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Charted: Six Red Flags Pointing to China’s Economy Slowing Down

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Charted: Six Red Flags Pointing to China's Economy Slowing Down

Six Red Flags Pointing to China’s Economy Slowing Down

The People’s Republic of China is the world’s second-largest economy, responsible for one quarter of global GDP growth this millennium—so when the country catches a cold, the world notices.

The past several months have seen an avalanche of bad economic news for China, putting the country’s post-pandemic recovery, and global economic growth, in jeopardy.

In this visualization, we look at six important indicators that point to China’s economy slowing down. Data comes from the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the People’s Bank of China, and the General Administration of Customs, to see what is flashing red.

Six Red Flag Indicators on China’s Economy

1. GDP

China’s annual GDP growth rate has averaged 9% since 1978, when the country opened itself up to the global market under Deng Xiaoping.

However, growth seems to have slowed to a crawl, down to 0.8% (quarter-to-quarter) in the second quarter of 2023 driven by weakness in the Tertiary Sector, which includes retail spending and the troubled real estate sector. This follows a more robust 2.2% figure in Q1, which was driven by pent-up demand released by the end of COVID-era lockdowns.

On an annual basis, China’s GDP expanded 6.3% year-over-year, below the forecasted 7.3% rate.

2. Exports

Exports fell by 14.5% in July, marking the third straight month of declines, and hitting lows not seen since February 2020. Meanwhile, imports fell 12.4%, reflecting the cautious consumer mood.

On a regional basis, exports fell year-over-year to China’s three biggest customers, ASEAN, the EU, and the U.S., by 17.4%, 15.1%, and 20.8% respectively.

There was one bright spot, however: exports to sanction-burdened Russia increased 51.8%, but that wasn’t nearly enough to offset the overall downward trend.

3. Consumer Price Index

The consumer price index moved into deflationary territory for the first time since 2021, with prices falling 3% year-over-year. The decline was led by Household Articles and Services, Food & Tobacco, and Transportation and Communications.

At the same time, the prices that producers paid for industrial products (PPI) fell 4.4% (year-over-year), the tenth month in a row with a negative reading.

4. Youth Unemployment

And while the headline unemployment rate remained steady at 5.3% in August 2023, up slightly from 5.2% the month before, it papers over serious weakness for urban youth, aged 16 to 24.

In July, the urban youth unemployment rate reached 21.3%, the highest ever recorded in the country, leading the National Bureau of Statistics of China to suspend future releases.

5. Yuan vs. USD

Given the stream of economic bad news, it’s no surprise that the yuan fell to a 16-year low against the U.S. dollar on August 16, 2023 in offshore trading.

In an effort to stabilize the currency, major state-owned Chinese banks were seen buying up yuan in offshore money markets. At the same time, the spread between the fixed exchange rate set by the People’s Bank of China and the offshore rate, rose to more than 1,000 basis points.

6. New Loans

Adding to the dismal economic mood, people borrowed less money according to the most recent figures provided by the government.

New bank loans fell to ¥346 billion in July, down from ¥3.05 trillion in the month before. This was the lowest reading since late-2009, and less than half of the ¥780 billion economists had forecast.

What’s Next?

Foreign Affairs recently published an article with the provocative title “The End of China’s Economic Miracle,” arguing that China’s troubles could be a U.S. opportunity.

And while this may be somewhat premature, the Middle Kingdom has some serious structural issues to contend with, many of them of their own making. Some of the top challenges include crackdowns on the tech sector, a collapsing real estate market, a larger debt crisis, and a shrinking population.

But large-scale government intervention does not appear to be in the offing, beyond exhortations for consumers to spend more and blaming Western media for engaging in “cognitive warfare.”

It’s no wonder that consumer confidence has plunged so low. At least we think so: the Chinese government stopped publishing that too.

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Retail

The World’s Top Retail Companies, by Domestic Revenue

As price pressures and e-commerce reshape shopping behaviors, we show the top retail companies by domestic revenue around the world.

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This circle graphic shows the world's top retail companies by domestic revenue.

The World’s Top Retail Companies, by Domestic Revenue

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

The retail sector plays a vital role in powering economies, contributing $5.3 trillion annually to America’s GDP alone.

Moreover, the industry is America’s biggest private-sector employer, responsible for one of every four jobs, or 55 million employees. Yet in today’s challenging consumer environment, retailers are facing higher e-commerce penetration and inflationary pressures—across an industry notoriously known for razor-thin margins.

This graphic shows the world’s top retail companies by domestic revenue, based on data from the National Retail Federation.

Methodology

To be included in the rankings, companies must engage in a goods-for-consumer resale business accessible to the public and have direct selling operations in a minimum of three countries.

The rankings include both publicly and private companies, and are based on the most recent 52-week period analyzed by the National Retail Federation between January and March 2024. All revenue figures were converted to U.S. dollars.

Ranked: The Top 10 Global Retailers by Domestic Sales

Here are the leading retailers worldwide based on domestic sales as of 2023:

RankingRetailerDomestic Retail Revenue
(USD)
Share of Total Retail RevenueHeadquarters
1Walmart$532.3B85%🇺🇸 U.S.
2Amazon.com$250.0B70%🇺🇸 U.S.
3Costco$175.4B75%🇺🇸 U.S.
4The Home Depot$142.0B94%🇺🇸 U.S.
5Walgreens Boots Alliance$105.1B89%🇺🇸 U.S.
6Alibaba$91.5B97%🇨🇳 China
7Apple$70.9B87%🇺🇸 U.S.
8Aeon$64.3B93%🇯🇵 Japan
9Schwarz Group$56.5B32%🇩🇪 Germany
10Rewe$55.5B75%🇩🇪 Germany

Walmart towers ahead as the world’s largest retailer with $532 billion in domestic revenue—more than Amazon.com and Costco combined.

Known for its everyday low prices, Walmart achieves a competitive advantage through pricing goods approximately 25% cheaper than traditional retail competitors. Overall, groceries make up more than half of total sales. While its main customer base is often low and middle-income shoppers, the retail giant is seeing a surge in sales from higher-income customers as shoppers seek out lower grocery prices.

E-commerce giant, Amazon, is the second-biggest retailer globally, commanding nearly 40% of online retail sales in America. Since 2019, the number of Amazon employees has grown from 800,000 to over 1.5 million in 2023.

While the company has tried to introduce online grocery platforms to the market, it has largely fallen flat given its clunky system in a highly competitive market.

Like Amazon, China’s e-commerce juggernaut, Alibaba, stands as a leading global retailer. Overall, 97% of revenues were generated domestically through online marketplaces Taobao and Tmall. In recent years, the company has focused on international expansion, delivering products to 11 markets including America, in just five days.

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