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The Ticking Time Bomb: The Chinese Economy

Luis Durani

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While President Obama continues to gloat that the US economy (and by extension the global economy) was rectified and on the path to growth thanks to his intervention, he must not be paying attention to what is going on in China.

Thanks to the market interventionist policies of the US, EU, Japan, and China, the 2008 economic crisis was never fully remedied instead a bandage solution was used to cover the symptoms. While analysts and pundits continue to rave about the rise of the Chinese Dragon and how future global economic prosperity lies in China, they are missing the emergence of a new bubble. This bubble is on the verge of popping and when, not if, it pops, the entire global system will feel the ripple effect. The crisis that will emerge due to the Chinese economy collapse will make the 2008 economic crisis pale in comparison.

The Chinese Banking System

Since the opening of China’s market to the US by Deng Xiaoping and Richard Nixon, China has experienced unprecedented growth for the past thirty (30) years. Even during global economic slowdowns such as the 2008 crisis, China’s economy still grew. While in the past, growth had been centered on manufacturing, with the new found wealth and increased living standard, the Chinese economy sees itself shifting to a service-based economy. With the global economic system in malaise, this shift can hurt China.

China’s system of government is not democratic rather a one-party authoritarian system that derives legitimacy from the sole basis of being able to provide employment and food to its massive population. This implied social contract between the people and the government has proceeded thus far relatively stable. But in the recent decade, China finds itself at odds with its ability to sustain employment and a strong economy versus market forces dictating otherwise. In order to preempt such detrimental forces, China has intervened in the markets by propping up difference sectors or devaluing its currency in the hope of buoying its economy.

Estimates of the 2008 financial crisis put US economic losses around $900 billion while the global losses were around $15-20 trillion. Based on the current trajectory, the losses due to the Chinese banking bubble will surpass the 2008 crisis by leaps and bounds. In the past decade economic growth has slowed down, as a result the government has dumped money into the real estate sector in the hopes of propping things as well as the stock market. All these efforts did little to perturb the downward trajectory . To help decelerate their downturn, the Chinese devalued the Yuan in the hopes of exporting goods cheaply. The problem with that approach has been that the entire global economic system is still reeling from the 2008 crash, hence demand has slowed down. The culminations of all these factors are now laying the groundwork for the Chinese banking sector bubble to pop. But unlike the downturn in the real estate and stock market, the effects of this collapse will cause upset around the globe. A review of the Chinese banking sector will help one gain a better insight into the Chinese bubble.

chinagrowth

This graph illustrates the number of loans made by Chinese banks from 2003 to 2014. The loans were used by people for real estate, businesses, and other means of investments. The returns from these different investment vehicles would be used to pay back the loans. These loans have grown from approximately $4 trillion (2003) to over $30 trillion dollars today. In addition, the graph depicts the banking assets as a percentage of GDP. Unfortunately, the growth in the percentage of loans has greatly outpaced the economic growth in the same time frame. The current trajectory of the banking assets represents a system that is unsustainable and on the path of crashing.

It is reported that almost half of all new Chinese loans are undertaken just to pay the interest on the existing loans. While official Chinese government reports put the nonperforming or bad loans at 2-5%, in reality, it is believed to be closer to 15%. With such a large amount of toxic loans, one can safely assume the next bubble is around the corner.  

While the larger victim from this fallout will be China, the world will not go unscathed. Aside from being the second largest economy in the world, economic globalization has created an interconnected system that when one giant sneezes the rest of the world feels it. The crash of the Chinese banking sector can be the black swan event that will cause the entire global system into depression and in a much worse position than the 2008 crash.    

Conclusion

While analysts and pundits continue their endless admiration and fascination with the Chinese rise, their adoration has caused them to become blind to the growing bubble. This bubble can only be neglected for so long before it comes due and takes everything down with it. When it does, the 2008 crisis will all be but forgotten due to how relatively dire the impact of this crisis will be.

Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of "Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State" and "China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine." Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani

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Improving skills would drive job creation and growth in Spain

MD Staff

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Spain should boost support for the unemployed and expand vocational education and training as part of a series of reforms to promote better skills utilisation and drive job creation and growth, according to a new OECD report.

Getting Skills Right: Spain says that skills demands are more polarised in Spain than in many other OECD countries, with a high share of jobs requiring either very low or very high levels of education.

