Tuesday, June 28, 2011

China Before the Fall?

There is somethings seriously wrong with this picture:

China's dependence on investment (accounting for almost half of its economy in 2009) means that any slowdown in investment will lead to something akin to a "hard landing" in the West (an abrupt correction of monetary and fiscal policy leading to a contraction). Having experienced double digit growth since the 1980s, a hard landing in China would mean less than stellar growth of 7-8% triggering higher unemployment. Nouriel Roubini who warned investors against US sub-prime mortgages has predicted with "meaningful probability" that this slowdown of investments will occur in 2013.

Back in 2008/09, China got a foretaste of what is to happen when it grew by a mere 6.6% in the first quarter and consequently saw 20 million migrant workers in urban centers losing their jobs. The stimulus measures put in place to boost domestic consumption and investment might be coming back to bite the economy with much of this spent on redundant infrastructure (as Nouriel Roubini noticed when he took the hi-speed train from Shanghai recently) or lent to local governments and state owned companies leading to a property and debt bubble.

One phenomenon that has come out of this are the so-called ghost towns built by local governments with stimulus lending. Andie Xie, former chief Asia economist for Morgan Stanley has called China's stocks a big ponzi scheme and warns of either a US or Chinese crash in 2011.

Indeed investors have begun to question the sound governance of Chinese companies. Another leading indicator is inflation. With Premier Wen Jiabao now hinting that it cannot be contained within the government target of 4 percent, meaning that the government is unwilling to lift interest rates in the near term fearful of the effects that would have on growth, the scene is set for an abrupt correction of policy settings leading to a hard landing.

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