China’s high-quality growth challenge
When China finally lifted Covid restrictions last year, policymakers and companies hoped that it would help lift the global economy out of its post-pandemic doldrums. But data released on Monday shows that the hoped-for recovery in the world’s second-biggest economy still hasn’t materialized, raising wider questions about global growth, the implications for international business and China’s dealings with the outside world.
Gross domestic product grew just 0.8 percent in the second quarter compared to the first three months of the year, according to official statistics, as falling exports, weak consumer spending and a stalled property sector hammered the economy.
The disappointing data hit commodities and stocks this morning, with Brent crude tumbling to a one-week low and shares in the China-dependent luxury groups LVMH and Richemont opening sharply lower. Shortly after, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup cut their full-year growth forecasts for China.
The real story is found beyond the headline numbers. Monday’s data reveals that trade last month had its worst year-on-year decline since the start of the pandemic, partly because Western consumers cut back on buying as central banks raised rates. That added to pressures on manufacturers as companies look to shift their supply chains away from China amid geopolitical tensions and talk of “de-risking.”
“If China can’t change its development model, it will not alter the drags on the economy or on living standards,” George Magnus, an associate at Oxford University’s China Center and a former chief economist at UBS, told DealBook. “The focus has shifted to growth quality rather than quantity, but here too Xi Jinping’s China comes up very short.”
Will this make China more willing to engage with the West? Beijing is sending mixed messages. Senior officials have embarked on a charm offensive aimed at international business leaders in recent months. But last week, Chinese state media slammed Goldman Sachs after the Wall Street firm recommended selling shares in local banks because of their exposure to risks in the domestic economy.
What next? Group of 20 central bankers and finance ministers are meeting this week in India, with this data adding to their worries about the state of the global economy. Some pessimists say the Chinese economy has peaked and a significant slowdown is coming. Chinese policymakers, however, often point out that it took about a year after Covid for the West’s recovery to start to kick in, so there is still a chance things could turn around this year, Michael Pettis, a finance professor at Peking University, told DealBook.
But, Mr. Pettis added, international investors need to look at China differently than they once did. “When China was growing at double-digit rates, even poor parts of the economy were growing,” he said. “Now, that China story is over and it looks like a more normal economy. Some sectors will do well, some will do horribly.”
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Russia withdraws from a Ukraine grain export deal. The move by Moscow to suspend participation in the agreement, which allows Ukrainian wheat to flow out of the country despite wartime blockades, could again roil global food prices. Russia has complained that the deal, which had been set to expire on Monday, was too favorable to Kyiv.
Microsoft agrees to a truce with Sony over its takeover of Activision Blizzard. Microsoft agreed to keep Call of Duty available on Sony’s PlayStation for 10 years after the U.S. company closes its $70 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, resolving one of the biggest disputes over the deal. It’s the latest victory for Microsoft, after a federal judge last week refused to further delay its ability to complete the transaction.
United Airlines reaches a $10 billion accord with its pilots. The four-year agreement calls for pay raises for pilots of up to 40.2 percent over the duration of the contract, as well as improvements to work rules, job security and more. It’s the richest-ever labor pact at an American airline.
The Teamsters’ chief asks President Biden not to intervene in the UPS labor talks. Sean O’Brien, the union’s leader, said that he had asked the White House to stay out of its battle with the logistics giant after talks collapsed this month. The existing contract expires on July 31; sticking points include proposed wage increases for part-time drivers.
Political donors’ 2024 dilemma
As the presidential race heats up, many deep-pocketed Democratic backers have groused about a lack of enthusiasm for President Biden. But the Biden campaign announced recently that it had raised over $72 million in the second quarter — far surpassing what Donald Trump and other Republican candidates have collected.
Democratic officials pointed to the news as a sign that the party’s donor class was on board. But some in politics are wondering if Mr. Biden did so well only because no obvious winning alternative to Trump has yet to emerge.
Mr. Biden had plenty of support from major donors. Ten gave $500,000 or more to the Biden Victory Fund, including Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood mogul and co-chair of his re-election campaign; Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn co-founder; and Stewart Bainum, a hotel magnate. Other major benefactors included the Twilio co-founder John Wolthuis ($300,000) and the OpenAI chief Sam Altman ($200,000).
