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Emerging Asia to grow at slower 6.3% in 2016 as China reforms: Fitch

Tuesday, December 8, 2015 - 11:16
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The Chinese economy may be headed for a "hard landing" as borrowers are taking on record amounts of debt to repay interest on their existing obligations, said Marc Faber.

EMERGING Asia's real GDP growth should slow to 6.3 per cent in 2016, with the easing likely to be "driven entirely by China", said Fitch Ratings on Tuesday, but noted that the slowdown is "not an uncontrolled collapse".

Real growth in emerging Asia is currently projected to average 6.5 per cent this year, an OECD Development Centre report showed.

The region will remain the fastest-growing among all emerging markets, with effective policy responses and sovereign buffers offering a degree of protection, Fitch said. "The slowdown is better understood as a normalisation of growth rates and not an uncontrolled collapse. A hard landing in China is unlikely, and growth in India and in Asean should pick up."

China's slowdown is also part of a broader structural adjustment necessary to hit more sustainable growth, Fitch observed. "The data thus far from 2015 supports this picture, with weak exports and investments being offset by relatively robust consumption and a solid labour market."

China is likely to "muddle through" during its structural-adjustment process, with Fitch noting that there was no sharp slowdown as feared, following the volatility in the markets.

Fitch has raised its forecast 2017 growth rate for China to 6 per cent from 5.5 per cent, based on the latest five-year plan which suggests a growth target of 6.5 per cent for 2016-2020.

Broadly in Asia, sovereign rating outlooks are mostly stable despite the general outlook and mounting regional pressures, according to the rating agency.

The risks of a financial crisis akin to 1997 are significantly mitigated, with external balance sheets stronger in the region. Sovereigns rely less on foreign-currency funding than in 1996, and most countries now also benefit from flexible exchange-rate regimes.

Fitch cautioned that one potential downside risk to regional growth could come from high private-sector debt, which is still rising. Four Asian emerging markets have the highest ratios of bank private-sector credit to GDP of any Fitch-rated emerging markets: China, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

"Upward pressure on regional interest rates stemming from the US may weigh on domestic demand in more indebted economies," it pointed out.

Fitch added that major advanced economies such as the US, the eurozone, the UK and Japan appear relatively unscathed from the slowdown in key emerging markets in 2015. It expects global growth to accelerate to 2.6 per cent in 2016 and 2.7 per cent in 2017, from 2.3 per cent in 2015.

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