Skip to content
SuperMoney logo
SuperMoney logo

China Economy Deflation: Is It Happening And What Are The Consequences?

Last updated 03/19/2024 by

Benjamin Locke

Edited by

China’s encounter with deflationary pressures, amidst a slow post-COVID-19 recovery, echoes historical economic downturns but with distinct dynamics. The interplay of a property market downturn, cautious consumer spending, and global economic shifts underscores the complexity of dealing with deflation.
Deflation, often seen as detrimental to economic health, indicates a period of weak demand and can lead to a cycle of reduced consumer spending and investment. As the world’s second-largest economy faces a slower-than-expected recovery post-COVID-19 restrictions, the deflationary trend in China is not only a domestic concern but also poses potential ripple effects on global economic dynamics, influencing trade patterns and monetary policy decisions in other countries, especially those with close economic ties to China.

What exactly is deflation?

Imagine you’re at your favorite store, eyeing a brand-new bicycle that costs $100. You decide to wait and save up a bit more before buying it. A month later, you return to find the price has dropped to $90. Awesome, right? But then, you think, “What if it gets even cheaper next month?” So, you decide to wait a bit longer. This is deflation in a nutshell: a general decrease in the prices of goods and services over time.
Now, let’s say everyone else starts thinking like you, waiting for prices to drop further before making any purchases. As a result, the store sells fewer bicycles, leading them to cut back on orders from their supplier. The supplier, in turn, doesn’t need as much labor to produce bicycles, potentially leading to job cuts. Those affected workers now have less money to spend, which can lead to less demand for goods and services, pushing prices down even further. This cycle can be hard to break and can lead to economic slowdowns.

How China is showing signs of deflationary pressure

Property market slump

This downturn is particularly impactful because the real estate sector represents a significant portion of China’s GDP, meaning that when the property market suffers, the ripple effects are felt across the entire economy, leading to broader economic challenges and deflationary pressures. The Evergrande crisis serves as a stark illustration of the vulnerabilities within China’s property market, which has long been a preferred destination for Chinese savings.
Traditionally, Chinese families invest a significant portion of their wealth in real estate, viewing it as a reliable asset class due to its historical appreciation. This cultural and economic practice has led to high levels of property ownership per capita, but it has also exposed the economy to systemic risks when the real estate market falters.

Weak consumer spending

Despite the end of stringent COVID-19 restrictions, consumer spending has not kept pace with the overall economic growth, lagging behind since the pandemic began in early 2020. Economic forecasters who had anticipated a surge in “revenge spending” by Chinese consumers, following years of restrictions, found their predictions unmet. Instead, there’s been no sign of a strong V-shaped recovery in consumption, suggesting that companies need to strategize more effectively to tap into the massive market.

Global commodity cycle decline

As global commodity prices fall, the cost of raw materials and goods decreases. For a manufacturing powerhouse like China, which relies heavily on importing various commodities to fuel its vast industrial sector, this decline translates into lower production costs. However, the reduced cost of commodities doesn’t just affect the production side; it also impacts the consumer prices of goods. Manufacturers, benefiting from lower input costs, often pass these savings onto consumers in the form of lower prices to maintain competitive advantage and stimulate demand in a slowing economy. While this might seem beneficial for consumers, it contributes to a broader deflationary trend when coupled with weakened consumer demand.

High unemployment among young workers

Last year, China’s youth unemployment rate soared to a record 21.3% in June, signaling a deepening economic challenge that has exacerbated deflationary pressures across the country. This high level of unemployment among young workers has led to a significant reduction in consumer spending, as the uncertainty surrounding job prospects encourages saving over spending, directly contributing to deflation. The crisis reflects broader structural issues within the Chinese economy, including a mismatch between workforce skills and employer needs, and a slowdown in industries key to young workers’ employment.

Weak global economy and reduced export demand

In 2023, the global economy’s weakness and reduced demand for exports significantly impacted China, a country heavily reliant on its export sector as a major growth driver. This downturn in global demand has led to a decrease in Chinese manufacturing and export volumes, putting downward pressure on prices and contributing to deflationary trends within the country. As Chinese manufacturers face reduced orders, they are compelled to lower prices to maintain competitiveness in international markets, further exacerbating deflation. Which countries have also experienced deflation?

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

Loading results ...

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

Loading results ...

