April 02, 2013

On China

The Chinese economy explained.

Seriously this anecdotal but important. My belief is that the Chinese economy is in far worse shape than our own. Their books are closed so we don't know what level of spending and debt they've incurred. The boom China has been experiencing is a bubble. Specifically, you have an economy that started to grow due to a huge increase in manufacturing. That lifted many people out of poverty which, in turn, made those workers more expensive. That led to the manufacturers moving further west in China where labor was cheaper. Lather, rinse and repeat. The other bubble is the real estate bubble. Allowing citizens to buy property was the only way they could alleviate capital flight. The Yuan is non-convertible for individuals. Only banks can convert their money so the people had no place to put their money (other than the bank). So they let people buy real estate. Sounds good. But it created an insane boom of builders trying to do things on the the cheap to get it done fast which ironically led to a glut of housing stock. There are entire developments and office blocks that are vacant and will probably never be occupied. Combine that with public sector spending on construction projects and the bubble gets bigger. Once the construction stops it's going to be like hitting the ground after your parachute didn't open.

China does have a few things in its favor. It has a huge population and significant natural resources. They have mined something like 400 tons of gold in the last decade which, if true, is impressive. They have huge FX holdings which could stave off the crisis. Lastly they hold a huge amount of US debt which gives them leverage but not the wildcard many think it is. They cannot call paper as they know it would collapse our economy (or at least destroy our currency which is effectively the same thing) and then they'd be SOL on that ever getting repaid.

Working against them is their long term demographics. They have too many bare branches on their family tree. They have introduced instability by having a serial family line that makes brain drain easier.

In sum, our fates are intertwined so closely that nobody wants to pull the trigger on a trade war, currency war or actual shooting war. Rather we're going to be more like the US/Soviet relations in the Cold War which means angling for leadership and dominance and probably getting into bed with people we ought not to.

Posted by Duffy at April 2, 2013 11:31 AM | TrackBack

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The other big issue is that if China wasn't maintaining a cheap yuan, then the US and other nations would be pulling our manufacturing out. And they can't do that forever either.

Posted by: Jeff the Baptist at April 2, 2013 01:01 PM

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