HONG KONG — China’s economy is slowing.
How bad can it get?
China is widely expected to report on Wednesday that its economy grew about 6.7 percent in the third quarter from a year ago.
That would match the growth pace China set in the first and second quarters of this year.
In economics, stability like that is remarkable — and usually not to be believed.
Economists often look beyond the official numbers to find alternative ways to gauge the Chinese economy.
Other figures and facts on the ground suggest that a lending binge that China has unleashed in recent months is helping to sustain growth.
But by historical standards, China’s growth is slowing down.
This year’s growth is set to come in at a pace slower than last year’s, which was already the weakest pace in 25 years.
China’s growth has already slowed down dramatically from the heady rates before the financial crisis, said Diana Choyleva, chief economist at Enodo Economics.
中国的增长已经从金融危机前的高速度显著放缓，伊诺多经济公司(Enodo Economics)的首席经济学家戴安娜•乔伊利瓦(Diana Choyleva)说。
The economy has reached the end of the road when it comes to its export- and investment-led growth model.
That is a major concern for central banks, economists, investors and corporate executives around the world, as China has been a major engine of growth for decades.
Their main question: What happens next?
Below are three situations that are often discussed as the most likely outcomes of China’s predicament — and what each would mean for the rest of the world.
China escaped the worst of the 2008 global financial crisis by starting a campaign of state-directed spending that created mountains of new debt.
This helped cushion the blow of the fallout around the world.
But critics argue that this only delayed China’s own day of reckoning.
China is still adding credit at a heady pace, and experts are starting to sound alarm bells.
Under this situation, China risks its own version of the 2008 crisis that shook Wall Street and plunged the United States into recession and years of painfully slow growth.
The rest of the world — which is still dealing with Europe’s woes — could follow.
Last month, the Bank for International Settlements published new data estimating that the gap between China’s outstanding credit and its long-term economic growth rate had widened to a record and was well above the historical level that indicates a financial crisis is likely.
上个月，国际清算银行(Bank for International Settlements)公布了新数据，估算中国未偿还信贷与其长期经济增长率之间的差距已经刷新纪录，远远高于可能引发金融危机的历史水平。
Part of the problem lies in the rapid growth of what is known as shadow financing, like wealth management products, or other forms of nontraditional lending, which have been the focus of a number of prominent frauds.
In a report this month, the International Monetary Fund warned that shadow loans average almost 300 percent of the capital buffers at China’s smaller banks.
The sharp rise in debt prompted one I.M.F. official to warn this month of the risk of a financial calamity emanating from China.
The good news is that few people actually think such a crisis is the most likely outcome.
The risks of a financial crisis remain very low, said Andy Rothman, an investment strategist at Matthews Asia, based in San Francisco.
旧金山的铭基亚洲(Matthews Asia)的投资策略师安迪•罗思曼(Andy Rothman)说，中国发生金融危机的风险仍然很低。
Mr Rothman and others point to China’s tight grip on its own financial system.
It controls the country’s big banks as well as the big companies that borrow the most. It also limits how much money can leave its borders and keeps a firm grip on the value of its currency.
So why can’t China just spend its way out of its slowdown?
Optimists point to China’s history of responding to economic challenges: the 2008 lending surge, an earlier bailout of the banking system and a painful restructuring of state-owned enterprises.
This time, China could make progress with a plan to restructure debt while increasing spending on areas that could benefit its growing consumer class, like medical care and social services.
That would be good news for a world economy looking for sparks.
The problem is that China’s debt burden is so much larger than ever before — both in absolute terms and compared with the economy.
At the same time, recent efforts to support growth by increasing state spending have met with another challenge: The government is getting less bang for its buck.
What’s more, private companies, put off by the lackluster economic outlook, have been pulling back on investment.
State spending has helped keep growth rates on target so far this year, and a rebound in real estate investment has also helped, albeit at the risk of inflating a housing bubble.
The resurgence of state investment has helped sustain growth in the short run, as has the modest rebound in property investment this year, said Nicholas R.
Lardy, an expert on China’s economy who is a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.
华盛顿彼得森国际经济研究所(Peterson Institute for International Economics)的高级研究员、中国经济专家尼古拉斯•R•拉迪(Nicholas R. Lardy)说的高级研究员说。
But he added, The productivity of state investment is low, so it is a very inefficient way to sustain growth.
With China’s high debt, inability to spend and a lack of political will to make tough choices to fix its economy, economists are increasingly comparing it to another Asian powerhouse: Japan.
Like China now, Japan in the 1990s faced enormous bank debt, the bursting of a stock market bubble and overcapacity in a number of industries.
Reluctant to make the sort of tough choices that result in shutting factories and killing companies, Japanese leaders tolerated years of economic stagnation instead.
The result was called the Lost Decade, though many of Japan’s problems linger today.
China is not Japan, of course, and its vast and upwardly mobile population stands in contrast to Japan’s wealthier but aging society.
Still, a growing number of economists see the possibility of something similar.
Just having a lot of debt, and bad debt, does not cause you to have a crisis, said Arthur R.
大量债务并且是不良债务，并不会给你造成危机，北京的经济研究公司佳富龙洲(Gavekal Dragonomics)的常务董事葛艺豪(Arthur R.
Kroeber, the managing director of Gavekal Dragonomics, an economic research firm in Beijing.
But the price that you pay — if you don’t do the financial restructuring and real economy restructuring that is necessary to restore things to health — is that you get a very long period of very low growth and anemic activity, he added.
That could also sideline one of the world’s most reliable engines of growth.
It could also cause problems in China, where leaders have long pledged to provide jobs and opportunity to the millions who still leave their rural villages looking for a better life.
Still, that could be better than the alternative.
This expansion of debt is way beyond anything we saw in Japan, both in terms of magnitude and time frame, said Charlene Chu, a partner at Autonomous Research and a former China banking analyst at Fitch Ratings.
这种债务扩张远远超出了我们在日本看到的情况，不管是在规模上还是时间范围上，曾在惠誉评级(Fitch Ratings)担任中国银行业分析师的Autonomous Research合伙人朱夏莲(Charlene Chu)说。
I think a Japan outcome in many ways would be a best-case scenario for China.