Best of the Week
Most Popular
1. Gold vs Cash in a Financial Crisis - Richard_Mills
2.Current Stock Market Rally Similarities To 1999 - Chris_Vermeulen
3.America See You On The Dark Side Of The Moon - Part2 - James_Quinn
4.Stock Market Trend Forecast Outlook for 2020 - Nadeem_Walayat
5.Who Said Stock Market Traders and Investor are Emotional Right Now? - Chris_Vermeulen
6.Gold Upswing and Lessons from Gold Tops - P_Radomski_CFA
7.Economic Tribulation is Coming, and Here is Why - Michael_Pento
8.What to Expect in Our Next Recession/Depression? - Raymond_Matison
9.The Fed Celebrates While Americans Drown in Financial Despair - John_Mauldin
10.Hi-yo Silver Away! - Richard_Mills
Last 7 days
Dow Short-term Trend Analysis - Coronavirus Trigger a Stocks Bear Market? - 24th Feb 20
Sustained Silver Rally Coming? - 24th Feb 20
Should Investors Worry about Repo Market and Buy Gold? - 24th Feb 20
Are FANG Technology Stocks Setting Up For A Market Crash? - 24th Feb 20
Gold Above $1,600 Amid FOMC Minutes and Coronavirus Impact - 24th Feb 20
CoronaVirus Pandemic Day 76 Trend Forecast Update - Infected 540k, Minus China 1715, Deaths 4920 - 23rd Feb 20 -
Ways to Find Startup Capital - 23rd Feb 20
Stock Market Deviation from Overall Outlook for 2020 - 22nd Feb 20
The Shanghai Composite and Coronavirus: A Revealing Perspective - 22nd Feb 20
Baltic Dry, Copper, Oil, Tech and China Continue Call for Stock Market Crash Soon - 22nd Feb 20
Gold Warning – This is Not a Buying Opportunity - 22nd Feb 20
Is The Technology Sector FANG Stocks Setting Up For A Market Crash? - 22nd Feb 20
Coronavirus China Infection Statistics Analysis, Probability Forecasts 1/2 Million Infected - 21st Feb 20
Is Crude Oil Firmly on the Upswing Now? - 20th Feb 20
What Can Stop the Stocks Bull – Or At Least, Make It Pause? - 20th Feb 20
Trump and Economic News That Drive Gold, Not Just Coronavirus - 20th Feb 20
Coronavirus COVID19 UK Infection Prevention, Boosting Immune Systems, Birmingham, Sheffield - 20th Feb 20
Silver’s Valuable Insights Into the Upcoming PMs Rally - 20th Feb 20
Coronavirus Coming Storm Act Now to Protect Yourselves and Family to Survive COVID-19 Pandemic - 19th Feb 20
Future Silver Prices Will Shock People, and They’ll Kick Themselves for Not Buying Under $20… - 19th Feb 20
What Alexis Kennedy Learned from Launching Cultist Simulator - 19th Feb 20
Stock Market Potential Short-term top - 18th Feb 20
Coronavirus Fourth Turning - No One Gets Out Of Here Alive! - 18th Feb 20
The Stocks Hit Worst From the Coronavirus - 18th Feb 20
Tips on Pest Control: How to Prevent Pests and Rodents - 18th Feb 20
Buying a Custom Built Gaming PC From Overclockers.co.uk - 1. Delivery and Unboxing - 17th Feb 20
BAIDU (BIDU) Illustrates Why You Should NOT Invest in Chinese Stocks - 17th Feb 20
Financial Markets News Report: February 17, 2020 - February 21, 2020 - 17th Feb 20
NVIDIA (NVDA) GPU King For AI Mega-trend Tech Stocks Investing 2020 - 17th Feb 20
Stock Market Bubble - No One Gets Out Of Here Alive! - 17th Feb 20
British Pound GBP Trend Forecast 2020 - 16th Feb 20
SAMSUNG AI Mega-trend Tech Stocks Investing 2020 - 16th Feb 20
Ignore the Polls, the Markets Have Already Told You Who Wins in 2020 - 16th Feb 20
UK Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic WARNING! Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham Outbreaks Probable - 16th Feb 20
iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF IBB AI Mega-trend Tech Stocks Investing 2020 - 15th Feb 20
Gold Stocks Still Stalled - 15th Feb 20
Is The Technology Stocks Sector Setting Up For A Crash? - 15th Feb 20
UK Calm Before Corona Virus Storm - Infections Forecast into End March 2020 - 15th Feb 20

