I recently posted on China's savings and investment rates, and how they are extremely high by international standards.
Singapore used to be a country famous for its sky-high savings and investment rates, so I thought it might be useful to check how these numbers changed over time as Singapore's economy matured.
The data (according to Statistics Singapore) surprised me:
- The savings rate dropped from 54 % in 1997 to an average of 40 % in 2002-07 (though it was back on an upwards trend from 2005 onwards, increasing from 38.5 % to 46.8 % in 2007).
- The investment rate dropped much faster: It went from 39 % in 1997 to an average of only 20 % in 2003-07 (again, there was an upwards trend from 19.9 % in 2005 to 22.6 % in 2007). In other words, Singapore's investment rate wasn't particuarly high during the last few years. It was more or less equal to Germany's.
- The trade surplus skyrocketed: It went from 13 % in 1997 to nearly 30 % in 2005-07. That's right: Singapore has been running a trade surplus of 30 % of GDP!
If this is an indication of how things will develop in China (i.e. savings rate dropping a bit, but investment rate dropping much faster once a "long-term sustainable capital stock" is reached), there is a major problem brewing:
Singapore is a tiny country, and the world doesn't really care if it runs a large trade surplus or not. China, on the other hand, cannot possibly run a trade surplus of 20 % or more of GDP. The current 8 % or so are already considered a major problem, and as China's economy keeps growing, a constant 8 % would already turn into an ever larger absolute number.
If China's investment rate eventually comes down into the 20-30 % range, the savings rate must also drop by nearly half. There is no other way. And as speculated previously, I suspect that higher government debt is the only feasible way to get there.