Jim Chanos: China Debt Surge Echoes 1990s Japan

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Jim Chanos: China Debt Surge Echoes Japan Slowdown Pattern by Bonnie Cao and Ye Xie, Bloomberg

  • Debt relative to GDP repeating pattern before lost decade
  • China has made `missteps’ in handling stock market meltdown

China is on a path similar to the one that preceded Japan’s lost decade in the 1990s as the country’s debt level grows twice as fast as its economy, according to Jim Chanos, the hedge fund manager who predicted the 2001 collapse of Enron Corp.

“We have an economy addicted to credit,” Chanos, founder of Kynikos Associates LP, said during a panel discussion on China in New York Tuesday. While the country doesn’t appear to be facing an “imminent collapse,” it is on a trajectory similar to the one Japan was on before its asset-price collapse in 1991 “but on steroids,” he said.

Chinese annual loan growth has slowed to about 15 percent from more than 30 percent in 2009, that’s still double the pace of expansion in gross domestic product. Total household and corporate debt surged to 207 percent of GDP in June, up from 125 percent at the end of 2008 when China embarked on a borrowing binge to stimulate the economy, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Japan’s total debt swelled to 176 percent of GDP in 1990 from 127 percent in 1980, according to JPMorgan. The burst of the housing and stock market bubble since then led to anemic economic growth in the following years, a period commonly referred to as a lost decade.

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