Archive for ‘Ageing population’


China showing signs similar to Japanese housing bubble that led to its ‘lost decades’, expert warns

  • China’s housing market showing signs of bubble similar to that seen in Japan in 1980s, says Asian Development Bank Institute dean and CEO Naoyuki Yoshino
  • China’s loose policy following 2008 global financial crisis laid foundations for current housing bubble, with US-China trade war adding to concerns
The average price of a home in Beijing has soared from around 380 yuan (US$55) per square feet in the early 2000s to the current level of well above 5,610 yuan (US$813) per square foot, according to property data provider Photo: Bloomberg
The average price of a home in Beijing has soared from around 380 yuan (US$55) per square feet in the early 2000s to the current level of well above 5,610 yuan (US$813) per square foot, according to property data provider Photo: Bloomberg
China must exercise extreme caution in handling its housing sector because it is showing signs similar to those witnessed during Japan’s bubble period of the 1980s that contributed to the collapse of Japanese asset prices and its subsequent “lost decades” of weak economic growth and deflation, a Japanese financial system expert warned.
The parallels between China’s current landscape and Japan’s three decades ago are readily apparent, stemming from a loose monetary policy that laid the foundation for the expansion of a housing bubble, said Naoyuki Yoshino, dean and CEO of the Asian Development Bank Institute.
China flooded its economy with credit in response to the 2008 global financial crisis, fuelling rapid growth in mortgages, real estate borrowings and investments over the past decade.
In the same vein, the Japanese government’s relaxed monetary policy in the 1980s triggered an economic bubble that eventually burst and sank the economy into a recession that 
lasted almost 25 years,

with the Bank of Japan continuing to still keep interest rates at or below zero per cent to this day in an attempt to spur inflation.

The Japanese government’s relaxed monetary policy in the 1980s triggered an economic bubble that eventually burst and sank the economy into a recession that lasted almost 25 years. Photo: Bloomberg
The Japanese government’s relaxed monetary policy in the 1980s triggered an economic bubble that eventually burst and sank the economy into a recession that lasted almost 25 years. Photo: Bloomberg

Japan’s experience could serve as a lesson on how to avoid a housing market collapse that would be especially detrimental to China’s financial sector and real economy, according to Yoshino.

“I’m very much concerned that if land prices keep on rising and if the population starts to shrink along with aggregate demand, then China will experience a similar situation to that of Japan,” Yoshino said.

There are already several strong signs of a housing bubble in China, according to Yoshino, firstly the astronomical surge in property prices in recent years.

I’m very much concerned that if land prices keep on rising and if the population starts to shrink along with aggregate demand, then China will experience a similar situation to that of Japan Naoyuki Yoshino
Home ownership is one of the few ways for Chinese families to generate wealth because of limited investment opportunities. The average price of a home in Beijing has soared from around 4,000 yuan (US$578) per square metre, or 380 yuan (US$55) per square feet, in the early 2000s to the current level of well above 60,000 yuan (US$8,677) per square metre, or 5,610 yuan (US$813) per square foot, according to property data provider

The increase has also lifted the housing price to income ratio sharply from 5.6 in 1996 to 7.6 in 2013, well above the Japanese rate of 3.0 at its peak in 1988. The price to income ratio is the basic affordability measure for housing.

According to the Global Times, a reasonable home price should be three to six times the median household income. That means a family with an average income can buy a house with three to six years’ annual income. The house price to income ratio in China is above 50 in the first-tier cities and 30 to 40 in the third- and fourth-tier cities, the newspaper said in October. There are four levels of cities in China, defined by a number of factors including gross domestic product (GDP) and population, with Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen considered tier-one cities.

Another worrying sign, according to Yoshino, is that China’s financial sector has lent more heavily to the real estate sector than did Japanese banks during their bubble period.

Thirdly, the ratio of Chinese housing loans to the nation’s GDP has consistently been higher than Japan’s by about three times more.

Ever since US President Donald Trump started imposing tariffs on Chinese imports in July, worries have been mounting that China’s property bubble and its record debt level would make the economy vulnerable to the impact of rising trade tensions, leading to a sharper-than-expected economic slowdown.

Despite a government crackdown on debt and risky lending over the last several years, housing prices and bank lending to the sector have continued to rise, pushing homes beyond what the vast majority of people can afford, as well as putting many property developers deeply into debt.

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a top government think tank, said in a report last week that the growth in housing prices in China’s bigger cities, caused by a relatively short supply of new homes, is likely to push up costs across the country.

“The government should closely monitor these cities to avoid overheating,” said Wang Yeqiang, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who co-authored the report.

