowly than I expected. Footballer Sergio Agüero, of Manchester City Football Club, took what became one of the world’s most shared selfies, with President Xi and British Prime Minister David Cameron. It seemed only a matter of time before Chinese capital (specifically, China Media Capital and CITIC Capital Holdings) invested in Manchester City and its global network of teams, which includes the New York City Football Club. Other leading teams are exploring how to participate in China. Arsenal Football Club has a multiyear grassroots program in place, as does Real Madrid. And outbound investment in soccer is growing, highlighted when Wanda Group bought into Atlético de Madrid in 2015.
As always, don’t overfocus on short-term noise about Chinese GDP growth. Try to identify the medium-term direction of the parts of the economy relevant to your business. Enjoy China in 2016!
Gordon Orr is a director emeritus of McKinsey and senior external adviser.