By Jack Jiang
The Central Economic Work Conference (CEWC) was held in Beijing on 18-20 December, 2017. As the first CEWC after the 19th Party Congress, it set the tone for China's central government's economic policies in 2018. They are crucial to the long-term development of the world's second-largest economy.
Highlights of the CEWC
(1) High-quality development over GDP targets
CEWC emphasized the quality of the economic development over specific GDP targets. The government will likely unveil its GDP growth target at "around 6.5%" instead of "6.5% during the National People's Congress in March 2018 or higher if practically possible" in 2017. The government will follow its previous guideline of "making progress while maintaining stability" and keep economic growth within a "reasonable range."
(2) Three key focuses: prevention of major financial risks, poverty alleviation, and pollution reduction
- Preventing major financial risk. The government will focus on containing major financial risks to form a "virtuous cycle" among the financial, real and property sectors, as well as within the financial system.1 There will also be increasing efforts to crack down the illegal activities in the banking, securities and insurance sectors as well as online finance.
- Poverty alleviation. President Xi pledged to lift all rural residents above China's poverty line by 2020. The central government will also step up its supervision of local government bodies while allocating more fiscal resources to welfare, education and healthcare as well as public services in rural area.
- Pollution reduction. The CEWC targeted to "significantly reduce" the gross emissions of major pollutants with a specific focus on air pollution control. Previous measures such as reducing industrial activities during the winter heating season will continue. China will also examine its industrial structure, energy structure and transportation structure in order to achieve eco-friendly development.
(3) Monetary and fiscal policies
- Monetary policy. The CEWC said China will implement prudent and neutral monetary policy2. However, following the Fed's rate hike decision in December, the PBoC raised interest rates on MLF and reverse repo operations by merely 5bps. The move was pre-emptive but it indicated that the PBoC is ready to use interest rates and other measures to ensure financial stability if volatilities are triggered by external factors.
- Fiscal policy, the government will implement a proactive fiscal policy in 2018. In particular, the CEWC said the government will improve its supervision over local government debts. That being said, strategic projects related to government-led regional integration plans (such as the Guangdong "Bay area" blueprint, Xiong'an new district, and the Yangtze River Delta city-clusters) will still be supported by government budget spending and debt issuance.
The CEWC confirmed that China will maintain stability of the RMB exchange rate at a reasonable equilibrium level. Although the global financial market volatility and the interest rate hike of the Federal Reserve will weigh on the RMB exchange rate, the growth of Chinese economy and the ongoing RMB internationalization will offset the impact. We will expect two-way fluctuations of the RMB's exchange rate in 2018.
The CEWC repeated that the government will establish the "long-term price mechanism" for the property market, with "equal emphasis on rentals and sales." It will encourage the professional and institutional participation in the rental market. We do not expect loosening of existing restrictions on purchase and resale to curb the property price. The development of private rental and public social housing may pick up. Going forward, the uncertainty on the property sector has somewhat increased.