China’s biggest problem is a ‘lack of confidence,’ Standard Chartered CEO says

China’s new economy is ‘booming,' Standard Chartered says

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — China is facing a confidence deficit as its economy undergoes massive transition and concern grows over its ongoing property crisis, a top banking CEO said while onstage at Dubai’s World Governments Summit.

“China’s biggest problem to me is a lack of confidence. External investors lack confidence in China and domestic savers lack confidence,” Bill Winters, CEO of emerging markets-focused bank Standard Chartered, told CNBC’s Dan Murphy Monday during a panel discussion.

“But I think China is going through a major transition from old economy to new economy,” Winters added. “If you visit the new economy, which many of you have — I have — it’s booming, absolutely booming, well into double-digit growth rates and in everything EV-related, the whole supply chain, everything sustainable finance and sustainability related, etc.”

Investors are closely watching China, whose stock market gyrations, deflation problem and property woes are casting a shadow over the global growth outlook. According to an International Monetary Fund report completed in late December 2023, demand for new housing in China is set to drop by around 50% over the next decade.

Decreased demand for new housing will make it harder to absorb excess inventory, “prolonging the adjustment into the medium term and weighing on growth,” the report said. Property and related industries account for about 25% of China’s gross domestic product.

IMF chief: China must show determination to take on economic reforms

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, speaking to CNBC in Dubai on Sunday, stressed what she saw as the need for reforms from Beijing in order to stem its economic challenges.

The international lender has discussed with China “longer-term structural issues that the country needs to address,” Georgieva said. “Our analysis shows that without deep structural reforms, growth in China can fall below 4%. And that will be very difficult for the country.”

“We want to see the economy genuinely moving more towards domestic consumption, and less reliance on exports … but for that, [they need] confidence of the consumer,” she said, echoing Winters’ sentiments on domestic confidence. “And that means fix the real estate, get the pension system in place, as well as these longer-term improvements in the fundamentals of the Chinese economy, would be necessary.”

Standard Charters’ Winters, meanwhile, is ultimately optimistic about the world’s second-largest economy, pointing out that every society that’s undergone major economic transition inevitably experiences some level of tumult and growing pains.

“They’re trying to manage this transition without disrupting the financial system, which in the West, we’ve never managed to do,” the CEO said. “Every big industrial transition has had a major depression associated with it, or global financial crisis. They’re trying to avoid that which means it gets dragged out. I think they’ll get through the back end just fine.”

— CNBC’s Evelyn Cheng contributed to this report.