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POLITICAL ECONOMY
China 2013 growth flat at 7.7%: AFP survey
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Jan 17, 2014


New richest man in Asia is Macau gambling tycoon: report
Hong Kong (AFP) Jan 17, 2014 - Macau gambling tycoon Lui Che-woo has replaced Hong Kong multi-billionaire Li Ka-shing as Asia's richest man, according to Bloomberg on Friday.

Lui, the head of Macau casino operator Galaxy Entertainment, saw his fortune rise $3.5 billion this month to $29.6 billion, about $100 million ahead of Li, whose fortune stood at $29.5 billion on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index on Thursday.

Lui's family fled war-torn China for Hong Kong in 1934 where he reportedly made money selling food on the streets of the former British colony at the age of 13.

He made his first fortune after World War II when he imported construction equipment, left by US forces in Okinawa, to the city.

The 84-year-old made entered the Macau gambling market with Galaxy after it opened up in 2002, after a four-decade monopoly held by Hong Kong gambling mogul Stanley Ho ended.

Galaxy, which saw its shares rise more than 100 percent in 2013, is one of six firms licensed to operate casinos in Macau, the world's biggest gaming hub, which was handed back to Beijing in 1999 and remains the only Chinese city where casino gambling is allowed.

Macau's gambling revenue jumped 18.6 percent to a record $45 billion in 2013, official figures showed earlier in the month.

According to Forbes Magazine's 2014 Hong Kong rich list, Lui is still behind Li, however.

Released this month, it places Lui's net worth at $21 billion behind Li's $32 billion.

Li Ka-shing started out in business as a plastic flower-maker but now commands a vast empire through Cheung Kong Holdings and Hutchison Whampoa, with global assets in property, telecoms, utilities, ports and retail.

The 85-year-old was Asia's richest man starting April 2012 after he surpassed Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani, according to the index.

The Bloomberg Billionaires Index lists American Jim Walton, founder of retailer Wal-Mart, as the richest in the world, with a fortune of $36.5 billion.

He was followed by Amazon's Jeff Bezos with a net worth of $35.7 billion.

The index, which ranks Lui and Li at 21 and 22, is a daily ranking of the world's richest people.

China's economy failed to pick up speed last year despite a promising mid-year rebound, an AFP survey shows, staying mired at its slowest growth rate in more than a decade.

The outlook for 2014 is for renewed deceleration in the world's second-biggest economy as the government cracks down on local debt problems and "shadow banking" -- non-traditional lending practices seen as potential threats to the financial system.

In a poll of 14 economists, the median forecast for gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2013 was 7.7 percent, matching the actual result for 2012, which was the country's worst performance since 1999.

The National Bureau of Statistics in Beijing is scheduled to announce China's GDP results on Monday for the fourth quarter of last year and the full year.

The economy entered 2013 with optimism for faster expansion, but hopes were dashed as growth tanked for two straight quarters before finally picking up to reach 7.8 percent in the July-to-September period.

Performance in the final three months of the year was mixed, however, with a general view emerging that the pick-up was fading.

The median forecast for fourth quarter growth in the AFP survey was 7.6 percent, while it was seen as slowing to 7.5 percent for full year 2014.

Hong Kong-based Societe Generale economist Yao Wei said the government's focus this year will be on "de-leveraging" -- referring to efforts to tackle credit growth.

"It is still introducing more new policies targeting shadow banking, local government financing vehicles and so on, which will definitely lead to rather big downside pressures on the economy," Yao told AFP.

China on a slowing trend

China's economy is widely seen as facing slower expansion in the years ahead as its leaders say they are committed to transforming the country's growth model to one where consumers and other private actors play the leading role, rather than huge and often wasteful state investment.

Within the past decade Chinese growth was regularly in double digits, but it has been on a slowing trend and Monday's statistics are set to show it completing three consecutive years in single figures for the first time since 2002.

Besides shifting the growth emphasis, China's leaders are also concerned about the country's financial system including shadow banking and government debt, particularly at the local level.

China late last month announced the results of a long-awaited debt audit, revealing that liabilities carried by local governments had ballooned to 17.9 trillion yuan ($2.95 trillion) as of the end of June, up 67 percent from the end of 2010.

Local authorities have long used debt to fuel growth in their regions, often by pursuing projects that are not economically viable or sustainable.

While few see the problem as a systemic threat, the debt issue is considered to be a serious potential drag on China's economy unless steps are taken to rein it in.

Shadow banking practices are seen as a culprit in fuelling credit. Shadow banking refers to lending sometimes issued by legitimate banks and financial institutions, as well as private deals between individuals or companies, that have arisen as a way of getting around strict banking rules.

Analysts say that such non-transparent, less regulated credit can stoke asset bubbles and threaten stability.

The financial system experienced two cash shortages last year, in part because authorities were eager to impose tighter discipline over banks, though how much they can do is open to question.

"China's monetary policy is gradually losing its efficacy," said Liu Li-Gang, chief economist for Greater China at ANZ bank.

The 2013 performance and 2014 outlook come after the ruling Communist Party in November pledged to deepen economic reforms, vowing to allow the market to "play a decisive role in allocating resources", a change from earlier wording that called its part merely "basic".

"The government looks to be more determined than three to four years ago to reform," said Zhang Zhiwei, economist at Nomura International, though he said the economy's "worsening momentum" poses a challenge.

Though the government clearly wants growth to become more sustainable, it is unlikely to tolerate too sharp a drop as creating new jobs is the key to fulfilling the party's promise of increasing prosperity, and maintaining social stability.

ANZ bank's Liu described the government's reform effort for this year as "arduous".

"Too much emphasis on GDP growth will likely delay many reform policies and in that case it could be fatal to China's sustainable development and the credibility of the government," he said.

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