Opinion

George Chen

China is still waiting for inflation to peak

George Chen
Aug 31, 2011 06:44 UTC

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

How time flies. It’s already the end of August and speculations naturally arise about what China’s inflation reading will be for this month.

The most optimistic view these days is that the August Consumer Price Index (CPI) could decline to below 6 percent. The most pessimistic view I’ve heard is that growth has slowed down in August, but probably only to 6.2 percent or 6.3 percent.

But, why should we care about the August CPI so much? One month cannot tell the whole story.

The reason we care so much is because if the August CPI growth slows down (we will see the official release of August economic data in the coming weeks), it’s good news for the central bank as well as for the ordinary people in China who have been fighting with fast inflation for more than three years already. But, it’s not good enough.

Yesterday, amid market talks about August CPI, I heard something interesting from Mengniu, China’s top dairy product maker: “We are confident we can at least maintain (first-half) margin levels in the second half,” Mengniu Chief Financial Officer Wu Jingshui told reporters after the company’s first-half earnings release. He added the company might raise product prices and adjust its product mix to offset an estimated 3 to 5 percent rise in raw milk costs in 2011.

Inflation-hit Chinese go abroad to shop

George Chen
Jul 11, 2011 06:32 UTC

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

It’s been a month since my last column on Reuters.com as I have been on the road for a while.

When I travel in New York and London, my identity is more like that of a consumer with a dash of journalistic observation. People usually say Hong Kong is a shopping paradise but in my view, Hong Kong is no longer my favorite city for shopping. For U.S. fashion brands such as Cole Haan or Banana Republic, prices are much cheaper in New York. It’s the same for London if you’re a big fan of Burberry or Paul Smith.

The American people I know complain far less about the financial crisis than two or three years ago. Instead, some of them say they actually enjoy some of the benefits. Rents are cheaper. Food is cheaper. Transport companies are unable to raise ticket prices.

From noodles to gasoline, inflation is not just an issue in China

George Chen
Apr 8, 2011 05:42 UTC

noodlesBy George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

These days I’m increasingly convinced that inflation is not just a China issue but a global problem and one that is becoming worse.

Yesterday when I posted a photo of rice noodles on my Chinese Twitter-like mini blogging account, I didn’t expect it would lead to quite such an active online discussion. I paid HK$16 (about US$2) for the bowl of noodles in the canteen of the University of Hong Kong (HKU). My friends from Geneva to New York to Shanghai “complained” that the price was way too cheap.

Well, the University Canteen is intended for students and I am indeed a HKU post-graduate student, part-time.

My Shanghai holiday

George Chen
Mar 10, 2011 02:35 UTC

food

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

While Chinese lawmakers gathered in Beijing for the annual parliamentary meeting, I returned to my hometown Shanghai for a holiday.

The  lawmakers are keen to discuss China’s macroeconomic matters these days, but I am more interested in being a microeconomic observer. For example, how much does an apple cost in Shanghai these days?

During my holiday, I brought my girlfriend, a Hong Kongner, to Shanghai No.1 Food Store on the historic Nanjing Road. The store is a favorite place from my childhood as I felt I could buy food items from all over the world under one roof.

Why property prices in China won’t fall

George Chen
Feb 25, 2011 08:01 UTC

property

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

Let’s face it — it appears there is only upside for property prices in China.

Chinese officials from Premier Wen Jiabao on down to small city mayors have been telling the public they will try their best to keep property prices under control and have indeed done much in the past 12 months via tightening monetary policy and government restrictions on property purchases. The result? Unfortunately, the more they talk, the more disappointed Chinese people feel.

The People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank, has so far raised bank required reserve ratios (RRR) nine times since January 1 last year. The most recent on February 18 brought the RRR to a record 19.5 percent. The theory is that as banks place more money with the central bank, market liquidity should tighten and buying power for everything, not just property, should weaken.

