Monday 13 July 2009

Is China spawning systematic financial risks?

Yes say local commentators. I agree.

The China recovery is built on sand - where has the money all gone when trade is still falling, profits are falling and output is falling.

Asset bubbles are forming as we speak. Sell China.

Risks Emerge as Bank Loans Hit Overdrive []

Record bank lending in China is spawning systematic financial risks that may lead to a credit crisis.

New lending in the January-May period totaled 5.84 trillion yuan, 3.72 trillion yuan more than during the same period last year. That's an unprecedented pace for new loans, as lending levels never even reached 5 trillion yuan for an entire year between 2001 and '08.

This huge influx of borrowing, aimed at stimulating China's sluggish economy, is leading to overcapacity.

Most scholars believe China's recovery is solid and strong, but economic statistics suggest otherwise. Industrial enterprise profits and trade volume have fallen remarkably.

Between January and May, industrial enterprises with annual revenues of more than 5 million yuan booked a combined decline in profits of 22.9 percent year-on-year. Profits for big state-owned enterprises declined 41.5 percent year-on-year.

Meanwhile, China's trade volume fell between January and May by 24.7 percent year-on-year, with imports off 21.8 percent and exports down 28 percent.

Those numbers show that the world market for made-in-China products is shrinking. If China's production-driven growth model continues, the country soon may face a predicament that combines "low interest rates, high capacity and finally low growth" – a scenario that's plagued Japan since the early 1990s.

The global economy is now caught in a vicious cycle: The world expects China to lead a recovery, while China is relying on the international market to absorb its products.

And if excessive lending is a power keg, an interest rate hike will be the fuse that sets it off. Indeed, a credit crisis would ensue if China's central bank raises its interest rate.

Interest rate increases were the immediate causes of the 1988 U.S. credit crisis, implosion of Japan's economic bubble in the 1990s, and the 2007 subprime credit crisis.

China's central bank will be reluctant to raise the interest rate, however, so overcapacity in the real economy will continue.

Due to a lack of investment opportunities in the real economy, speculative investment appears to be a reasonable alternative. That leads to high prices on the stock and real estate markets. Meanwhile, low bank interest rates encourage people to transfer cash from savings deposits to asset markets.

In May 2009, total bank deposits increased by a mere 188.6 billion yuan – down 47.8 billion yuan from the same period last year.

If enterprises and individuals use bank loans and deposits to engage in high-risk speculation, assets bubbles can be expected. Commercial banks would then reduce lending to avoid high credit risks, and market interest rates would rise, puncturing asset bubbles and ruining a financial system pillar.



wfrost said...

You are right that we are seeing the growth of asset bubbles in China, particularly as new home prices are raising despite unprecedented numbers of vacated properties. The government is clearly trying to compensate for the drop in exports with fixed asset investments, which means we are probably destined for deflation or flat prices unless China can continue to expand domestic consumption.

However, you fail to mention to very silver lining: retail sales were up 15% in the first half of 2009 and real disposable incomes are rising. This seems to be the key stabilizer. Money is also going into advanced infrastructure investments such as high speed trains and renewable energy projects. In other words, the money is not all “speculative” investments. There are definitely real economic opportunities that are not “built on sand.”

I think we have to admit at this point that China is/was not nearly as dependent on exports as most analysts have speculated. China may not be able to maintain 8% growth without a rebound in exports, but I don’t see any sort of a contraction in the cards.

With the possible exception of real estate in BJ, SH, and GZ, I say hold or buy China.

Economist said...

Thanks for the comment. These additional insights are very useful.

Of course it depends on why retail sales are up - if this is a direct result of people feeling richer as a reuslt of an asset bubble this can quickly be reversed.

The unemployment rate will be interesting to observe.

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