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Property and credit booms stablise China growth
By Benjamin CARLSON
Beijing (AFP) Oct 19, 2016

Chinese growth stabilised in the third quarter, data showed Wednesday, as ample credit and hot property markets propped up the world's second-largest economy.

But while the forecast-beating reading was in line with state targets, it came as experts warned that authorities have relied too much on easy credit, which has in turn increased financial risks.

The economy grew 6.7 percent in July-September, officials said, just above the 6.6 percent predicted in an AFP poll.

"The general performance was better than expected," National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) spokesman Sheng Laiyun told reporters. "The national economy grew steadily."

The government has targeted 6.5-7.0 percent growth for the year, following 6.9 percent last year -- the slowest rate in a quarter of a century.

"It was so in-line with expectations that I could have written this yesterday, to be honest," Michael Every with Rabobank in Hong Kong told AFP. "It's amazing what a housing bubble and crazy debt increases can achieve."

Also Wednesday, data showed a pick-up in retail spending, which has become an increasingly important component as Beijing looks to recalibrate the country's growth driver from investment and exports to consumer demand.

But Beijing's attempts to retool the economy have proved painful, with authorities resorting to stimulus measures as they try to avoid a hard landing.

Sheng acknowledged that the economy was in "a critical period of transformation and upgrading, with old drivers of growth to be replaced by new ones".

With "a number of unstable and uncertain domestic and external factors", he added, "the foundation of continued economic growth is not solid enough."

Some analysts have questioned the accuracy of Chinese data, arguing they are subject to political manipulation.

"As always, the GDP figures will be met with some scepticism," said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics, who thinks expansion is slower than official reports.

Though the figures suggest economic activity is broadly holding up, he said, the recent recovery was "on borrowed time" as Beijing tried to rein in runaway lending and housing prices.

- Loans surge -

The booming property market and loose lending supported the latest GDP figures, Claire Huang of Societe Generale told AFP, adding that new house-buying regulations and necessary credit tightening meant "the downturn will become even more obvious" in the fourth quarter and next year.

Data released Tuesday showed new loans by Chinese banks in September surged nearly 30 percent over the previous month, deepening concern about risky credit expansion.

Earlier this month the International Monetary Fund warned that China's dependence on debt was growing at a "dangerous pace" and risked a "disruptive adjustment" in the financial system.

That came after the Bank for International Settlements -- dubbed the central bank of central banks -- warned China's banking sector could be facing an imminent debt crisis, fuelling fresh fears of a blowout that could hit the global financial system.

China's industrial output growth eased to 6.1 percent on-year in September, down from 6.3 percent in August, government data also showed Wednesday, as sluggish global demand weighed on the world's biggest trader in goods.

A slowdown in the supply chain of electronic goods dragged on production, ANZ analysts said, noting a particular slide in making mobile phones.

But retail sales, a key measure of consumer spending, rose 10.7 percent on-year last month, representing a slight acceleration from August.

Fixed-asset investment, a gauge of infrastructure spending, rose 8.2 percent in the first nine months of the year.

The figures showed that crude steel production rose 3.9 percent on-year in September, despite repeated pledges to cut overcapacity and excess production in the industry, which is dominated by bloated state-owned enterprises.

NBS spokesman Sheng said that rising prices for coal and steel had given loss-making firms a lifeline, noting that "those companies that need to be closed down have resumed their production, because they are making profit again".

Looking ahead, Beijing will shift its focus from GDP to tackling excess capacity and massive corporate debt, ANZ analysts said in a note.

Investors took the figures in their stride with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index fractionally higher by the noon break Wednesday.

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