Is there a Beijing bubble?

18 March of 2014 by

Attending an economics seminar in Beijing, I end up bombarded with two hours of complex figures. I wish I’d turned up to double maths on a Wednesday afternoon all those years ago!
But even my limited financial knowledge can crunch the numbers. China is a success story with a future full of contradictions. It may be number two in the world economy with a huge GDP, but there are two views on the road ahead.
Attending an economics seminar in Beijing, I end up bombarded with two hours of complex figures. I wish I’d turned up to double maths on a Wednesday afternoon all those years ago!
But even my limited financial knowledge can crunch the numbers. China is a success story with a future full of contradictions. It may be number two in the world economy with a huge GDP, but there are two views on the road ahead.
One group of economists argues that slowdown is underway – and that it might not be such a bad thing. They argue that there is a simple limit to how many more cars can fill the road and that consumers have simply run out of things to buy. They point to construction projects that create unrealistic jobs and an inflated GDP.
In fact, they say, some new housing developments are pulled down within four years only to start all over again. Apart from the Imperial Palace and Forbidden City, not much in Beijing is over 100 years old.
These economists argue that there is no need for GDP to run at seven plus percent. Instead, they want to invest in trying to create a workforce doing a more manageable week. A 9-5 working day is practically non-existent, as are holidays. For example, I’ve often met Government officials on a Sunday.
If a lower GDP means a more sustainable economy and a more balanced work life, it’d be a good thing. At present, the trains run faster but the people on them are far less happy. And at the same time the new government talks about a beautiful environment being more important than money: indeed that China’s environment should be its treasure trove.
However, the counter view comes from the business community and what I’ve seen with my own eyes. They tell me that Beijing and Shanghai may have reached capacity but there remain 90 cities in China that are the same size as New York.
These second and third tier cities are growing fast: each time I visit China I’m taken to visit an artist’s model of a new shopping development, which when I visit a year later is up and running.
Such is the pace of construction that along with recent road and rail networks the second and third tier cities are seeing far more middle class consumers eager to match the lifestyle of their Beijing counterparts.
At the New York Times luxury conference this week I was told that China has 300 million middle class and this group is now using its new spending power to purchase almost 30% of the world’s luxury good sales.
And that’s not just what they spend in China. Eighty three million Chinese travel overseas each year and that’s great news if you’re selling fur in Harrods!!
And when it comes to fur and other luxury products, there remains a keen desire to purchase. Whilst the roads may run out of space for cars, the wardrobes of most Chinese women have room for fur. New use of colour and technologies mean that the traditional lifetime fur item can now also be more of a fashion outfit: something that can be purchased anew each year, depending on what colour and design is in.
So all in all, I think there is still plenty of room for growth from this global giant. No wonder then that David Cameron will shortly be leading a delegation of UK businessmen to China to explore greater opportunities in the future. Don’t write the Dragon off just yet.
  • See more at: http://www.wearefur.com/content/there-beijing-bubble#sthash.VHOAOviT.dpuf
henning otte

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