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

Nadeem Walayat Financial Markets Analysiis and Trend Forecasts

Chinese Quest for Shortcut to Economic Greatness

Economics / China Economy Jan 28, 2010 - 09:06 AM GMT

By: Vitaliy_Katsenelson

Economics

Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleThe Chinese economy must be getting out of control, because the Chinese government is doing the unthinkable: It is desperately trying to put the brakes on the economy. When you pump a stimulus package that represents 14% of GDP through a fire hose into an economy, which was already on shaky bubble foundation, in a very short time you’ll have some serious unintended consequences -- you’ll get super bubbles.


To understand what's taking place in China today, we need to rewind the clock about a decade. At that time the Chinese government chose a policy of growth at any cost. To achieve that, it kept its currency (the renminbi) at artificially low levels against the dollar -- this helped already cheap Chinese-made goods become even cheaper than its competitors’. The US and global consumers were eager to buy them. China turned into a significant exporter to the US. Normally, if free-market economic forces were at work, the renminbi would have appreciated and the US dollar would have declined. However, if China let its currency appreciate, its exports would have become more expensive and the demand for Chinese products would have declined, and its economy wouldn't have grown at 10% a year.

But China isn't your local democracy, and it needed to grow at any cost. So instead, through the government-controlled banking system, China accumulated a couple trillion dollars of foreign reserves in US dollars and euros. This had an unintended consequence: It helped keep US interest rates at very low levels, and lent a friendly hand in the financing of a huge consumption binge by the US consumer (i.e., China’s largest customer).

The more China sold to the US, the more dollars it accumulated, and thus the more US Treasuries it bought, driving our interest rates down. The US consumer was in turn happy to leverage its future (through the “always” appreciating asset, its house) and delighted to consume cheap Chinese-made goods. (I'm not dismissing the role in what took place of many other factors, like lack of financial regulation; missteps by rating agencies, the Fed, and politicians; securitization; etc., but I don’t want to steal the spotlight from China).

This symbiotic match made in heaven between China and the US consumer worked great as long as housing prices kept rising and the financial machine kept multiplying dollars. But all good things come to an end, and great things come to an end with a bang. The financial meltdown erupted upon us, the US and global banks started dropping like flies … well, you know how that story played out.

So now let’s fast forward a year. Today the global economy is stabilizing, thanks to Uncle Sam and various other “uncles” around the world. But the consumers of Chinese-made goods are overleveraged and now deleveraging, unemployment is high, the banks have got religion and aren't lending, and there's not much demand for loans anyway (except from the US government).

Despite this, the Chinese export-based economy, a manufacturer to the world, has clocked growth of 8.7% in 2009. The rest of the world looks at the Chinese growth miracle with envy; it seems that China has got economics figured out. But don’t hurry to trade your democracy for an authoritarian system. The Chinese grass is not as green as it appears. First, China lies. One shouldn't believe all the economic numbers that are put out by the Chinese government. This is the government that magically managed to report 6% to 8% GDP growth in the midst of the financial crisis, when its exports were down more than 25%, tonnage of goods shipped through its railroads was down by double digits, and its electricity consumption was falling like a rock. It's hard to manufacture 8% more widgets with a lot less electricity, and no, China didn't suddenly become energy-efficient during the financial crisis: Electricity consumption rebounded in a few months once the stimulus kicked in.

Despite reported rosy GDP growth, the Chinese economy was contracting during the economic crisis. But don’t be surprised, this is a government that will go to great lengths to maintain appearances to keep its ideology going.

Second, China will do anything to grow its economy, as the alternatives will lead to political unrest. A lot of peasants moved to the cities in search of higher-paying jobs during the go-go times. Because China lacks the social safety net of the developed world, unemployed people aren't just inconvenienced by the loss of their jobs, they starve (this explains the high savings rate in China) and hungry people don’t complain, they riot. Once you look at what's taking place in the Chinese economy through that lens, the decisions of its leaders start making sense, or at least become understandable.

