Tag Archives: China

The Chinese Boom-Bust Cycle

By Simon Johnson

Should we fear some sort of financial crash in China, along the lines of what we saw in 2008 in the US or after 2010 in the euro area?

Given the rate of growth in credit and the expansion of the so-called shadow banking sector over the past five years in China, some sort of financial bust seems hard to avoid.

But this need not be the hard landing seen in more developed countries – and the impact on the world economy will likely be much more moderate.  At the same time, however, bigger problems await in the not-too-distant future.

Peter Boone and I review the details in a column for NYT.com’s Economix blog.

China and the Saving of Europe

By Simon Johnson

The Greek government owes more than it can afford to pay, now or in the near future, at market interest rates.  There are two options: reduce the payments through some form of restructuring, or move the debt into the hands of people who are willing to charge below market rates for the foreseeable future.

In this decision, the International Monetary Fund has relatively little say – this is really a political decision to be made by the European Union, with discrete backing from the US and China. Continue reading

Who’s In Charge Here? Not The G20

By Simon Johnson

Most accounts of the ministerial meeting last weekend of the Group of 20 — 19 nations plus the European Union that represent the world’s wealthiest economies —implied that it continued to perform sterling service – heading off currency wars, keeping explicit protectionism under control and deftly managing the process of reforming governance at the International Monetary Fund.

Post-financial crisis, middle-income countries continue to rise in economic importance, and the recent shift in global leadership from the Group of 7 (the United States, Canada, Britain, Italy, France, Germany and Japan) to the G-20 is commonly supposed to accommodate the growing claims of “emerging markets” on the world stage.

This interpretation is correct as far as it goes, but it also misses the main story, which is that emerging markets have two primary goals that are increasingly at odds with each other. These goals – to hold large stocks of American dollars and to stave off a flow of capital from abroad – add up to wanting to retain the emerging markets’ recently achieved status of collective net creditors (i.e., being owed more than they owe). Unfortunately, this contributes to the serious vulnerability of the world economy as we head into the next credit cycle. Continue reading

The G20’s China Bet

By Simon Johnson

The G20 communiqué, released after the Toronto summit on Sunday, made it quite clear that most industrialized countries now have budget deficit reduction fever (see this version, with line-by-line comments by me, Marc Chandler and Arvind Subramanian).  The US resisted the pressure to cut government spending and/or raise taxes in a precipitate manner, but the sense of the meeting was clear – cut now to some extent and cut more tomorrow.

This makes some sense if you think that the global economy is in robust health and likely to grow at a rapid clip – say close to 5 percent per annum – for the foreseeable future.  With high global growth, it will matter less that governments are cutting back and unemployment will come down regardless.  Taking this into account, the IMF is actually predicting (as cited prominently by the G20) that budget “consolidation” actually raise growth over a five-year horizon.

There is no question that some weaker European countries, such as Greece, Portugal, and Ireland, had budget deficits that were out of control.  Particularly if they are to pay back all their foreign borrowing – a controversial idea that remains the conventional wisdom – these countries need some austerity.  But what about those larger countries, which remain creditworthy, such as Germany, France, the UK, and the US?  If these economies all decide to reduce their budget deficits, what will drive global growth? Continue reading

Should We Fear China?

By Simon Johnson.  This post is taken from testimony submitted to U.S.-China Economic & Security Review Commission hearing on “US Debt to China: Implications and Repercussions” – Panel I: China’s Lending Activities and the US Debt, Thursday, February 25, 2010.  (Caution: this is a long post, around 1500 words; a summary of some key points will appear on the NYT’s Economix this morning.)

China is the largest holder of official foreign currency reserves in the world, currently estimated to be worth around $2.4 trillion – an increase of nearly $500 billion in the course of 2009 (on the back of a current account surplus of just under $300 billion, i.e., 5.8 percent of China’s GDP, and a capital account surplus of around $100 billion).  These reserves are accumulated through arguably the largest ever sustained intervention in a foreign exchange market – i.e., through The People’s Bank of China buying dollars and selling renminbi, and thus keeping the renminbi-dollar exchange rate more depreciated than it would be otherwise. 

China is also currently the second largest holder of US Treasury Securities – at the end of December 2009, it held $755.4 billion – just behind Japan (which had $768.8 billion).

The US Treasury data almost certainly understate Chinese holdings of our government debt because they do not reveal the ultimate country of ownership when instruments are held through an intermediary in another jurisdiction.

Continue reading

The Power of Conventional Wisdom

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is probably a good time to throw out half-baked ideas on topics I don’t know much about.

First, there’s been a lot of talk about the “lost decade” for stocks. The S&P 500 is below where it was a decade ago. Dividend yields bring you back up to break-even (the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund had average annual returns of 0.18% for the ten years through the end of November, and that’s after about 0.1% in expenses), but inflation sets you back a couple of percentage points per year. (Vanguard’s S&P 500 index fund, however, was negative over those ten years.) James Hamilton, drawing on data from Robert Shiller, has some thoughts on why the stock market did badly; the fundamentals were so-so, but the big factor was that valuations were at their historical peak at the beginning of the decade.

Continue reading

Things That Don’t Make Sense, Yuan Edition

“World Bank Chief Economist Justin Yifu Lin staked out a strong position against forcing China to let its currency appreciate as a way to rebalance the world economy.

“’Currency appreciation in China won’t help this imbalance and can deter the global recovery,’ he said in a lecture Monday at Hong Kong University.

“In an interview after the lecture, he said other countries shouldn’t intervene to keep their currencies cheap to boost their export sectors, calling it the ‘equivalent of protectionism.'”

You can read the rest at Real Time Economics. No, it doesn’t make more sense — except possibly as an expression of China’s policy.

By James Kwak