Call us crazy, but the two most recent major economic data releases by China -- the consumer price index on Friday and the trade balance on Saturday -- indicate there could be a case to be made for monetary stimulus in the world's second-largest economy.
In February, the National Bureau of Statistics of China reported, the CPI rose 3.2 percent, which compares favorably with the 12-month peak increase of 6.5 percent recorded last July.
Meanwhile, the trade balance fell to a comparatively large deficit of $31.5 billion in February from a relatively small surplus of $6.5 billion in January, according to data in multiple media reports.
It is true the People's Bank of China already has cut the banks' reserve requirement ratio a couple of times since last Dec. 5 by a total of 1.0 percentage point (100 basis points). However, the trends in the CPI and trade-balance data suggest there may be room for additional stimulus.
Citigroup Inc. said another cut in the banks' reserve requirement ratio could come as soon as this month, while the government also has more space to increase wages and decrease price controls on energy and water, according to Bloomberg News.
[The] data, with surprisingly low retail sales and output continuing to weaken, point to economic growth further cooling to 8 percent or lower this quarter, said Ding Shuang, senior China economist at Citigroup in Hong Kong, who added that data this month could show further worsening should the PBOC fail to cut the banks' reserve requirement ratio again, Bloomberg noted.
China's government has done an excellent job in controlling inflation, Stephen Roach, former non-executive chairman for Morgan Stanley in Asia, said at a conference in Shanghai last week, Bloomberg reported.
Still, the government needs to focus more on the downside risk to growth, Qu Hongbin, co-head of Asian economics research at HSBC Holdings PLC in Hong Kong, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. [Officials] need to react to those data, and I think they will, he said, while predicting the central bank will lower the banks' reserve requirement ratio at least twice by the end of June.
However, the Chinese government's recent action in trimming the country's economic-growth target to 7.5 percent this year may mean it is willing to swap better trade-balance numbers for better CPI numbers.
The fact that we're talking about the question recognizes the fact that it's not a slam-dunk that the inflation beast has been tamed, Jeremy Stevens, China economist at Standard Bank in Beijing, told Reuters. The average January-February inflation rate is 3.9 percent and only a fraction below the government's target for the full year. Most people believe that in the second half of the year the inflation rate picks up again.