Unlike Western democracies, where central banks can pump a lot of money into the financial system but can't force banks to lend or consumers and corporations to spend, China can achieve both at lightning speed. The Chinese government controls the banks, thus it can make them lend, and it can force state-owned enterprises (one-third of the economy) to borrow and to spend. Also, because the rule of law and human and property rights are nascent in its economic and political system, China can spend infrastructure project money very fast -- if a school is in the way of a road the government wants to build, it becomes a casualty for the greater good.

China has spent a tremendous amount of money on infrastructure over last decade and there are definitely long-term benefits to having better highways, fast railroads, more hospitals, etc. But government is horrible at allocating large amounts of capital, especially at the speed it was done in China. Political decisions (driven by the goal of full employment) are often uneconomical, and corruption and cronyism result in projects that destroy value.

Infrastructure and real estate projects are where you get your biggest bang for the buck if your goal is to maintain employment, because they require a lot of unskilled labor; and this is where in the past a lot of Chinese money was spent. This also explains why, in 2009, new floor space constructed was up 100% and residential real estate prices surged 25%. And this explains why they keep building skyscrapers even though the adjacent ones are still vacant. To make things worse, before the financial crisis and enormous stimulus, China was already suffering from what I call late-stage-growth obesity, inefficiencies that are a byproduct of high growth rates sustained for a long period of time. Though Chinese growth in the past was high, in its late stages the quality of growth has been low.

For example, in an echo of past Chinese government asset-allocation decisions, China built the largest shopping mall in the world, the South China Mall, which is 99% vacant years after construction. China also built a whole city, Ordos, in Inner Mongolia, on spec for one million residents who never appeared.

The inefficiencies are also evident in industrial overcapacity. According to Pivot Capital, Chinese excess capacity in cement is greater than the combined consumption by the US, Japan, and India combined. Also, Chinese idle production of steel is greater than the production capacity of Japan and South Korea combined. Similarly disturbing statistics are true for many other industrial commodities. The enormous stimulus amplified problems that already existed to financial-crisis levels. China is a less shiny but more drastic version of Dubai.

There is speculation that the Chinese consumer will pick up the demand slack for the US and European consumers who are deleveraging and buying fewer Chinese-made goods. This may happen, but it will take decades. The US and European consumers are two-thirds of much larger economies. The Chinese consumer is only one-third of the Chinese economy, and its purchasing power is significantly undermined by the undervalued renminbi.

We look at China and are mesmerized by its 1.3 billion people, its achievements of the last decade, its recent economic resiliency, and its ability to achieve spectacular results on the fly. But we have to remember that economic bubbles are usually just a good thing taken too far. This was the case with railroads in the US in the late 19th century: The railroads were supposed to change the landscape of the US, and they did, but that didn't prevent a lot of them from going out of business first and investors losing money. The Internet was supposed to change how we communicate, and it did, but in the process it generated a tremendous bubble, followed by the loss of wealth for many. The Chinese economy is no exception. Its long-term future may be bright, but in the short run we’ve got a bubble on our hands.

Everyone wants a shortcut to greatness, but there isn’t one. It would be great if the word (economic) cycle only existed in a singular form, and the only cycle we had in the economy was happy expansion. If there were no cycles, there would be no painful recessions. But as heaven couldn't exist without hell, or capitalism without failure, economic expansion can't exist without recession. China has been trying to bend the laws of economics for awhile, and with the control it exerts over its economy it may seem, at least for a short while, that the laws of economics work differently in China. But this is only a temporary mirage, which must be followed by huge pain and drastic consequences. No, there's no shortcut to greatness, in anything, not in politics, not in personal life, not in economics.

P.S. The last paragraph on "shortcuts to greatness" doesn't just apply to China (though China, through much greater control of its economy, took it to a new level); it applies to the US, Europe, and Japan as well. Over the last several decades our respective governments intervened in free markets and actively tried to manage the business cycle – only expansions, or just mild recessions – and for this we are paying today.

More articles on China can be found here.

Vitaliy N. Katsenelson, CFA, is a portfolio manager/director of research at Investment Management Associates in Denver, Colo.  He is the author of “Active Value Investing: Making Money in Range-Bound Markets” (Wiley 2007).  To receive Vitaliy’s future articles my email, click here.

© 2010 Copyright Vitaliy Katsenelson - All Rights Reserved
Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.


© 2005-2019 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

6 Critical Money Making Rules