For two decades now mainstream Keynesian economists have been gumming about China’s remarkable economic boom and its accumulation of unprecedented foreign exchange reserves. The latter hoard has now actually crossed the $4 trillion mark.
But this whole narrative is PhD jabberwocky with a Wall Street accent. What the People’s Printing Press of China has been doing is simply passing the hot potato by converting the vast inflow of dollars, euros and yen emitted by DM central banks into a fantastic flood of RMB. This massive expansion of the domestic monetary system, in turn, enabled the greatest credit bubble in world history.
Stated differently, China’s total credit market debt outstanding did not explode from $1 trillion to $25 trillion in just the last 14 years because the sons and daughters of rice farmers working in export factories went on a savings binge, thereby enabling a healthy expansion of debt-financed investment.
To the contrary, the central banks of the world went on a money printing binge and the comrades in Beijing took the bait. Namely, they chronically and massively scooped up excess foreign exchange from trade and capital inflows and stuffed it into the vaults at the central bank. This was supposed to keep the exchange rate battened down and the growth and export miracle ramping.
In age old fashion this mercantilist gambit seemed to work for a while—indeed, a long while of nearly two decades. But all the time the aging autocrats who ran the system, and who had learned their economics from Mao’s Little Red Book, were actually swapping the labor of their young people and resources of their land for debt emissions of the profligate West. And in the process they were steadily inflating a fantastic credit bubble that financed the construction of anything that could be imagined by local party cadres and “businessmen” alike—-airports, bridges, highways, high-rises, office towers, train stations, fast rail, shopping malls, new cities, endless factories.
But the massive construction site within China’s borders defied the laws of economics and plain old rationality. It is literally impossible for an economy to record double-digit GDP growth year-upon-year in which 50% of the gain is due to “fixed asset” investment in public infrastructure and private real estate and industrial capacity. The reason is that no society could sustain the level of consumption forbearance and mass austerity that would be required to fund such massive investment out of honest savings.
Instead, the party overlords got lured into a dangerous economic Ponzi. They sent more and more freshly minted credit—-20-35% more in some years—down the state controlled banking system where it was parceled out to state controlled enterprises, local party rulers and independent entrepreneurs.
These recipients turned it into cement, rebar, fabrications, office towers, coal mines, power plants and port facilities—-without regard for sustainable rates of return. And when returns disappointed or failed to materialize at all—such as in the empty new cities, malls and luxury apartment buildings— more credit was advanced to keep these “investments” solvent. That is, new debt was issued to pay interest on the old.
So parallel to the downward cascade of credit was an equal and opposite upward back haul of fixed asset GDP. In short, Beijing could hit its national GDP target nearly to the decimal point year after year because its was printing GDP through the machinery of a credit driven command-and-control economy, not presiding over anything that resembles a sustainable capitalist economy.
In a sense, after the disastrous failure of Maoism, the party dictatorship has maintained its lease on life only be synching-up with the global central banking swindle that has been underway for four decades now—but especially since 1994 when Greenspan panicked after that year’s bond market route.
The giant issue facing China, however, is that it is at the end of the money-printing chorus line. It has now absorbed so much excess debt from the West and thereby inflated its credit Ponzi to such an insensible extent, that even its current rulers can see the hand-writing on the wall.
In a recent speech, in fact, Premier Li let the cat out of the bag, calling China’s massive hoard of foreign exchange for what it is—-a vendor loan to foreign customers who buy but do not sell; who consume but do not produce. Suddenly, what has been ballyhooed for two decades as evidence of the Chinese miracle is officially labeled a “big burden”.
Actually, it has been a burden all along. The comrades have presided over the erection of a Ponzi of such immense and convoluted magnitude that they have no hope of unwinding it without a thunderous “hard landing”
May 11 – Reuters: “China’s war chest of foreign currency reserves has become a headache as its continued rise could stoke inflation in the long term, Premier Li Keqiang said… pledging to reduce the country’s trade surplus. China’s foreign exchange reserves, the world’s largest, grew by $130 billion in the first quarter, to a record $3.95 trillion… ‘Frankly speaking, foreign exchange reserves have become a big burden for us, because such reserves translate into the base money, which could affect inflation,’ Phoenix New Media Ltd quoted Li as saying… ‘From China’s perspective, macroeconomic controls could face tremendous pressures if the overall trade is imbalanced.’ China will take steps to reduce its trade surpluses with the rest of the world…”