THE BLOG
01/20/2015 09:05 am ET Updated Mar 22, 2015

China's Economic Growth Slows to Lowest Level Since 1990

China's National Bureau of Statistics released GDP growth figures for 2014, indicating that the world's second-largest economy grew that year by 7.4 percent, below the planned rate of 7.5 percent but exceeding expectations of 7.2 percent. Even if the figures released by Beijing's NBS are accurate, they reflect a continuing trend of diminishing rates of growth over the past several years and are the lowest level of GDP growth in 24 years.

But are the official figures on China's GDP growth believable? Many elements of China's macroeconomic performance are shrouded in opacity. The architecture of this vast economy is formulated from a fundamentally contradictory hybrid mix of private-sector capitalism and still-overwhelming and largely inefficient state-controlled sector, especially in heavy industry. Much of China's growth in the past, impressive as it seems by overall world standards, was based on massive government spending on underutilized infrastructure; the accounts of entire blocks of apartment buildings that remain unoccupied are well known. There are the dangerous property bubbles, early signs of deflation, and rising debt levels in both the public and private arenas, with growing signs of a future explosion in bad debts held by Chinese financial institutions.

Officially, China's leadership has resorted to what they call the "new normal," a more sustainable rate of economic growth. The reality is likely a lot more murkier and volatile than the official statistics and pronouncements would indicate.

The clear trend of diminishing rates of GDP growth in China, whether extrapolated from official figures or derived from a more nuanced assessments of China's economic performance, are already having an effect on the entire global economy. As with the United States, the massive size of the Chinese economy means that lower GDP growth rates create a headwind for the global economy as a whole. It is therefore no surprise that the International Monetary Fund has just revised its forecast of global economic growth downward by the most substantial margin in three years, to 3.5 percent from the 3.8 percent projected only three months ago by the IMF. This is a harbinger of what lies in store for the global economy as the formerly massive rates of Chinese economic expansion continue to recede.