Property developers have begun a debt-fuelled land-buying spree just as urban housing demand is entering a long-running structural decline, said Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China economist at Capital Economics. The potential supply of property that could be built on developers’ land reserves jumped last year to a record high, meaning the risk of a glut of new housing is real, Evans-Pritchard added, if developers were to convert all their land reserves into housing tracts.

“Since real estate drives around a fifth of GDP, a sharp downturn in this sector would be contagious, resulting in a jump in defaults across a wide swathe of the economy that could quickly erode bank capital buffers,” he warned.

China’s corporate debt stood at 155 per cent of GDP in the second quarter of 2018, much higher than other major economies, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. In comparison, Japan’s corporate debt level is 100 per cent of GDP and is 74 per cent in the US. China’s corporate debt includes issuances by its 

local government

vehicles which by extension is mostly credit with an implicit guarantee from the central government.

Since real estate drives around a fifth of GDP, a sharp downturn in this sector would be contagious, resulting in a jump in defaults across a wide swathe of the economy that could quickly erode bank capital buffersJulian Evans-Pritchard

China’s imbalance between housing supply and demand may worsen because it faces a similar economic transition that is already well underway in Japan – a

rapidly ageing population


shrinking workforce

that led to Japan’s long-term deflation problem, said Yoshino, who is also the chief adviser to the Japan Financial Services Agency’s Financial Research Centre.

Even if rising housing demand due to urbanisation were to push China’s housing prices higher over the near term, the country faces risks from an oversupply of housing in the longer term due to its increasingly unbalanced demographic structure, he said.
The government has proposed that China’s retirement ages of 45 to 50 years for females and 55 to 60 years for males introduced in the 1980s be gradually increased to 65 years for both by 2045 due to a rapidly ageing population.
The rising population of retirees will consume fewer goods and services compared to younger families with children, and in turn, could dampen business investment given lower expected rates of return.
At the same time, more retirees means a bigger burden on the younger generation of taxpayers, which would reduce their wealth and change patterns of consumption. This is especially worrying on the back of China’s high debt level and pension funding gap, similar to the situation in Japan, Yoshino said.
In Japan, benefits from government pension schemes account for an increasing share of the country’s accumulated debt as spending on social protection programmes now represents more than a third of the government’s total budget.
China’s national pension fund is forecast to peak at 6.99 trillion yuan (US$1 trillion) in 2027 before it gradually runs out by 2035, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Photo: AFP
China’s national pension fund is forecast to peak at 6.99 trillion yuan (US$1 trillion) in 2027 before it gradually runs out by 2035, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Photo: AFP
The strain is also evident in China with the

national pension fund

forecast to peak at 6.99 trillion yuan (US$1 trillion) in 2027 before it gradually runs out by 2035, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, forcing the government to start to transfer assets from state-owned companies to fill the funding gap.

Against the broader economic slowdown, compounded by the trade war with the US, policymakers are also expected to carve out a highly expansionary fiscal budget for this year, with the broad deficit surging to 6.6 per cent of China’s GDP, up from 4.7 per cent last year, according to Larry Hu, head of China economics at Macquarie Capital.

Alicia Garcia Herrero, Asia-Pacific chief economist at Natixis, noted that the US criticisms of China’s unfair trade practises and currency manipulation were reminiscent of the US-Japan disputes in the 1980s and 1990s.

Because Japan was politically and economically dependent on the US at that time, it inevitably implemented economic policies to reduce its current account surplus. Subsequently, Japan suffered from the bursting of its asset price bubble, which led to deflation and the lost decades.

However, Herrero said that the modern China is less dependent on the US and so is in a better position to resist pressure to adjust its economic policies to create demand for American products.

Wang Yang, one of the seven members of China’s elite Politburo Standing Committee, said the US-China trade war could slash one percentage point off Beijing’s economic growth this year. Last year, growth expanded at its slowest pace since 1990, while corporate bond defaults hit a record high and banks’ non-performing loan ratio hit a 10-year high.

Source: SCMP


Time to end China’s one-child policy urgently: government advisers warn of demographic crisis ahead | South China Morning Post

Government advisers have strengthened calls for China to further ease its stringent one-child policy urgently, ahead of a meeting this month during which the Communist Party’s decision-making body will set the tone for national economic and social development for the next five years.

Newborns receive vaccines in a hospital in China. Photo: Reuters

In a report recently submitted to the authorities, China’s top think tanks urged Beijing to immediately relax restrictions on the number of children couples are allowed to have, according to an academic with knowledge of the matter.

The report was based on a survey jointly conducted by several institutes including the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Renmin University and a think tank under the national family planning office, said the academic, who did not want to be named.

