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China looks to services to boost economy


Banking, tutoring and healthcare are the holy grail both for China's policymakers and its international investors. As Beijing looks to services to rev up slowing economic growth, private equity and others are buying into hospitals, English schools and consumer lenders.


Property sales and factory construction are slowing but people in China are eagerly availing themselves of healthcare, tutoring and movie tickets. Beijing's slow-burning bid to rebalance the economy towards consumption has received a boost from services, which account for 51 percent of GDP, up from 44 percent in 2011.


The economy is on track for its weakest full-year growth in a quarter of a century. Without rapid expansion in financial services, education and healthcare, among other services, the overall slowdown would have been much worse. 


"It's quite clear that China's services sector is doing much better than the manufacturing and construction sectors," said Jianguang Shen, China economist at Mizuho Securities in Hong Kong. But gaps in the official data make it tricky to assess which service industries are driving growth, fuelling doubts about whether apparent progress on rebalancing is real.

“很明显,中国服务业目前的表现比制造业和建筑业好得多,”瑞穗证券(Mizuho Securities)驻香港的中国经济学家沈建光表示。但是,官方数据的缺漏,使人很难评估到底是哪些服务行业正在推动经济增长,进而让人对再平衡是否确实大有进展感到怀疑。

Financial services were the biggest contributor to overall service-sector growth in the first half of the year. As the Chinese stock market boomed, trading commissions and other stock services pumped up brokerage profits. But after the market tumbled in July and August, analysts expected a decline in financial services to drag down the broader services sector.


However, the opposite occurred. While financial services moderated in the third quarter, overall services growth accelerated from 8.3 percent in the first half to 8.6 percent in the third quarter, well above the 6.9 per cent growth of the broader economy.


The fastest growth came from "other" services, a broad category that includes healthcare, education, entertainment and culture, science and research, business services and utilities — fully 20 percent of the economy. Lack of detail on which of these services grew the most has led to suspicions that China's statistics bureau is using this category as a fudge factor to ensure headline GDP growth meets the government's full-year target of "around 7 percent".


"The answer to the question of whether China's economy is sinking or swimming lies in its service sector," wrote Mark Williams, China economist at Capital Economics.

“中国经济到底是在下沉还是在向前游?答案在于服务业,”凯投宏观(Capital Economics)中国经济学家马克•威廉姆斯(Mark Williams)写道。

Foreign investors are betting the services growth story is real. TPG last year joined a consortium that spent $461m to acquire a high-end private hospital operator. In June KKR bought a $91m stake in Tarena International, a US-listed provider of professional education services.

外国投资者正在押注中国服务业确实在增长。TPG去年和某财团联手斥资4.61亿美元收购了一家高端私人医院运营商。今年6月,KKR斥资9100万美元入股达内科技(Tarena International),后者在美国上市,提供职业教育服务。

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has cited the potential for Britain's service industries to invest in China as key motivations for his government's aggressive courtship of the country.

英国首相戴维•卡梅伦(David Cameron)把英国服务业在中国投资的潜力称作他领导的政府向中国大力示好的关键动机。

As Mr Shen at Mizuho points out, Chinese demand for education outstrips supply.


"Household demand for these high-end services can't be satisfied, which is why you see Chinese people visiting other countries to study abroad and for medical tourism," he says. 


Finance is another target area. In June, Standard Chartered's PE unit invested $207m in peer-to-peer lender Dianrong, which targets consumers and small businesses underserved by incumbent banks.

金融是另一个投资目标。6月,渣打银行(Standard Chartered)私募股权部门向P2P网贷平台“点融网”投资2.07亿美元,后者以那些没有从现有银行得到充分服务的消费者和小企业为目标客户。 

Domestic companies are also positioning themselves to target the service sector. Chinese investors made their first foray into English football this week, with Citic Capital and a Shanghai-based private equity fund buying a minority stake in the owner of Manchester City. The group hopes to bring the club to play matches in China. 

中国国内企业也瞄准了服务业。上周,中国投资者首次进军英国足球,中信资本(Citic Capital)及一家上海私募股权基金联合收购了曼城足球俱乐部(MCFC)东家的少数股权。该集团希望让曼城来中国踢比赛。

Dalian Wanda Group, parent of China's largest commercial property developer, is branching out into theme parks, online retail and financial services. Evergrande Real Estate, the second-largest residential developer, last week bought a life assurer.

中国最大商业地产开发商的母公司大连万达集团(Dalian Wanda Group),正开始涉足主题公园、在线零售以及金融服务业。中国第二大住宅地产开发商恒大地产(Evergrande Real Estate),不久前收购了一家人寿保险公司。

Services are also key to Beijing's goal of reducing reliance on debt-fueled investment and generating more growth from consumption. Li-Gang Liu, China economist at Australia and New Zealand Bank, estimates that services excluding shelter account for about 30 per cent of China's consumer price index, which aims to reflect the typical consumer's spending patterns. 


Goldman Sachs has sought to identify growth sectors by looking for areas where Chinese consumption lags behind that of Japan, Korea and the US.

高盛(Goldman Sachs)试图通过找出中国落后于日本、韩国和美国的消费领域,来确定哪些属于增长的行业。

"Chinese consumers spend quite heavily on food and clothing but are under-consuming on desires such as healthcare and entertainment," analysts wrote in a recent note. They said China's ageing population also meant households were likely to spend more and more on such things. 


Chinese healthcare spending grew 12.6 percent in 2013 but still totalled only 5.6 percent of GDP, compared with 10.3 percent in Japan and 17.1 percent in the US, according to World Bank figures. In entertainment, movie box office revenue soared by 49 percent in the first half of this year.

世界银行(World Bank)数据显示,2013年中国医疗支出增长了12.6%,但是仍然仅占GDP的5.6%,相比之下日本和美国的医疗支出占比分别为10.3%和17.1%。在娱乐业,今年上半年中国电影票房收入猛增49%。

Even if services do alleviate the slowdown in China's domestic economy, the rebalancing will provide little relief to those around the world who relied on the country's old growth model.



"Strength in the service sector is unlikely to provide much support for countries that export commodities to China," Mark Spiegel, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, wrote in a recent report.

“中国服务业的强劲不太可能为那些向中国出口大宗商品的国家提供多大支持,”旧金山联邦储备银行(Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco)的经济学家马克•施皮格尔(Mark Spiegel)在最近一份报告中写道。


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