Industrial Rebalancing is Already Here, But Can it Continue?
Published: June 2013
In mid-2012, as China’s economy decelerated, growth in electricity production – traditionally a good proxy for the health of industry – diverged strongly on the downside from official measures of industrial value added. While many analysts interpreted this incongruence as a sign of official data manipulation, detailed output and electricity consumption data tell a different story. Variation in Chinese electricity production since 2008 has been close to an exact function of output growth in a handful of heavy industrial sectors including metals, cement and chemicals, rather than industry as a whole. The underperformance of these electricity-intensive, but relatively low value-added sectors in Q2 and Q3 2012 largely explains the divergence between electricity output and industrial growth that confounded analysts last year. Moreover, the declining profitability of electricity-intensive sectors relative to consumer goods is an initial indication of ‘rebalancing’ in the Chinese industrial economy, which may herald changing data patterns in the future.