In the city of Liupanshui in Guizhou, one of China's least affluent provinces, the local government is building its first subway line. Officials hope to bring in private investment to help finance the project, a 49-kilometer line expected to cost 10 billion renminbi, or about $1.6 billion.
But such efforts have not been enough. While infrastructure investment is rising, it has failed to offset the nationwide pullback in spending on new factories and apartment block towers. In July, overall investment in fixed assets rose 11.2 percent, the slowest increase in 15 years.
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The troubles can be seen in mid-tier cities like Zhanjiang, on the southern coast, which is home to the navy fleet that patrols the South China Sea. While property prices in major metropolises like Shenzhen or Beijing have rebounded, those are exceptions. Prices of new homes in Zhanjiang fell 9.8 percent in June from a year earlier, the most recent data available.
China's builders just are not building as much. For years, double-digit growth was the norm in construction materials, as cities across the country went on a building spree. That situation has reversed sharply, and output of many crucial materials has been declining this year.
Cement output fell 5 percent by volume last month, while plate glass production declined 13.5 percent. Steel output fell 1.8 percent in July, the most on record. Exports of steel soared as mills, many of them operating at a loss and unable to find buyers at home, shipped their excess stock overseas.
Consumers aren't yet able to shoulder the burden of driving the economy. While incomes are still rising, the job market has started to show signs of stress. Vacancies are declining across the market as companies reduce hiring in response to slowing business growth.
The stock market slump has also taken a toll, with the main Shanghai index down about a quarter from its peak two months ago. Ordinary investors have poured money into the markets over the last year, and many are now sitting on losses.
The overall result is that consumers are spending less. Retail sales grew 10.5 percent in July from a year earlier, near the slowest pace in a decade. Share prices of big multinationals that sell heavily into the China market, like LVMH, the spirits and luxury goods retailer, or Yum Brands, which operates the KFC and Pizza Hut fast food chains, have suffered since the renminbi's devaluation.
Even homegrown e-commerce companies, held up by China's leaders as builders of a new economy, have not escaped the rout. Shares in Alibaba, in New York, and Tencent, traded in Hong Kong, have both declined over the last two days.
The stock market slump is a double blow. In the first half of the year, the flurry of new share sales, strong brokerage business and other market-related activities helped mask some underlying issues.
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Without that boost, China's gross domestic product would have risen notably less than the 7 percent reported rate. Instead, it would have been about 6.2 percent in the second quarter and 6.5 percent in the first, economists at Standard Chartered estimated in a report last month.
As the government pumps money into the market and the broader economy, it will help, along with moves like the devaluation. It is just not clear how solid the economy will actually be.
"It's all about the quality of growth," said Victor Shih, a China scholar at the University of California, San Diego. "If they want to, they can always achieve the right rate of growth."
The Chinese government, he added, just needs to find a group of people and "tell them to go dig a ditch."