Investors interested in China shouldn’t be too distracted by who is elevated to the top ranks of the Chinese Communist Party during the ongoing leadership confab, warns a leading China scholar.
Instead, the most important information about the country’s economic future will come from the new names in various Chinese financial agencies, according to Eswar Prasad, who was formerly the International Monetary Fund’s head for China.
China is now holding a once-every-five-years meeting that will usher a new crop of leaders into the top echelon of the party. President Xi Jinping is expected to extend his term.
But alongside the political reshuffle is the imminent retirement of central banker Zhou Xiaochuan after 15 years at the helm of the People’s Bank of China.
“What comes in the weeks and months following [the conclusion of the party congress] in terms of the policy actions that we see, appointments to some of the top agencies related to the financial markets including the PBOC governorship position — those are going to be far more important in setting the tone for macroeconomic policies and financial markets policies in general over the coming years,” Prasad, who is now a China scholar and professor at Cornell University, said Friday.
The central bank head position in particular “plays a critical role when one thinks about what happens to the financial markets, exchange rate policy, capital account opening — all of which feeds into thinking about the market orientation of the economy,” added Prasad.
Xi expressed support for market reform and private firms on Wednesday at the opening of the party congress, but he also called for a strong government presence in the economy in the same speech.
Prasad warned of how those two “inconsistent notions” could result in moral hazards and contribute to market volatility.
“The reality is that it’s very difficult for markets to function well if you have the government overseeing them to the extent that it gets directly involved in them in the guise of stability and control,” Prasad told CNBC. “That confuses markets a great deal.”