China turns to shoppers to fuel the economy

Global interest in Chinese consumers is high. French department store Galeries Lafayette has opened Lafayette Gourmet supermarket in Beijing (above), while pop superstar Taylor Swift is releasing a fashion line in China.
Global interest in Chinese consumers is high. French department store Galeries Lafayette has opened Lafayette Gourmet supermarket in Beijing (above), while pop superstar Taylor Swift is releasing a fashion line in China.PHOTO: REUTERS

Country's consumer base has potential to hit $92 trillion over next decade: Report

HONG KONG • You have heard of Made in China. Now, get ready for Sold in China.

For decades, China has exported cheap goods to the rest of the world even while domestic consumption waned. Now, the country's shoppers could be set for a reboot.

If the government delivers on its promise to transform the economy by encouraging spending on the high street, China's consumer base has the potential to hit US$67 trillion (S$92 trillion) over the next decade, said The Demand Institute, a  think-tank jointly run by The Conference Board and Nielsen.

Global interest in Chinese shoppers is already high. Music doyenne Taylor Swift has teamed up with JD.com, the second-largest e-commerce company in China, to sell a new fashion line designed specifically for Chinese shoppers.

At the movies, ticket sales are surging. First-half box office revenue this year rose to 20 billion yuan (S$4.4 billion), compared with just four billion yuan in all of 2008.

The hard economic data is also showing a shift, albeit a slow one. Consumption contributed 60 per cent to gross domestic product growth (GDP) in the first half, even as the country grew at its slowest pace in 25 years.

Part of the spending increase is attributed to a government-led push to shift the economy away from debt-fuelled investment and towards consumption. 

But that will not happen overnight: Consumption's share of the economy eased to 28 per cent in 2011 from 76 per cent in 1952, said The Demand Institute.

"There are signs that the decline in consumption's share of GDP may have abated, but it has certainly not yet been reversed," said the report's lead authors Louise Keely and Brian Anderson.

In its analysis, the institute modelled two scenarios, both based on GDP growth slowing from about 7 per cent to 4 per cent by 2019 where it would stay until 2025.

In the first scenario, which they figure is the most likely, the consumption share of GDP would remain constant at about 28 per cent from this year to 2025, with total spending hitting 330 trillion yuan.

In the second case, where consumption reaches 46 per cent of output by 2025, or annual spending rises 126 per cent, consumption would balloon to 420 trillion yuan.

The analysis is based on the development of 167 countries between 1950 and 2011. Countries with similar underlying fundamentals to China saw consumption remain flat relative to GDP for some time after it stopped falling.

If China's shoppers do take off, it will be from a relatively low base. Using the latest available comparative data from 2011, consumption in China made up 28 per cent of real GDP, said the report. That compares with 76 per cent in the United States, 67 per cent in Brazil, 60 per cent in Japan, 59 per cent in Germany and 52 per cent in India.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 26, 2015, with the headline 'China turns to shoppers to fuel the economy'. Print Edition | Subscribe