Home on the Range, Chinese Style – China Real Time Report – WSJ

It’s a small step in the right direction, driven more by necessity than enlightened policy.

That’s the view from economists on China’s move this year to put forward a range for its economic growth target rather than a single number. The head of the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planning agency, said early this month that the 2016 target is likely to be “6.5% to 7%,” the first time in recent memory that China has used such a band. The target is set to be officially released early next month when China’s parliament convenes.

For decades, Beijing beat its annual growth targets without breaking a sweat. More recently, as growth decelerated faster than expected, it has faced growing difficulty hitting its number, so a range provides more wiggle room.

This follows Beijing’s decision to add an “about” to both its 7.5% target in 2014 and its 7% target last year. The adjective proved handy when the actual growth figures wound up falling short both times.

The risk this year, economists say, is that even a 6.5% to 7% target may be too high, heaping pressure on local officials to artificially stimulate growth in ways that increase debt and blunt reform initiatives.

This is also the year that China sets a growth target for the coming five years that’s expected to be 6.5%, in line with a Communist Party goal of doubling per capita income by 2020 over 2010 levels. This benchmark also may be high, analysts said, given China’s many structural problems and so-far limited appetite for reform.

“If they really stick to the 6.5% target by adopting unsustainable policies, throwing up more credit, they face a bigger problem with debt down the road,” said Fitch Ratings Inc. analyst Andrew Colquhoun. “Many emerging market problems in the past have happened when countries veer off and start to believe their own hype on what growth is possible.”

Source: Home on the Range, Chinese Style – China Real Time Report – WSJ

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