Property under attack in China

George Chen
Jan 27, 2011 07:25 UTC
Property under attack in China While U.S. President Barack Obama hopes to see a quick property market recovery to boost investor confidence, China’s intentions for its own property market are the diametric opposite – not because it wants to damage investor confidence, but rather to cool growing social unrest prompted by fast-rising property prices. On Jan. 26, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao hosted a cabinet meeting to discuss the latest property market situation. As a result of the top-level meeting, Wen announced his new “eight-point” guidelines, considered by many analysts as the toughest so far and probably his last major effort to curb property prices: 1. Local governments should set 2011 property price-control targets and make them public 2. Land supply for affordable public housing should be stepped up and the pace of construction increased 3. Properties sold within five years of purchase will be subject to a sales tax based on the selling price 4. The minimum down payment requirement on second homes will rise to 60 percent from 50 percent 5. Land supply for residential property this year should be no less than the average annual figure from the previous two years 6. Home-purchase limits will be adopted nationwide. Local governments should limit home purchases by non-local residents and those who have already purchased more than two homes. 7. Local government should take responsibility for stabilising property prices (in other words, those who fail to do their job could be punished) 8. Increased education to encourage more sensible property investment to create a more stable market for the long term Wen, whose nickname is “Grandpa Wen” for his usually warm public personality, has pledged to rein in property prices before the end of his final term in office in 2012. But time is short and progress has so far been limited, so he has decided to take action once again. Among the eight points, the most important is of course to raise the down payment minimum for second-home buyers. Local media have already reported a sharp rebound in property transactions, one or even two times more than usual since the beginning of the year in some big cities such as Shanghai and Beijing. With the anticipation of more policy curbs, Chinese home buyers feel compelled to sign deals more quickly and more aggressively. Early this week, official think-tank the China Academy of Sciences released its 2011 forecasts, including an estimate that property price growth may slow but will still rise about 12 percent on average. Such forecasts should serve as clear cautions to Premier Wen if he wants to keep his promise before he retires. Ironically, property prices have risen more than ever before since Wen took power. Of course, you can’t blame him. All this, I say, is a natural process and the result of strong economic growth and increasing personal wealth. But just like a coin, everything has two sides. Those who get rich (as late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping said “let some people get rich first”) are happy to get their homes. Those who miss the chance … oops … perhaps Premier Wen can do more to get them on track. For global fund managers, who are still talking about the beautiful China story: Wake up, please, because 2011 looks like a truly strange and difficult year for China, if not for the whole world. Chinese banks are under pressure, thanks to endless reserve ratio increases. Property is now under attack. Commodities prices continue to rise in global markets and most people say it’s too complicated to understand how commodities and futures products work. So, tell me which is relatively speaking the safest area to put money? Perhaps property if you are a firm believer in yuan appreciation, which could be even faster this year for the sake of Sino-U.S. relations? I do believe President Hu Jintao doesn’t mean to disappoint President Obama after his successful state visit. Apparently, Zhang Xin, CEO and co-founder of leading Chinese developer SOHO China, is still a big fan of the business. There is little reason to expect new measures by the Chinese authorities to rein in property prices will be any more effective this year than in 2010, she said. What happened in 2010? It was considered the toughest policy year for real estate in China. And the result? Property price rose more than 20 percent on average. “So what, you say? Do what I do. The property market is already out of the government’s control. It’s too late,” a fund manager summed up the recent property policies for me when we had lunch recently. Then he ordered another glass of wine despite complaints about his lower bonus this year, given mediocre fund performance in 2010. My fund manager friend is probably what Deng was talking about — those who get rich first. He’s now looking to buy his third home in Shanghai.

Hu, Wen

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

While U.S. President Barack Obama hopes to see a quick property market recovery to boost investor confidence, China’s intentions for its own property market are the diametric opposite – not because it wants to damage investor confidence, but rather to cool growing social unrest prompted by fast-rising property prices.

On Jan. 26, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao hosted a cabinet meeting to discuss the latest property market situation. As a result of the top-level meeting, Wen announced his new “eight-point” guidelines, considered by many analysts as the toughest so far and probably his last major effort to curb property prices:

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