Asia-Pacific News

Just how much does China save vs the rest of world?

Neelabh Chaturvedi
Feng Li | Getty Images

A key plank of China's latest was the scrapping of remaining interest rate caps on short-term deposits.

The liberalization of the interest rate regime should support China's ambitions to get the yuan added to the International Monetary Fund's pool of international reserve currencies. But the move also has implications for how China's transformation away from an export and investment led economy to a consumption-led economy plays out.

Chinese households tend to save more cash than their spendthrift peers in the Western world, so potentially earning higher interest rates on their deposits should boost incomes and spending.

But how high is China's gross savings rate? The World Bank defines it as gross national income less total consumption, plus net transfers so a broader gauge than just individuals by including both companies and the government.

Pretty high, according to data from the World Bank from 2013, the latest period for which data are available. Only Kuwait and Bermuda had higher rates as of 2013.

As the chart above shows, savings rates are higher in Asia (with the exception of Japan) relative to Europe. The U.S. and Brazi,l on the other hand, have the lowest savings rates among major economies.

Watch out for this kind of China stimulus

China's high savings rate could be partly explained by the country's faster economic growth relative to the rest of the world, which boosts income as well as the government's tax receipts.

In the corporate sector, weaknesses in China's financial sector motivated businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to rely on their own saving to finance fixed-asset investment, according to a 2011 research paper by Dennis Tao Yang, Junsen Zhang, and Shaojie Zhou.

As China's economy transforms to be more service-based and consumers start to spend more, as the government hopes, the savings rate should decline.

How fast that rate falls will have a big impact on financial markets - savings are funneled into financial products - as well as the health of companies hoping to flog goods to Chinese shoppers.