New graph exhibits that China’s GDP might overtake the US ahead of Covid took its toll

The workers stand in the port of Qingdao, Shandong province, China, 10 June 2019.


BEIJING – China will overtake the US as the world’s largest economy a few years earlier than expected due to the coronavirus pandemic, analysts said.

The US reported last week that its gross domestic product fell 2.3% to $ 20.93 trillion in 2020, according to a preliminary estimate by the government.

In contrast, China said its GDP rose 2.3% to 101.6 trillion yuan last year. That’s roughly $ 14.7 trillion, based on an average exchange rate of 6.9 yuan per dollar, according to data from Wind Information.

This puts China’s economy just $ 6.2 trillion behind the US, compared to $ 7.1 trillion in 2019.

“This (different growth rates) is consistent with our view that the pandemic is a much bigger blow to the US economy than China’s economy,” Nomura’s Rob Subbaraman said in an email on Friday. “We believe that the size of the Chinese economy in USD terms will overtake the US by 2028 based on reasonable growth projections.”

If the Chinese currency continues to gain around 6 yuan per US dollar, China could outperform the US two years earlier than expected – in 2026, Subbaraman said.

The yuan began to appreciate against the US dollar in the past six months to levels not seen in more than two years.

Covid hits the US hardest

Covid-19 first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

To control the virus, authorities shut down more than half of China’s economy in February 2020, and urban unemployment hit a record high of 6.2% that month. GDP fell by 6.8% in the first quarter.

The outbreak stalled domestically after a few weeks, and the economy returned to growth in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus spread widely overseas and became a global pandemic that hit the US worst. The United States has the highest number of Covid-19 deaths and infections in the world.

The US unemployment rate rose to over 14% in April and stayed above 10% for three more months.

“The latest GDP data shows that China’s recovery has seen strong momentum towards the end of 2020 due to its ability to contain the pandemic,” said Tai Hui, chief Asian market strategist at JP Morgan Asset Management, in an email on Friday. He believes it will take another eight to ten years for China’s GDP to match that of the United States

He said new government restrictions following coronavirus cases in China in the past few weeks will likely give mixed signals of growth in the first quarter, while the U.S. will benefit from government support that was passed late last year.

Tai added, however, that GDP is “just a convenient comparison” and that investors should also consider differences in economic structure, income, development and competitive advantage when making decisions.

China’s trade surplus with the US increases

For economists worried about the sustainability of long-term growth, much of China’s recovery last year was driven more by traditional industries like manufacturing than by increased domestic consumption.

As overseas demand for face masks and other medical protective equipment increased, China’s exports in US dollars rose 3.6% in 2020, while imports fell 1.1% over the same period.

China’s closely monitored trade surplus with the U.S. rose to $ 317 billion in 2020, up from $ 296 billion a year earlier, despite the fact that the two countries signed a trade agreement in January last year to reduce that surplus.

On the other hand, China’s domestic consumption did not recover as quickly as the rest of the economy.

Retail sales declined 3.9% in 2020 while those in the US rose 0.6%.

Bruce Pang, head of macro and strategic research at China Renaissance, expects the coronavirus will allow China to overtake the US three to five years earlier than previously expected.

But he said the “real milestone” will be when China can overtake the US in terms of GDP per capita.

With roughly four times the number of people in the US, China’s GDP per capita rose to around $ 11,000 in 2020, while that of the US was more than five times higher at $ 63,200.

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