“There is already a consensus among China’s demographers that the limits should be relaxed,” said Wang Feng, a demographer with the University of California, Irvine, and a guest professor at Fudan University. “It’s … already too late to be doing so.”

While the survey’s contents were not made public, an earlier report by the China Business Network, a consultancy group, said it included predictions of the population trend and when it would peak. The survey had been commissioned by the decision-making authorities, highlighting the likelihood of a revision in the policy, the group said.

Source: Time to end China’s one-child policy urgently: government advisers warn of demographic crisis ahead | South China Morning Post


Tapping China’s ‘Silver Hair Industry’ – China Real Time Report – WSJ

Researchers at Abbott Laboratories in Shanghai are busy testing flavors of nutritional drinks for China’s senior citizens. Kimberly-Clark Corp. has launched television ads for its Depend adult diapers and expanded distribution online. Local e-commerce companies like Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Inc. are rolling out senior-focused marketing pushes.

The companies are after the growing ranks of people born during a Mao Zedong-inspired baby boom that took the country’s population to nearly one billion people in 1980 from 542,000 in 1949. China’s birthrate dropped sharply during the 1970s and 1980s as the government reversed course and implemented a one-child policy.

The boomers are now hitting old age: China’s over-65 population is projected to soar to 210 million in 2030 from 110 million, and by 2050 will account for a quarter of China’s total population, according to United Nations data. By then, the U.N. says, China’s elderly population may exceed the entire U.S. population.

“What has us interested…is that half a billion people over the age of 60 will be living in China over the next 35 years,” said Scott White, president of Abbott’s international nutrition division.

via Tapping China’s ‘Silver Hair Industry’ – China Real Time Report – WSJ.


Global hunt for top skills accelerates –

China will speed up the exploration of immigration policies this year to attract skilled foreign workers, a senior official said on Thursday.

However, Zhang Jianguo, head of the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, did not give details on when the policies will be introduced.

Experts said Zhang\’s remarks show that China may, for the first time, single out skilled workers as a special category in its general immigration polices, as the country faces a shortage of such workers.

Wang Huiyao, director of the Center for China and Globalization, said the government urgently needs to revise its immigration policies to attract more highly skilled foreigners.

\”China\’s population is aging quickly and we also need more skilled workers for our economic upgrading,\” he said. China needs to loosen its immigration policies, including giving citizenship to skilled foreign nationals, he added.

Such immigration policies are common in Western countries, which roll out favorable measures for the skilled foreign workers they lack.

China has experienced a talent \”deficit\” for years. In 2012 alone, more than 148,000 Chinese obtained overseas citizenship, while just 1,202 expatriates were granted permanent residency in China, according to a report by Wang\’s center on Wednesday.

China usually grants its version of green cards to foreigners in certain categories: Businessmen who have invested at least $500,000 in the country; technical personnel such as managers; people with skills \”needed by the State\” and spouses of Chinese nationals, providing their marriage has lasted at least five years and they have lived in China for at least nine months in each of those years.

via Global hunt for top skills accelerates –

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House-for-pension stirs Chinese debate on elder care

This post and another on China‘s labour force posted today illustrate how fast China is catching up with developed nations, not always for the better.

China Daily: “For 71-year-old Li Yuzhen, a life taking care of a sick husband and a mentally-disabled son in their two-bedroom apartment in the East China city of Hefei has not been easy.

The family of three nets a monthly income of 3,000 yuan ($487), but spends one third of it on medicine. They barely make ends meet with the rest of the money.

Li said they could not afford a nursing home, and she has to stay at home to look after her son, a man in his 40s but still unmarried due to his condition.

In an effort to explore elder care solutions for China’s rapidly aging society, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, vowed last week to complete a social care network for people over age 60 by 2020, when the age group is expected to reach 243 million. This group’s population had already reached 194 million by the end of 2012, giving China the largest senior population on earth.

One solution proposed is the house-for-pension program.

“The plan allows you to deed your house to an insurance company or bank, which will determine the value of your house and your life expectancy, and then grant you a certain amount every month,” said Meng Xiaosu, former CEO of Happy Life Insurance Co, Ltd.

“You can still live in your house, but the company or the bank has ownership,” Meng said.

The program, while only a suggestion, has drawn widespread concern and met with mixed views.

Zhan Chengfu, director of the division on social welfare and charity of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said the program benefits both the elderly and insurance companies and banks as it can ease elderly care fund shortages, revitalize housing resources and expand the insurance business.

According to a joint study by the Bank of China (BOC) and Deutsche Bank last year, the aging population will leave China with a shortfall of 18.3 trillion yuan in pension funds by 2013 and create a heavy fiscal burden for the country.

