By Xiangming Hou and Kevin Yao
BEIJING (Reuters) -China will set up a state infrastructure investment fund worth 500 billion yuan ($74.69 billion) to spur infrastructure spending and revive a flagging economy, two people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.
China’s economy has started a slow recovery from the supply shocks caused by extensive lockdowns since the second quarter, although headwinds to growth persist, including from a still subdued property market, soft consumer spending and fear of any recurring waves of infections.
The fund is expected to be set up in the third quarter, the sources said without providing further details.
The Ministry of Finance and the National Development and Reform Commission did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.
China has unveiled a raft of economic support measures in recent weeks, although analysts say the official gross domestic product target of around 5.5% for this year will be hard to achieve without doing away with its strict zero-COVID strategy.
Much of the support for the world’s second-biggest economy has come from fiscal stimulus to counter the impact from COVID-19 this year, with the central bank steadily easing liquidity conditions to lower financing costs.
Authorities are doubling down on an infrastructure push, dusting off an old playbook to revive the economy, pledging 800 billion yuan in new credit quota and 300 billion yuan in financial bonds for policy banks to fund big projects.
Chinese consumers are tightening their belts amid job losses and falling incomes while exporters face headwinds from a potentially sharp global economic downturn as major central banks tighten policy to fight soaring inflation. The Ukraine war, high raw material costs and supply chain snags also pose risks to the outlook, analysts say.
For now, China’s consumer inflation is largely under control, providing headroom for authorities to stimulate the economy, though some analysts caution the global cost-push factors could start to show up in domestic prices later in the year.
Channelling more money into big-ticket infrastructure projects is Beijing’s most viable move, but that may not be enough to pick up the slack as property spending weakens.
With returns on traditional projects like highways, railways and airports now much lower, China has been trying to expand new infrastructure focused on 5G, artificial intelligence and data.
Sources told Reuters that China will issue 2023 advance quota for local government special bonds in the fourth quarter, with the new quota likely bigger than 1.46 trillion yuan for 2022.
The cabinet has told local governments to ensure 3.45 trillion yuan in special bond issuance for infrastructure – part of the 2022 special bond quota of 3.65 trillion yuan – is completed by the end of June.
Some government advisers have been calling for issuing special treasury bonds later this year to fund big projects.
Wang Yiming, a policy adviser to central bank, told a forum in late June that China faces big difficulties in achieving the growth target and suggested it should consider raising the budget deficit or issuing special treasury bonds.
To meet the full-year target, China must reach 7-8% of economic growth in the second half of 2022, which is 3-4 percentage points higher than the growth rate in the third and fourth quarters of last year, Wang said.
He expects China’s economy to grow about 1% in the second quarter year-on-year, slowing sharply from the first quarter’s 4.8% pace.
In a report issued on Monday, analysts at Citi estimated a fiscal shortfall of 1-2 trillion yuan this year, but the chance of issuing special bonds could decline as the government resorts to semi-fiscal funding, such as via policy banks.
“We think special CGBs (Chinese government bonds) are still on the table but the chance has declined,” they said.
($1 = 6.6939 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Xiangming Hou and Kevin Yao; Writing by Stella Qiu; Editing by Christopher Cushing & Shri Navaratnam)