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来源:天星 更新日期:2009-10-24 点击:


Anyone scanning recent business headlines in China would not recognise the country where people supposedly save and never spend. In September, China Mobile's customer base crossed the half-billion mark – a powerful symbol of the awesome size of the nation's consumer market.

China has also become the biggest vehicle market in the world this year. Car sales expanded by 78 per cent last month from a year ago. Over the National Day holiday in early October, retailers reported a rush for large flat-screen televisions.

Throughout the biggest external crisis to hit the Chinese economy in at least a decade, one of the most surprising features has been the apparent strength of consumer demand. The headline figure for retail sales has increased in real terms by 16.5 per cent in the first three quarters of 2009 – at least two percentage points faster than last year before the crisis.

With Beijing insisting it wants to shift its economic model towards greater domestic demand, and with many foreign governments urging China to rely less on exports, consumer spending is central to the post-crisis fate of both the Chinese and global economies.

The buoyant retail figures raise three questions. Is the increase real? Is it sustainable? And does it reflect a genuine rebalancing of the economy away from investment and exports?

While officials trumpeted the latest jump in retail sales yesterday, economists are sceptical of the figures. One problem is that official National Bureau of Statistics data include some government purchases, which are bound to have surged this year due to aggressive stimulus spending.

Government economists have played down the idea of booming consumer demand. A central bank report in August said urban residents' “impressions” about their incomes were at the lowest level since 1999. Meanwhile, Xu Xianchun, a vice-commissioner of the statistics bureau, published an article saying real consumption growth was well below the headline rate.

Even if the growth rate has been exaggerated, there is plenty of evidence from specific industries of stronger consumer demand, especially in rural areas.

“Rural residents have much more income than they did when I opened this store in 2003,” says Ge Zhongqiang, who runs an electronics shop in Xinba, a village in Jiangsu province. “They are spending a lot more on home appliances.”

Some people doubt whether rising demand can be sustained, pointing to several one-off incentives. Rural people have been offered subsidies to buy “white goods”, and taxes on small cars have been cut. JD Power, the auto consultancy, thinks the car-sale growth rate will fall sharply to 2-3 per cent next year.

Less temporary forces are at work, however. In recent years, the government has raised spending on health and education in the countryside, and is starting to introduce rural pensions.

Urban demand, meanwhile, is being boosted as millions move into the $4,000-$6,000 income bracket and shift from spending only on essentials to being able to afford more expensive items such as cars.

Chinese officials say such consumer demand is helping to rebalance the economy away from exports. They point to the fact that the current account surplus as a proportion of gross domestic product is likely to be much lower this year.

However, the latest data show that public investment has been the driving force behind the recent rebound. Yasheng Huang, an expert on China's economy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says that before the government's stimulus spending, consumption accounted for only about 33 per cent of GDP, the lowest among the world's leading economies.

By increasing social spending, the leadership has started to repair some of the damage from the 1990s, when rural incomes barely grew. “But there is far too much emphasis on social transfers and not enough on the economic liberalisation that will really raise incomes,” says Prof Huang. And, he adds, China has still to get over its “investment fetish”.

一眼近期中国商业新闻的头条,人们会认不出这个国家,因为中国人理应是只会储蓄、从不消费的。9月份,中国移动(China Mobile)用户数突破5亿大关,这是一个强有力的象征,凸显中国消费者市场令人敬畏的巨大规模。





尽管官员们昨日对零售数据再次攀升大肆宣扬,但经济学家们对相关数据表示怀疑。问题之一是,中国国家统计局(National Bureau of Statistics)的官方数据中,包括一些政府部门的采购,由于大力度的刺激支出,这方面的采购今年肯定会激增。




对于需求上升能否持续,有些人表示怀疑。他们指出,政府出台了多项一次性的鼓励消费措施,包括向农村居民提供补贴,鼓励他们购买“白色家电”,以及减免小排量汽车的购置税。汽车业咨询公司JD Power认为,明年中国汽车销量增幅将大幅降至2%到3%。




不过,最新数据显示,公共投资是近期反弹的主要推动力量。美国麻省理工学院(MIT)的中国经济专家黄亚生(Yasheng Huang)表示,在政府刺激支出出台之前,消费仅占中国GDP的约33%,在全球主要经济体中是最低的。


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