China's Economy to Surpass U.S.: When and Why It Matters

TAIPEI, Taiwan (TheStreet) -- Sometime between Nov. 2 and 2028, China's economy, now No. 2 in the world, will surpass that of the longtime gold medal holder: the United States. That date will add shine to China's self-image and set off warnings in Washington of a world dominated by an only semi-trustworthy Communist nation.

When China ($9.28 trillion gross domestic product in 2013) will overtake the U.S. ($16.8 trillion GDP) depends on whose forecast you believe.

Read More:10 Stocks Carl Icahn Loves in 2014

But so what? No matter when the title changes hands, old-school American policymakers will fuss about how China lacks responsibility toward other countries to lead the global economy. China will privately gloat, publicly feign humility and continue to focus on itself.

The real answer to 'so what' -- a question lost in the statistical debate about GDP growth rates -- is that a lot of money is on the move in China, and some of it could be yours.

An early overtaking of the U.S. economy, assuming the U.S. doesn't sink into prolonged recession, would mean that investment in factories and new infrastructure in China will continue to fuel growth.

A later lapping of the U.S. economy would signal that consumption and the expansion of non-factory private business in China are driving growth, per the Chinese leadership's goals announced last November. Both factors add to the GDP, but not at the speed offered by state-sponsored investment in infrastructure or by giant new factory cities built by offshore capital.

China's growth has slowed to the 7% range since 2011 but shows no sign of dipping further. The brains behind the controlled economy have it under control as they go after obstacles such as corruption, poverty, property bubbles and dips in the confidence of investors.

"My observation reading official pronouncements and talking to senior executives in stated-owned enterprises is that (Communist) Party officials worry more than Western policymakers and business leaders that their hopes and dreams won't be realized," says James Berkeley, managing director of the London-based management advisory service Ellice Consulting. "They are highly alert to factors that might cause them to be blown off their growth path."

Read More: Why Apple’s Pay Is So Important to Apple’s Future

An economy led by investment in new buildings, from airports to office towers, would bring more business to companies such as to air conditioning-system builder Daikin Industries (DKILF) , which trades over-the-counter in the U.S.

A bottomless appetite for consumption would keep Chinese lining up at Burger King (BKW) and in the showrooms of popular automakers such as Hyundai (HYMLF) .

World Bank chief economist Kaushik Basu estimated in May that China will surpass the U.S. on Nov. 2 in purchasing power parity terms -- essentially based on how much a U.S. dollar can buy in different countries.

Others say the U.S. will keep its edge for another decade because of its ability to innovate. China will overtake the U.S. only by 2028, London-based research firm Centre for Economics and Business Research predicted in a December 2013 report.

The key difference is how long investors must wait for the first pour of champagne at China's coming-of-age party.

Read More: Cramer: Time to Look at Oils Again

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

If you liked this article you might like