What is going on in China right now is nothing short of unprecedented.
Back on Monday, when analysts and investors were desperately seeking clues whether China has managed to reboot its economy from the 2-week long hiatus following the Lunar New Year/Coronavirus pandemic amid the information blackout unleashed by the communist party in the already opaque country, we pointed out some alternative ways to keep tabs of what is really taking place “on the ground” in China, where Xi Jinping has been urging local businesses and workers to reopen and resume output, while ignoring the risk the viral pandemic poses to them (with potentially catastrophic consequences).
Specifically, Morgan Stanley suggested that real time measurements of Chinese pollution levels would provide a “quick and dirty” (no pun intended) way of observing if any of China’s major metropolises had returned back to normal. What it found was that among some of the top Chinese cities including Guangzhou, Shanghai and Chengdu, a clear pattern was evident – air pollution was only 20-50% of the historical average. As Morgan Stanley concluded, “This could imply that human activities such as traffic and industrial production within/close to those cities are running 50-80% below their potential capacity.”
As a reminder, all this is (or technically, isn’t) taking place as President Xi Jinping on Wednesday sought to send a message that progress had been made in bringing the coronavirus outbreak under control and, for most parts of the country, the focus should be on getting back to business. According to state television, Xi chaired a meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s supreme political body, on the latest developments on the crisis and future policy responses, concluding that there had been “positive changes” with “positive results”.
Xi also reiterated that all levels of local government and Communist Party committees must strive to achieve China’s social and development goals this year, indicating that he did not want the public health crisis to hinder progress.
Most importantly, Xi urged local authorities to refrain from taking excessive measures to curb contagion, and yet clip after clip from China…
… shows that the measures being taken are far beyond merely “excessive” when it comes to limiting the potential spread of the virus, which probably makes sense considering the unexpected surge in infected cases in Wuhan, which have sent the total for China just shy of 60,000.
Add to this the ongoing uncertainty that Beijing is far behind the curve in containing the virus, and one can see why most businesses are reluctant to “get back to normal.”
In the latest confirmation of just that, several other indicators have emerged showing that despite Xi’s stark demands for 1.4 billion Chinese to ignore the global pandemic which may very well have been started by one of China’s own experimental labs…
… virtually all of China – and all those critical supply chains that keep companies across the globe humming and stocked with critical inventory – remain on lockdown.
As confirmation, while we wait for an update from Morgan Stanley on the latest Chinese pollution data (at least until Beijing’s definition of “pollution” is also revised) here is JPMorgan showing that while traditionally daily coal consumption – the primary commodity used to keep China electrified – rebounds in the days following the Lunar New Year collapse when China hibernates for one week, this year there hasn’t been even a modest uptick higher, indicating that so far there hasn’t been even a modest uptick in output.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.