“The policies implemented in recent years are bearing fruit, highlighting the modernization of vocational training and the new model of dual work-based training. Their impact on the decline of early school leaving has been remarkable,” said Montserrat Gomendio, OECD Deputy Director for Education and Skills, launching the report in Madrid. “Improving people’s skills to face the challenges of digitalization and globalization is essential, especially for young people not in education, employment or training, the long-term unemployed and the adults with low skills. It’s also key to address the transition from the traditional educational model to lifelong learning, develop new models of training for adults, and promote a more efficient use of skills at work.”

The government and other stakeholders have taken a series of initiatives to bring skill supply in line with demand, including a national job portal, policies to help the long-term unemployed, an updated dual model of work-based training, and reforms to the professional training system.

But further challenges remain. Adults in Spain have one of the poorest performances on basic numeracy and reading skills compared to all other OECD countries. Even tertiary graduates, who perform higher than the national average, still have the lowest average literacy scores of any of their peers in OECD countries.

More could be done to match skill supply to demand. Focusing publicly-subsidised training for the employed and unemployed to skills and qualifications which are in high demand would help, as well as expanding opportunities for adults to engage in lifelong learning.

Despite high and persistent unemployment, Spain spends relatively little on training and job search assistance for the unemployed compared with other OECD countries. Public employment service workers in Spain are overburdened, with 721 jobseekers assigned to every public employment service worker, compared to fewer than 50 per worker in Germany. The government should follow through with plans to introduce a statistical profiling tool to improve the targeting of public employment services, as many other OECD countries have done.

The use of hiring subsidies should be reduced, which would free up resources for subsidies to cover necessary training provision to help overcome skill deficiencies among jobseekers, making them more employable over the longer-term. The use of the new training vouchers for the unemployed should be targeted to accredited institutions and focused on skills in demand.

Low basic skills among adults hurt their employability and not enough adult learning options are available to assist them. While free basic skills training for adults exists, participation is currently very low. Spain should consider making the offer of basic skills training for adults more flexible in order to encourage higher participation.

To introduce financial incentives for lifelong learning opportunities that are linked to individuals rather than to jobs, Spain should consider tying the Training Account (Cuenta Formación) to a system of vouchers to allow individuals to upskill and retrain as demand for skills changes. More training credits could be provided for those skills and occupations that are in shortage.

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Understanding the Tourism in the European Union

MD Staff

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The new report ‘European Union Tourism Trends’, prepared by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in cooperation with the European Commission, underscores tourism’s major social and economic benefits for 28 countries comprising the European Union (EU). EU destinations welcomed 538 million international overnight visitors in 2017, 40% of the world total. EU accommodation establishments provide over 3 billion nights a year, half of which to domestic guests (residents) and half to international guests. Tourism accounts for 6% of the EU’s overall exports, while the direct contribution of tourism to individual EU economies reaches up to 11% of the GDP.

Preliminary results for 2017 indicate that international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) grew by 8% in the EU last year, to reach 538 million, or 40% of the world’s arrivals. The EU has enjoyed continued growth in international arrivals following the global economic crisis of 2009, with annual growth rates exceeding 4% in the last five years.

The UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili stated that “Sustained growth in tourism has been instrumental  in the economic recovery of many countries in Europe and around the world, contributing to job creation, economic growth and a healthy balance of payments”

EU countries earned EUR 342 billion in international tourism receipts in 2016 (31% of the world’s total), making a significant contribution to their balance of payments. As EU destinations earn more in international tourism receipts than EU residents spend on international tourism (EUR 315 billion), EU consequently boasts a surplus of EUR 27 billion in the travel trade balance.

International passenger transport (rendered to non-residents) is estimated to have generated another EUR 67 billion, resulting in total export earnings from international tourism of EUR 409 billion. This represents 6% of the EU’s exports of goods and services, making tourism the fourth largest export category, after chemicals, automotive products and food.

Over two million businesses dedicated mainly or partially to tourism operate in the EU, most of them small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), employing some 12 million people. For individual EU economies, the direct contribution of tourism to GDP is as high as 11%.

The UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili added that “Tourism is a key pillar of the EU strategy for jobs and inclusive growth and I am confident that our strong partnership with the European Union will continue to drive the quality, sustainability and competitiveness of the European tourism sector forward”.

