“As Its Economy Sprints Ahead, China’s People Are Left Behind”

Another article (this one from NYT) that seems to reflect the darkening outlook on the Chinese economy:

Wang Jianping and his wife, Shue, are a relatively affluent Chinese couple, with an annual household income of $16,000 — more than double the national average for urban families.

They own a modest, three-bedroom apartment here in this northeastern industrial city. They paid for their son to study electrical engineering at prestigious Tsinghua University, in Beijing. And even by frugal Asian standards, they are prodigious savers, with $50,000 in a state-run bank.

But like many other Chinese families, the Wangs feel pressed. They do not own a car, and they rarely go shopping or out to eat. That is because the value of their nest egg is shrinking, through no fault of their own.

Under an economic system that favors state-run banks and companies over wage earners, the government keeps the interest rate on savings accounts so artificially low that it cannot keep pace with China’s rising inflation. At the same time, other factors in which the government plays a role — a weak social safety net, depressed wages and soaring home prices — create a hoarding impulse that compels many people to keep saving anyway, against an uncertain future.

Here in Jilin City, where chemical manufacturing is the dominant industry, the state banks are flush with money from savings accounts. The banks use that money to make low-interest loans to corporate beneficiaries — including real estate developers, helping fuel a speculative property bubble that has raised housing prices beyond the reach of many consumers. It is a dynamic that has played out in dozens of cities throughout China.

But tomorrow’s money may not be worth as much as today’s — not as long as their savings account earns only a 3 percent interest rate while inflation lopes along at 6 percent or more.

Yet the Wangs see no good alternatives to stashing nearly two-thirds of their monthly income in the bank. They are afraid to invest in China’s notoriously volatile stock market. And Chinese law sharply limits their ability to invest overseas or otherwise send money outside the country.

Nor do the Wangs feel flush or daring enough to join the real estate speculation that some Chinese now see as one of the few ways to get a return on their money — risky as that might prove if the bubble bursts.

Mainly, like many in China, the Wangs save because they worry about soaring food prices and the high cost of health care, which the People’s Republic no longer fully provides. They also worry about whether they can afford to buy a home for their son, a cost that Chinese parents are expected to bear when their male children marry.

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Filed under economy, housing bubble

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