The great fall of China?

Black Monday’ - analysts were quick to brand Monday August 24th, and they had good reason to. The Shanghai market plunged by 8.5% in a day (its largest drop in history), and was soon followed by markets all over the world, from Japan to Europe to the United States, all dropping significantly (and largely recovering) over the course of the day. However, finding an explanation for these occurrences is not quite as easy as coining terms to characterize them, and different opinions have emerged on what to make out of the situation.


With China at the center of the current financial unrest, a lot of the focus has been on the ‘Middle Kingdom’. Could this be China’s 1929 moment, in the sense that after many years of seemingly unstoppable growth, it has run into the ceiling? Although stopping short of making the comparison with the 1920’s, Cambridge economist Coen Teulings seems to think so.  In his view, “China’s old formula has run its course”.  With the decade-long urbanization process coming to an inevitable slowing down, it makes sense that the economy would follow. The way forward, according to Teulings, lies in a shift from investing to consuming. Since the Chinese are traditionally more prone to saving rather than spending their money, caused in part by the absence of a collective health care system, this will require real government action.


Yet another view is that China’s troubles should not be over exaggerated: despite the recent downfall, the Shanghai Composite is still up 43% compared to last year and most of China’s wealth is held in the stable market for property, not shares. The country also has vast reserves to cover its foreign currency debts and a tight grip over its banking system, deeming a repeat of both the 1997 East Asia Crisis and the 2008 World Crisis not very likely.


Still, it would be foolish to disregard or downplay the current turbulence. China’s economy is indeed slowing down, as the numbers released last Friday, largely believed to have triggered the plunge, proved. Its leaders will have to make tough decisions about the future, which may involve a radical change in economic and social policy. Although it is highly unlikely that we are witnessing the great fall of China, a significant redirection of the world’s second-largest economy is very probable.


What do you, the risk professionals of the world, think? Will the current crisis force China to restructure its economy? What will the consequences be for the rest of the world? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please share your comments below.

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  • One point of view is that Chinese "symptom" appears now as coming from China, but the real cause is actually coming from West. Advanced Western markets count on virtually unlimited consumption in China to compensate their own market oversaturation, overdebt and low consumption. On the other side, China assumed by many to be a "world factory", for the same reason cannot place its products in amounts needed to sustain high growth of export trade. Therefore China has to return to its own domestic consumption which cannot grow so fast to satisfy the appetites of both Western and Chinese companies willing to place their products there. Overproduction significantly exceeds the available market capacities in China.

    Looking globally there is necessary correction of world market discrepancies in place now, because global economy is for some time already functioning in hardly sustainable disproportion between brutal chasing of profits and impossibility of Western and Chinese markets to satisfy these requirements. Stocks in China were growing very fast for a reasonable long time as a result of excessive optimism and Chinese government support, but that growth was unstable and fragile as we can see that the slightest doubt in Chinese miraculous economic growth and market slowdown has caused this fall of Chinese stock market and consequently response from other stock markets. 

    Anyway, I would say it is in great deal psychological reaction because one has to keep in mind that Chinese stock market in last year has recorded growth of 150%, being in big plus even with this latest fall of this market. The slowdown of overal Chinese market is irrefutable fact and all stockbrockers around the world have to live with that truth and adapt accordingly which I believe is just happening presently.

  • If the "great fall of China" is a reference to recent upheaval in their financial markets then we should remind ourselves that they are still in relative infancy stages and investors there lack experience with turbulent markets as in Europe and U.S. So, they are more reactionary at this stage; hence the whipsaw of last few days. I think Chinese government will put in place prudent measures to stabilize the economy and set course for long-term growth that is both reasonable and sustainable. For now, many in Europe and U.S. see this as an opportunity for attracting more of Chinese investment funds abroad -- flight to quality.

  • There are several Chinese views, including that the situation has been engineered by "foreign enemies" and that China was deserted by regulators:

    In any case, if one speaks with a Chinese one is probably going to get some Chinese version which is unverifiable, given that there is no freedom of information in China

    Partly for the same reason, but partly also because so few foreigners know Mandarin or any of the other Chinese languages/ dialects, the views of foreigners are unreliable

    All discussion of what is happening in China is therefore, in my view, futile - though we can and should certainly exchange such information as emerges from China.

    From a risk perspective, the only important thing to keep in mind is that China is a highly risky investment:

       - we know that China can be a highly productive investment, but also that the market there is overvalued;  


       - we know that the Great Chinese Bubble will - slowly or swiftly - decline (at some point in time, which is indeterminable).



  • I can only speak to the small perspective I had in  Henan Province when I spoke at the 3rd World Industrial and Technological Conference there.  While I saw some remarkable achievements in the Province in terms of industry, less was seen in terms of technology.  In addition it appeared to me that somewhat of a 'shotgun' approach was being used to grow economically - that there was a lack of clear focus.  In my mind a 'rifle' or 'laser' approach was needed - an effort to really ask the hard questions about the winners and losers.  For example, Henan has coking coal for the manufacture of alloys.  Combine this with the fact that there will be 400 nuclear reactors put in place - Westinghouse A1000 models (new design able to withstand even a Fukushima) plus an active space programme, one could easily put together a case that at least Henan Province should be looking at building a technical centre and competency in this area for the future.  At the same time, Henan Province was always the breadbasket of China.  Why not turn Henna Province into the organic foods centre of China - why not have an agricultural tech centre to look at creating environmentally friendly pesticides and fertilisers.  people will always need food.  Food has historically been a strength of the Province.  So, in effect, focus on one core competency, agriculture, and one opportunity for the future - light weight super strength alloys and partner with Westinghouse, partner with the space agency and take the Province into the future as well.  Focus, focus, focus!

    Dr. Ted Marra

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