For a closer look at China's sizzling economy, walk the marble floors of Beijing's latest luxury mall. From its Japanese-style food court selling $4 chocolate éclairs to its glittering floors of branded international fashion, Shin Kong Place is a palace of conspicuous consumption.
The only thing missing, on a sizzling summer afternoon, was customers. Sales staff idled at display racks as a trickle of young visitors looped around the frigid mall. Most were content to window-shop, dreaming of the day when they could afford to drop $100 on a tassled tote bag. "These prices are too expensive. People can't afford it," says Xu Tao, a car repairman who was visiting with his girlfriend.
As investors continue to pour money into malls, analysts say the signs of a real estate bubble are growing, as are predictions that some retailers may be heading for trouble. Empty malls are just one indicator of an overheating economy – growing at its fastest clip in over a decade – that is proving hard to cool.
For our take, check Inside the Chinese Box, from our May issue.