Asian Economies to 'Lead the Recovery,' Says ADB

Asian economies are recovering faster than previously thought and will lead the charge out of the worst global downturn since the 1930s, according to new forecasts by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) - a Manila-based institution that promotes economic and social progress in the Asia-Pacific region.

After slashing its forecast for the region in March, the ADB reversed course in its updated Asian Development Outlook (ADO) 2009. The bank said developing economies in Asia would grow by 3.9% this year, up from its previous forecast of 3.4%.

"Despite worsening conditions in the global economic environment, developing Asia is poised to lead the recovery from the worldwide slowdown," said ADB Chief Economist Jong-Wha Lee.

However, the growth will not be evenly distributed. Economic growth in East Asia will be driven largely by China's dynamic economy. But economic growth in Southeast Asia will be sluggish, because the recoveries of Vietnam and Indonesia will not be enough to offset weakness in Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia.

ADB boosted its outlook for annual economic growth in China to 8.2% from 7% earlier this year, and the bank believes China's economic expansion will accelerate to 8.9% next year. That will help push economic growth in East Asia to an annual rate of 4.4%, compared to 0.1% growth in Southeast Asia.

ADB had underestimated China's resilience in March when it predicted just 3.6% growth for East Asia.

"In the People's Republic of China, aggressive monetary easing and the massive fiscal stimulus package rolled out by the government bolstered the region's largest economy, which is now expected to grow by 8.2% in 2009 and 8.9% in 2010, up from the March forecast of 7% and 8% respectively," said ADB.

Indeed, the potency of China's $587 billion (4 trillion yuan) stimulus plan caught many analysts off guard.  Two of the world's key global institutions - the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) - and a large swath of investment banks were forced to raise their 2009 and 2010 growth estimates for China's economy after the country announced second-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 7.9%.

The OECD said it now expects China's economy to grow by 7.7% this year and the World Bank boosted its projection to 7.2% growth.  GDP will expand by 9.3% in 2010, according to OECD estimates.

BNP Paribas SA (OTC: BNPQY), Barclays Capital, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS), JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM), UBS AG (NYSE: UBS), Morgan Stanley (MS), Standard Chartered Bank, and RBC Capital Markets all raised their forecasts for China's economy as well.

China's stimulus package gave the economy a big kick in the first half of the year, spurring bank lending and driving fixed asset investment. It even stimulated the oft-maligned Chinese consumer, boosting domestic demand while the market for exports remained dormant.

Chinese banks lent about $1.08 trillion (7.37 trillion yuan) in the first half of the year, nearly double the total loans extended throughout all of 2008.

Fixed-asset investment rose 33.5% in the first half year to $1.34 trillion (9.132 trillion yuan), according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Investment in infrastructure rose 57.4% year-over-year, with spending on railways up 126.5% and highway spending up 54.7%. Property sales were up 53% in the first six months from a year earlier.

Of course, fixed-asset investment has been consistently strong in China for the past decade. The real turnaround in the past six months has been that the frugal Chinese consumer has begun to spend more liberally.

China's retail sales in the first half of the year rose 15% to $859.6 billion (5.87 trillion yuan).

Still, the ADB did warn Asian countries that their strong recovery is still uncertain and said they should continue to carry out stimulus measures until Western countries catch up.

"The improved regional outlook should not make developing Asian economies complacent," said Lee. "A protracted global slowdown or the hasty withdrawal of stimulus packages can degrade the region's ongoing recovery."

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