There are some reasons for Mr. Biden to be concerned. Small donors — considered crucial for a campaign’s success, since bigger ones can hit giving limits fairly quickly — have lagged in their giving. And Senator Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who has clashed with Biden over climate policy, heads to New Hampshire on Monday for a town hall organized by No Labels, a group exploring a third-party presidential nominee.
Also, DealBook still hears concerns from deep-pocketed potential donors about Biden’s age and grumbling about his administration’s occasional cold shoulder to Wall Street, which was slow to back him in 2020, too.
(Though financiers have groused about parts of Mr. Biden’s economic approach, including his embrace of tougher antitrust enforcement, they may be heartened by receding inflation and the reduced likelihood of a recession.)
Compare that with the Republican field:
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has drawn support from heavyweight donors including the financier Paul Tudor Jones, the industrialist Dick Uihlein and the venture capitalist Joe Lonsdale.
Other Republican hopefuls who have their own big backers include Vivek Ramaswamy (Bill Ackman, Glenn Dubin and Ed Hyman of Evercore ISI), Nikki Haley (Cliff Asness and Tim Draper), Chris Christie (Lew Eisenberg) and Senator Tim Scott (Larry Ellison).
But apart from Mr. DeSantis, who raised $20 million during the quarter, none came close to the $35 million that Mr. Trump raised during that period; they also badly trail him in public polls. Mr. DeSantis faces other issues: His campaign has moved to shed staff amid heavy spending, and many of its donors have already maxed out what they can give.
It isn’t clear where else donors would go. Rupert Murdoch has privately told associates that he wished Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia would run, though Mr. Youngkin’s support for tight restrictions on abortion may hurt his appeal among some big donors.
And while some moguls have flocked to Robert Kennedy Jr., who is challenging Mr. Biden for the Democratic nomination, his divisive views on vaccines and the coronavirus — most recently expressed in a bigoted conspiracy-laden rant — may make him political kryptonite.
The growing costs of extreme weather
This summer’s weather is shaping up to be especially dramatic, and sometimes deadly, as record-setting temperatures and violent storms rack much of the planet. That could have dire consequences for people’s lives and livelihoods alike.
July has already set a global record for the hottest days ever, with no relief in sight. New highs may be reached at multiple points around the globe, from California to Phoenix to southern Europe and beyond. Much of this is being blamed on the return of the El Niño weather phenomenon.
It isn’t just excessive heat. A severe typhoon warning forced Hong Kong’s stock exchange operator to halt trading this morning. Torrential rains devastated the northeastern United States again this weekend, as flash flooding outside Philadelphia killed five, and flight cancellations, power outages and submerged roadways forced New Jersey to declare a state of emergency.
Economists are warning about the weather, given that it is hitting small businesses hard. In tourism-dependent Italy, the country’s health minister, Orazio Schillaci, cautioned Italians to stay indoors during the hottest hours of the day, and warned tourists to avoid visiting hot spots like Rome’s Colosseum.
“A common theme across El Niño events are more inflationary pressures as a result of higher commodity prices,” Henry Allen, a strategist for Deutsche Bank, wrote in an investor note last month. Soaring food prices could make central bankers’ battle against inflation even tougher.
In other climate news: Hank Paulson, the former Treasury secretary, warned that efforts to fight climate change, including through greater use of solar and wind power, shouldn’t lead to what he called “the global decline of biodiversity.”
The week ahead
Fed officials are in a quiet period ahead of next week’s big rate-setting meeting, but there are plenty of other developments on the calendar. Here’s what to expect.
Tuesday: Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Charles Schwab report earnings. Also, retail sales data for June is set for release.
Wednesday: ASML, Goldman Sachs, Netflix, Tesla and United Airlines disclose results. Britain, which has been suffering from especially high inflation, releases price data for June.
Thursday: American Airlines, Johnson & Johnson and Truist Financial, one of the regional lenders hit by the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, are set to report earnings.
THE SPEED READ
Investors have withdrawn $717 million over the past year from the flagship index fund run by Cathie Wood, the financier whose focus on growth stocks made her returns soar — and then crater — in recent years. (WSJ)
Citadel, the financial colossus run by Ken Griffin, wants to disrupt the $10 trillion market in trading American corporate bonds. (FT)
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