北京不願從金融海嘯時定下的8%經濟增長底線後撤，會漸損害其進行結構改革的努力，效果就如形成一個「溫家寶保底對策」(Wen Jiabao put)——這就像當年「格林斯潘保底對策」(Greenspan Put)(在本世紀初，為了挽救美國經濟，格林斯潘不斷降息保經濟增長，結果造成美國樓市泡沫)。換言之，不成文地保證經濟增長必定超過8%，就是所謂「溫家寶保底對策」。
It has long been the case that Chinese policy makers face a stark choice between their cherished 8% growth target and the deep structural reforms (fiscal, financial and domestic market) that are required to ensure healthy growth in the medium to long term. Beijing's refusal to back away from the 8% GDP growth floor that it set during the global financial crisis undermined all efforts at structural reform, and amounted to a "Wen Jiabao put"-the equivalent of the infamous "Greenspan put" in the early 2000s which inflated the US housing bubble. In other words, the implicit guarantee that growth will always exceed 8% is the 'Wen Jiabao put.' By ensuring that all unpleasant measures (property restrictions, energy efficiency targets, environmental rules) will be relaxed the instant growth crosses an arbitrary level, the government destroys its ability to enforce reforms, and encourages over-investment because investors 'know' they can always count on high GDP growth to deliver them a fat return." On Tuesday, the signal came from Beijing that the put is off. The communiqué from the weekend's annual Party meeting, which reviewed the draft of the next five-year plan, was predictably turgid, but local press reports on various aspects of the plan made quite clear that the economic growth rate is being downplayed, and structural issues emphasized. The day ended with a surprise interest-rate hike, whose immediate intent is to start squeezing the air out of incipient bubbles in the property and stock markets, and head off pesky food-price inflation. But the broader message of the rate hike-which will inevitably be seen in China as a signal of policy intent, since it came immediately after a big Party meeting-is that the government is now intent on its structural agenda, and is willing to let growth slow substantially. If need be. The basic direction of policy is now clear, but implementation will be gradual and we expect a slow deceleration of growth over the next two years rather than a severe plunge.
We freely admit basing our rather bold call on a collage of circumstantial evidence: Beijing has issued no clarion call for the fundamental transformation of China's economic structure. But we are confident of our view because all the circumstantial evidence is now pointing in pretty much the same direction. Consider the following:
* In the Party communiqué, "economic growth" was mentioned two times but "economic development"-a broader term clearly implying a focus on the structure and quality of growth more than the level-was mentioned 13 times. The opening paragraph, which sets out the government's top priorities, presents the aims to "accelerate the transformation of the economic growth mode, maintain stable and rapid economic development." (Emphasis added.) This is a subtle but clear signal that the level of growth matters less than the structure.
* The communiqué also makes prominent reference to a "new growth pattern that is jointly driven by consumption, investment and exports," and targets an increase in labor income and household income as a share of GDP. This is encouraging, as raising labor and household income is the key to increasing consumption's share of economic growth.
* A detailed report in the reputable 21st Century Business Herald on trade policy in the next five year plan shows that policy makers anticipate a fall in annual export growth to 9-10% (from nearly 30% in the 2003-08 boom), and that the emphasis of policy will shift from maximizing export growth to constraining the trade surplus, partly by reducing the role of the assembly and processing trade and its huge built-in surplus. This is consistent with statements by deputy PBC governor and head of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange Yi Gang at the annual IMF meetings on October 7 that China aims to reduce its current account surplus to under 4% of GDP (from 5.5% now) over the next 3-5 years.
* On October 18 the State Council issued a new industrial policy strategy. The "pillar" and "leading" industries include information technology, environmental and energy efficiency technology, renewable energy and the like. Real estate, a pillar industry in previous such documents, was ｄ ｒｏｐped from the list, as was the auto industry.
* The National Energy Administration has indicated that the energy intensity reduction target for the next two five-year plans will be -17.3% and -16% respectively. These targets are significantly above the lowest that have been under discussion and will require significant policies, including more effective energy pricing, in order to be met. Energy researchers within the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) are still arguing for higher targets and it remains possible that the targets will be increased when the outline five year plan document is released in March.
* Finally, the PBC announced a surprise interest rate hike immediately after the close of the Party meetings. The hike is almost certainly a response to recent data showing a renewed acceleration of property prices, and continued upward pressure in the consumer price index. But the timing of the move clearly implies that the Party has endorsed a gradual tightening of monetary policy over the next year, and is willing to accept a lower growth rate as the price of forestalling inflation and asset bubbles.
Taken together, the news flow of the last week indicates that policy makers have finally achieved a broad consensus that growth needs to slow, the cost of capital and other factor inputs needs to rise, the trade surplus needs to be brought under control, and household incomes need to be pushed higher. But as we have proposed this thesis to clients and contacts over the past few days, the usual response has been that we have heard this same old song before. Why should we believe that implementation will match the rhetoric, when it has not in the past?
The answer is that in China, effective policy starts with clear signaling from the top. Until the signals are clear, no ground-level policy can be effective. And over the past year, the signals have been most unclear. In the year following the September 2008 global financial crisis, the signal from Beijing was loud and clear, like voice on the old Memorex advertisements that shattered crystal: "Bao ba"- "protect eight (percent GDP growth)". For most of this year, the government increasingly jawed about structural reform while doing nothing to discourage the impression that it was terrified of any GDP growth rate below 8%. In other words, its real policy, from which the markets (notably the property market) took their cues was the Wen Jiabao put.
The news of the last week-and most especially the carefully timed interest rate hike-sends a clear signal that the put is off, and notably strengthens the position of shadow premier Li Keqiang, who is known to have advocated much more stringent property controls and much more aggressive structural reform since early this year. With the signal clear, specific policies and programs should begin to flow. And this is tremendous news for the entire world, even if China may have to endure a short-term weakening in its economic growth rate.