EU tourism is driven by both domestic and international visitors. Accommodation establishments in the EU offered 31 million bed-places in 2016. Guests spent a total 3.1 billion nights, half of which were by domestic visitors (residents) and half by international visitors. Of the 1.5 billion international nights, 1.1 billion were spent by guests from EU countries and 413 million by guests from outside the EU.

EU-UNWTO cooperation

The European Union Tourism Trends report provides a comprehensive overview of tourism in the European Union and constitutes a tool for policy makers and other tourism stakeholders for developing market strategies and enhancing the knowledge base of the EU Virtual Tourism Observatory. The report is the result of a cooperation agreement between UNWTO and the Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs of the European Commission (DG GROW) and is part of the ‘Enhancing the Understanding of European Tourism’ initiative. The project aims to improve the socio-economic knowledge of the tourism sector, enhance the understanding of European tourism and contribute to economic growth, job creation and the overall competiveness of tourism in Europe.

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World Bank: Commodity prices to rise more than expected in 2018

MD Staff

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Oil prices are forecast to average $65 a barrel over 2018, up from an average of $53 a barrel in 2017, on strong demand from consumers and restraint by oil producers, while metals prices are expected to rise 9 percent this year, also on a pickup in demand and supply constraints, the World Bank said on Tuesday.

Prices for energy commodities – which include oil, natural gas, and coal — are forecast to jump 20 percent in 2018, a 16 percentage point upward revision from October’s outlook, the World Bank said in its April Commodity Markets Outlook. The metals index is expected to rise as an 9 percent drop in iron ore prices is offset by increases in all base metals prices, led by nickel, which is forecast to rise 30 percent.

Agricultural commodities, including food commodities and raw materials, are anticipated to see a price rise of over 2 percent this year on diminished planting prospects. Weather disruptions are expected to be minimal.

“Accelerating global growth and rising demand are important factors behind broad-based price increases for most commodities and the forecast of higher commodities prices ahead,” said Shantayanan Devarajan, World Bank Senior Director for Development Economics and acting Chief Economist. “At the same time, policy actions currently under discussion add uncertainty to the outlook.”

Oil prices are expected to average $65/bbl over 2019 as well. Although prices are projected to decline from April 2018 levels, they should be supported by continued production restraint by OPEC and non-OPEC producers and strong demand. Upside risks to the forecast include constraints to U.S. shale oil output, geopolitical risks in several producing countries, and concerns the United States may not waive sanctions against Iran.  Downside risks include weaker compliance with the oil producers’ agreement to restrain output or outright termination of the accord, rising output from Libya and Nigeria, and a quicker-than-expected rise in shale oil output.

“Oil prices have more than doubled since bottoming in early 2016, as the large overhang of inventories has been reduced significantly.” said John Baffes, Senior Economist and lead author of the Commodity Markets Outlook. “Strong oil demand and greater compliance by the OPEC and non-OPEC producers with their agreed output pledges helped tip the market into deficit.”

Upside risks to the metals price forecast include more robust global demand than expected. Supply could be held back by slow incorporation of new capacity, trade sanctions against metals exporters, and policy actions in China. Downside risks include slower-than-expected growth in major emerging markets, the restart of idle capacity, and an easing of pollution-related policies in China. Precious metals are expected to climb 3 percent this year in anticipation of U.S. interest rate increases and higher inflation expectations.

Grains and oils and meal prices are expected to rise in 2018, mostly due to lower planting intentions.  The mild La Niña cycle that extended into the early part of the year only affected banana production in Central America and soybean production in Argentina and did not impact global markets for those crops substantially. The possible introduction by China of countervailing duties in response to U.S. tariff increases could impact the soybean market.

A special focus section examines the changed landscape for oil-exporting economies after the 2014 oil price collapse. The oil price plunge eroded oil-related revenues, forcing abrupt cuts in government spending that accentuated the slowdown in private sector activity in many regions. Income inequality and political instability also weakened the ability of some oil-exporting economies to weather low oil prices.

“Oil exporters with flexible currency regimes, relatively large fiscal buffers, and more diversified economies have fared better than others since the oil price collapse,” said Ayhan Kose, director of World Bank’s Development Economics Prospects Group. “However, most oil exporters still face significant fiscal challenges in the face of revenue prospects that have weakened since 2014.”

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