Examples of deflation historically

China isn’t the only country in history to experience a deflationary period. Below are some famous examples that have taken place over the last century.
United StatesGreat Depression, 1930sSevere deflation during the Great Depression due to decreased demand and high unemployment.
JapanLost Decade, 1990s-2000sProlonged deflation following the burst of its asset price bubble, leading to stagnant growth.
United StatesGreat Recession, 2007-2009Mild deflationary pressures post-2008 financial crisis, particularly in 2009.
European UnionEurozone Crisis, early 2010sDeflation during the sovereign debt crisis, especially in Greece, Spain, and Portugal.
Switzerland2010sPeriodic deflation, partly due to strong currency and monetary policies.
China2020sDeflationary pressures due to COVID-19 impact, high youth unemployment, and property market challenges.
The deflationary periods experienced by Japan during its Lost Decade and the United States during the Great Depression were unique in their duration and the challenges faced in recovery, primarily due to the depth of the economic issues and the responses (or lack thereof) to these crises.
In contrast, the deflationary pressures experienced during the Great Recession in the United States and the Eurozone Crisis were addressed more swiftly with monetary policy interventions, such as quantitative easing, and fiscal stimulus measures. These actions helped to mitigate the duration and severity of deflationary periods. Similarly, Switzerland’s experience with deflation, driven by its strong currency, was managed through targeted monetary policies, including negative interest rates and currency interventions, to prevent prolonged deflation.

China vs. Japan’s lost decade

Will China get old before it gets rich? That’s the question on everyone’s mind, particularly when comparing it to Japan, which some economists consider is the most similar case to China’s current situation.
China vs. Japan
Comparing China’s situation with Japan’s Lost Decade reveals potential advantages and challenges.
Better Off
  • Aggressive monetary and fiscal policies for economic stimulation.
  • Diverse economy with investments in technology and services.
  • Central role in global supply chains, maintaining demand for goods and services.
Worse Off
  • High corporate and household debt levels could limit policy effectiveness.
  • Heavy reliance on the property market, mirrored Japan’s pre-crisis economy.
  • Demographic shifts and an aging population could decrease labor force participation.
  • Uncertain global economic conditions, including trade tensions and reduced export demand.
On the positive side, China’s aggressive policy responses, diverse economy, and pivotal role in global trade could provide a buffer against prolonged deflation, offering pathways to maintain demand and stimulate growth. However, significant challenges loom, including high levels of debt that could dampen the effectiveness of economic policies, a property market that mirrors Japan’s pre-crisis vulnerabilities, demographic shifts towards an aging population, and the impact of uncertain global economic conditions. These factors collectively underscore the complexity of China’s situation, suggesting that while it has distinct advantages that may help it avoid a scenario akin to Japan’s Lost Decade, it also faces substantial hurdles that could hinder its economic recovery and growth trajectory.

Pro Tip

“China’s booming real estate fueled growth for decades, creating jobs, wealth, and infrastructure. However, the recent slowdown, with tumbling prices and sales, has sent shockwaves through the economy, impacting construction, steel, and finance. High debt levels among developers raise financial stability concerns.
Deflation Déjà Vu?: Comparisons to Japan’s 1990s deflation are tempting, but key differences exist. China’s bubble is primarily real estate-focused, unlike Japan’s broader asset bubble. The government actively intervenes to stabilize the market, unlike Japan’s hands-off approach. While China’s growth has slowed, it hasn’t stagnated like Japan’s. Deflation risks deserve monitoring, but the situation isn’t a carbon copy of Japan’s.” – Ronan Hannan, Principal of Proven Partners.


How does deflation affect consumer behavior in China?

Deflation can lead consumers to delay purchases, anticipating further price drops. This wait-and-see approach reduces consumer spending, a key driver of economic growth, potentially leading to a cycle of decreased demand and further price declines.

What are the implications of China’s deflation for global markets?

Persistent deflation in China could have spill-over effects on global markets. A weaker yuan and lower Chinese export prices could exert deflationary pressure on developed markets, affecting global trade dynamics and monetary policy responses.

Can deflation in China lead to increased trade tensions?

Yes, weak domestic demand in China might prompt efforts to boost exports as a way out of economic slowdown. This could raise trade tensions with countries that see increased Chinese exports as a threat to their domestic industries, potentially leading to protective measures.

What measures is China taking to combat deflation?

While specific policies continue to evolve, China has historically used a mix of monetary easing, fiscal stimulus, and structural reforms to address deflationary pressures. These measures aim to boost domestic demand, stabilize the property market, and support employment, particularly among the youth.

Key takeaways

  • Deflation signals economic slowdown, marked by reduced consumer spending and investment.
  • China’s deflationary trend, influenced by COVID-19, property market slump, and high youth unemployment, poses global ripple effects.
  • Historical deflation in countries like the US and Japan showcases varied recovery challenges and policy responses.
  • China’s current economic scenario mirrors Japan’s Lost Decade but with unique advantages and challenges that could influence its outcome.

Share this post:

You might also like