The coronavirus has been in the news this weekend with the 35,000 people in different countries being affected. In addition, the business pages of many papers are expressing concern about the implications the coronavirus might have on Western economies – what economists refer to as an economic shock – with the Federal Reserve Bank talking of a risk to the global economy. This is because of the increasing importance of China in the world today. Not only is it the second largest economy, accounting for 19.7% of world GDP, it also demands a staggering 69% of world mineral production. 20% of world tourism spending is linked to China, both inward and outward, with the Japanese economy predicted to experience a £17.3bn cost from the virus. Cathay Pacific, a Hong Kong based airline, has asked 27,000 staff to take a three-week unpaid holiday while, in the UK last year 415,000 visitors from China spent £714 million in UK hotels, shops, restaurants, etc. One estimate in the newspapers suggests every 22 visitors from China to the UK creates an additional job.
China now accounts for 13% of world trade. Wuhan, the region where the outbreak started, is prominent in world car production. Honda, Toyota and General Motors have factories there and many of these are currently closed to prevent workers travelling to work and catching or spreading the disease. Similarly, many shops are closed and Chinese branches of Western stores, particularly luxury products, such as Burberry, Estee Lauder and Canadian Goose have talked of falling sales in China as Chinese citizens stop shopping for such luxuries and the number of foreign tourists to China drops significantly. Ralph Lauren has closed 55 of its 110 stores in China. China is the world’s largest oil importer, daily consuming as much as the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan and South Korea, and, as China’s economy slows oil prices have dropped with analysts comparing it to the fall as a result of the financial crisis
Apart from direct effects, China factories have a major impact on world supply chains, assembling products and producing components from everything from cars to iPhones. Fiat Chrysler, the Italian-American carmaker, has said that it could shut one of its plants on the Continent if the disruption continues while Sony and Nintendo have both talked of unavoidable delays in the supply of some of their products.
As Chinese production slows and both its exports and imports decrease, world growth will fall. Whether this is a temporary blip or a permanent drop will depend on how serious the epidemic turns out to be. However there is an upside – in China demand for contraceptives and Netflix subscriptions are both booming.