Zheng Bingwen, a social security researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, likened China’s pension system to a pyramid with the ground level being the basic pension pool, the middle level being companies’ supplementary pensions, and the top level being individuals’ commercial insurance. But the proportion of the total pension funds to gross domestic output is small compared to other BRICS nations.

“We need different channels to supplement funds shortage, and house-for-pension is likely to be a plausible way for elder care,” Zhang said.

However, the proposal stirred a heated public debate, especially among people whose parents have property and fear losing the inheritance.

via House-for-pension stirs debate on elder care[1]|

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New China law says children ‘must visit parents’

Is China following Western countries into becoming a ‘nanny state’?

BBC: “Grown children in China must visit their parents or potentially face fines or jail, a new law that came into effect on Monday says.

File photo: a group of elderly men take a rest on their wheelchairs at a park in Beijing on 23 May 2013

China’s new “Elderly Rights Law” deals with the growing problem of lonely elderly people by ordering adult children to visit their aging parents.

The law says adults should care about their parents “spiritual needs” and “never neglect or snub elderly people”.

“Those who live far away from parents should go home often,” it adds.

But many across China are questioning how the law could be enforced, since it fails to spell out a detailed schedule dictating the frequency with which children should make parental house calls.

However, that does not mean the law is toothless.

Instead, it serves as an “educational message” to the public, while also serving as a starting point for law suits, explained Zhang Yan Feng, a lawyer with Beijing’s King & Capital Law Firm.

“It’s hard to put this law into practice, but not impossible,” Mr Zhang explained.

“If a case is brought to court on the basis of this law, I think it’ll probably end up in a peaceful settlement. But if no settlement is reached, technically speaking, court rulings can force the person to visit home certain times a month.”

“If this person disobeys court rulings, he could be fined or detained.””

via BBC News – New China law says children ‘must visit parents’.


* Grandparents without borders

Another aspect of the on-going migrant workers issue that needs resolving by the government soon – before it blows up in their faces.

China Daily: “Migrant grandparents who leave their homes to live in the cities and take care of their children’s children are a growing demographic. Liu Zhihua highlights changes they have to face in adapting to their new lifestyles.

Grandparents without borders

In villages across China, grandparents have set aside their dreams of retirement to raise children left behind by their reluctant parents, who migrate to the cities in pursuit of making more money than at home. At a totally different level up the economic pyramid, in urban households, grandparents are now migrating from their homes to take care of their grandchildren in cities hundreds and thousands of miles away – as families scatter across a rapidly transforming China. Their children need to work, and are reluctant to hire a full-time babysitter, either due to distrust of a stranger, preference for family, or financial restraints.

As a result, grandparents, especially grandmothers, shoulder the responsibility of being primary caregivers, when they could be at their leisure after retirement.

But it’s not always easy to adapt, especially at what may be a relatively advanced age.

While staying in Shanghai last year to take care of her pregnant daughter, and later, her newly born grandson, Deng Chengying, 55, felt as if she was in a prison.

Xiong Jiayi enjoys quality time with his grandmother. [Provided to China Daily]

The Jingzhou native of Hubei province doesn’t understand the Shanghai dialect, but in the community where the family lives, nearly all the elderly neighbors speak only Shanghai dialect.

Deng does have one frequent visitor, a friendly old woman who is an empty nester , but conversation is difficult because she speaks only the Shanghai dialect.

If it wasn’t for the traders in the morning market speaking Mandarin, Deng would have few opportunities to speak her native tongue with those in her community.

When her daughter and son-in-law go to work and the housework is finished, she generally stays in the apartment and plays online games.

“I’m so thrilled I just jump if I meet someone whose language I understand,” Deng once confided to her relatives at home in Jingzhou during a phone call.”

via Grandparents without borders |Society |

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* China’s workforce peak demographics

Well reasoned analysis that goes behind and beyond headline figures – as expected from the EIU.

EIU: “China’s working age population is set to peak in 2013, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit‘s latest demographic projections. However the impact of this milestone on the country’s economy will be different from the experience of other, predominantly rich countries that have already undergone the process. While ageing, the country’s urban workforce will continue to grow. It will also become much better educated.

China Ageing Population

In the developed world, ageing is most commonly associated with shrinking workforces relative to the rest of the population, giving rise to pension cuts, postponed retirement and higher taxes on the young. As an economy still in transition, China need not fret about such issues. For a start, China’s state pension system is far from generous and its coverage low. Rather, the country’s biggest fear is that of worsening labour shortages—a phenomenon that was first reported in the mid–2000s and was subsequently the subject of much attention in the national media. There are two good reasons why these fears are overblown.

