When will China’s government banks need a bailout so the economists that have been forecasting this for years will finally be right? When will China’s housing market finally collapse? The answer is, nobody knows because China is a closed economy and will not tell the market anything it doesn’t want the market to know. For every article about non-performing loans, there is another quoting a government officials saying they’d pay the bills themselves if the debt become toxic. For every article about the housing market looking like it’s heading the way of Las Vegas real estate, there is a string of data from China showing that housing prices are still higher than they were a year ago. There is no free fall in China. There is no crash. But everyone is wondering if China is the next EU. The den of China bears has roared back to life this week after being quiet for a few weeks.
Americans heard the same thing in 2007 and 2008, that a shadow derivatives market was going to destroy the U.S. economy. The thing is, there is no shadow derivatives market. Derivatives exist. Self-regulatory agencies exist to make the laws of trading them. There was, and is, no shadow. The only shadow would be a black market, which is criminal, and maybe akin to watching the Medellin drug cartel go bankrupt. It won’t take down Columbia. It won’t take down the investment banks where that money was held. (Maybe I’m misunderstanding something here, which is probably the case.)
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Also on Monday, Nouriel Roubini said that his firm, Roubini Global Economics (RGE), increased the probability of their “crash and burn” scenario. They lowered their expectations for a soft landing, though this remains their base case scenario.
There are a few reasons for these forecasts, and none of them have to do with the crisis in Europe. In 2008, China sent over $700 billion to states to invest in things like roads, trains, bridges, housing and entire cities. Some of these projects were bridges to nowhere. Although the government estimates that public debt as a percentage of GDP is just 17%, Bloomberg estimates that it is at 80% because of fixed investment.
The findings also suggest China is failing to curb borrowing even with interest rates rising. One central bank official told Bloomberg will slow growth in the world’s second-largest economy if not controlled. But by how much? Is 8% China GDP hard to live with in China? Is it a downer for countries like Brazil, that have come to rely on China for export growth? Earlier this year, China’s premier Wen Jiabao said he wanted the economy to grow at just 7%. Nobody worried then, but that was because the market still believed Europe could save Greece and the IMF could save Portugal.