The continuing real estate and banking crisis in China is starting to spread to the other aspects of the Chinese economy. With the real estate market in trouble, with many contracted apartments and homes not being finished, and contracted owners refusing to pay on their mortgages until the apartments are finished, the economic consequences of this crisis are starting to leak into the other parts of the Chinese economy.
One of the main pillars of the Chinese economy has been the steel industry. For decades the Chinese domestic economy has depended on the real estate industry to provide an outlet for the tremendous amount of steel produced by China each year. For the last two decades the huge amount of construction on skyscrapers, factories, huge apartment complexes, and dwellings have been able to soak up the oversupply of steel produced by the Chinese steel industry. Steel has also been the feedstock for the manufacture of the budding Chinese auto industry, as well as manufacturing key parts for the autos produced overseas.
A key indicator of the health of the Chinese steel industry has always been China’s purchase of iron ore from overseas. In the year 2020, at the height of the Covid epidemic, China imported 1.17 billion tons of iron ore. In 2021 the amount decreased to 1.1 billion tons. In the first 5 months of 2022 China only imported 447 million tons of iron ore. This figure is down 5.1 percent from the same period in 2021. Some of these imports can be attributed to panic buying because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Li Ganpo, founder and chairman of Hebei Jingye Steel Group, has warned that a third of China’s steel mills could go into bankruptcy this year. According to a transcript seen by Bloomberg…”The whole sector is losing money and I can’t see a turning point for now…”
Along with the decrease in the manufacture of finished steel products, is the increase in the inventory of finished steel products which increased by 20.5 million tons in a snapshot taken of Chines steel inventory in June 1 2022,to June 10 2022.
Chinese Thoughts on Money
In the West, and throughout most of the world, money is an economic good. Money in the West is governed by the philosophy of a return on investment which creates more wealth. Money is used as an intermediation between buyer and seller. In China, according to the geopolitician Peter Zeihan, money is considered by the CCP as a political good.
According to Mr. Zeihan “Investment decisions not driven by the concept of returns tend to add up. Conservatively, corporate debt in China is about 150% of GDP. That doesn’t count federal government debt, or provincial government debt, or local government debt. Nor does it involve the bond market, or non-standard borrowing such as LendingTree-like person-to-person programs, or shadow financing designed to evade even China’s hyper-lax financial regulatory authorities. It doesn’t even include US dollar-denominated debt that cropped up in those rare moments when Beijing took a few baby steps to address the debt issue and so firms sought funds from outside of China. With that sort of attitude towards capital, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that China’s stock markets are in essence gambling dens utterly disconnected from issues of supply and labor and markets and logistics and cashflow (and legality). Simply put, in China, debt levels simply are not perceived as an issue.”
In China, money is a political good, and only has value if it can be used to achieve a political goal. That political good is maximum employment.
The concepts of rate of return or profit margins do not exist in China, and therein lies the danger; eventually the law of supply and demand will win out, and the Chinese economy will have to face a correction. The longer it takes to face this economic correction, the greater damage that the inevitable correction will cause to the Chinese economy.
China is Not Capable of Non-Steady State Economic Growth
Lacking an impartial judiciary system, the Chinese economy is incapable of “Non-Steady State Growth.” Non-Steady State Growth occurs when a new technology increases production of a good or service which expands the economy at a rapid clip. Non-Steady State Growth can only occur in a business environment where an impartial judicial system is able to fairly adjudicate contract disputes. With the heavy hand of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interfering in judicial conflicts, and favoring members of the CCP in contract disputes, this type of constraint inhibits research into new and promising technologies.
This means that the Chinese economy is stuck in Steady-State Growth. Steady state growth depends on a constant amount of inputs to help the economy grow. However, at a certain point, inputs do not result in growth as marginal utility becomes saturated and has a zero growth rate.
A Domino Effect Seems to be Forming in the Chinese Economy
A domino effect is defined as “…how one action can have a knock-on effect to related subjects. Knock one domino over, and you don’t just affect the first domino, but all the ones who stand in its path…”
In economics a domino theory can be used to explain how economic weakness, or loss, can spread to other areas of the economy causing a recession or depression.
In the current economic environment in China, the Evergrande implosion has begun to infect other areas of the real estate market in China, which in turn has infected the Chinese banking system. With Chinese buyers of homes and apartments refusing to make any more mortgage payments until stalled construction on apartment complexes are completed, the economic damage has spread to the Chinese banking system.
In July, thousands of Chinese depositors were protesting the freezing of their money in rural banks in central China. In the city of Zhengzhou, the protestors had gathered at the main branch of the Chinese central bank demanding their money back. Officials sent police, disguised in civilian clothes, to break up the demonstration using violence and arresting the protesters.
With construction stalled on numerous unfinished apartment building and complexes, the demand for steel has collapsed, which will inevitably lead to higher unemployment levels for Chinese steel workers, many who are employed by State Owned Enterprises.
With a total of debt that exceeds 300 percent, the Chinese government is sitting on a mountain of debt which many economic analysts say is a disaster waiting to happen. Some analysts say since the debt is state owned, there is little chance of default.
With the Chinese real estate market imploding, which is leaking into the Chinese banking system, which in turn is affecting the Chinese steel industry, China faces a hurricane of economic problems all happening at the same time.
It is not inconceivable, that these accumulating crises may lead to a sudden economic collapse of the Chinese economy.
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