Rural fuel

First, China is still in the midst of a massive urbanisation drive. When the working-age populations of Germany and Japan, the world’s largest ageing economies, began to shrink in 1999 and 1995 respectively, the process of massive rural-to-urban migration had already matured. The proportion of the population residing in urban areas, or the urbanisation rate, had more or less stabilised at 73% and 65% respectively.

In contrast, China’s urbanisation rate will only reach 55% this year and is likely to continue rising by around one percentage point (or 13m people) every year, according to our projections. China will only reach Japan’s level of urbanisation by 2022 and Germany’s by 2030. Thus, even though China’s working-age population will shrink overall, the urban working-age population will only peak in 2029 after reaching 695m—135m higher than it was in 2012.

The flip side of this trend is a shrinking rural population. However, China’s rural population has been diminishing for three decades without much adverse impact on agricultural output. That is because its countryside is overpopulated: there are too many farmers working too little land. Indeed, China has even managed to boost agricultural output over the years by investing in machinery and technology.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how many more workers the agricultural sector can afford to lose before a large impact on farm output is felt. However, most economists agree that another 100m or so is achievable. Coupled with the fact that the primary sector only accounts for 10% of GDP, it becomes clear that, when it comes to maintaining economic growth, the urban workforce is really the only one that matters.

From factories to classrooms

Second, China’s labour shortages have largely been misdiagnosed. Much ink has been spilt attributing the lack of young workers for unfilled factory vacancies to demographic factors. Yet the number of Chinese aged 16–24 increased from 196m to 210m between 2000 and 2010. The rise in urban areas is even greater. Where, then, did all the young workers go? The answer is simple: they went to school.

The proportion of junior secondary school graduates continuing on to senior secondary school surged from 51% to 88% between 2000 and 2010. At the same time, the proportion of Chinese aged 16–19 that were either employed or seeking employment (the labour participation rate) fell from 57% to 34%. The relationship is clear: rising enrolment rates at schools have played a major role in postponing entry to the workforce.

The surge in school enrolment implies that the supply of young workers entering the job market will not only remain stable as China passes its demographic turning point, but might even grow. Enrolment rates cannot rise forever, and all the would–be teenage workers that were absorbed by the schooling system over the past decade will enter the workforce sooner or later.

As China’s youth becomes better educated, the coming decade will witness the emergence of a two-tiered workforce. One tier will consist of graduates looking for office jobs. The other will remain the country’s “traditional” source of labour: relatively low–skilled rural migrants seeking work in factories and construction yards. The latter group will, however, have aged substantially, creating new challenges for managers and HR departments across the country.

China’s workforce challenge is thus twofold: policymakers need to ensure that there are enough white-collar jobs for graduates, while employers of low-skilled workers will need to come to grips with hiring and managing an older workforce. Failure to do so will have serious consequences. An educated class disillusioned by high unemployment is something China can ill afford at a time of rising social tensions. At the same time, an inability to replace young workers with older ones could spell the end of the golden age of China’s mighty manufacturing sector.

Yet, if the demographic transition is managed successfully, there will be just cause to celebrate. The Chinese economic miracle has pulled more than 200m people out of poverty over the past 30 years. In the last ten, it has allowed 60m children who would otherwise never have finished secondary school to do so. The next task will be to ensure that their studies have not been in vain.”

via Peak demographics.



The Associated Press: “Visit your parents. That’s an order.

So says China, whose national legislature on Friday amended its law on the elderly to require that adult children visit their aged parents “often” – or risk being sued by them.

The amendment does not specify how frequently such visits should occur.

State media say the new clause will allow elderly parents who feel neglected by their children to take them to court. The move comes as reports abound of elderly parents being abandoned or ignored by their children.

A rapidly developing China is facing increasing difficulty in caring for its aging population. Three decades of market reforms have accelerated the breakup of the traditional extended family in China, and there are few affordable alternatives, such as retirement or care homes, for the elderly or others unable to live on their own.

Earlier this month, state media reported that a grandmother in her 90s in the prosperous eastern province of Jiangsu had been forced by her son to live in a pig pen for two years. News outlets frequently carry stories about other parents being abused or neglected, or of children seeking control of their elderly parents’ assets without their knowledge.

The expansion of China’s elderly population is being fueled both by an increase in life expectancy – from 41 to 73 over five decades – and by family planning policies that limit most families to a single child. Rapid aging poses serious threats to the country’s social and economic stability, as the burden of supporting the growing number of elderly passes to a proportionately shrinking working population and the social safety net remains weak.”

via News from The Associated Press.

See also: Ageing population

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