It is often hard to get a handle on how the Chinese economy is doing. The country’s government controls information very tightly, which makes the whole nation a black box. However, with coronavirus fears in full flourish there is some additional insight available, and it is worrying. Factories across the country have been shut as part of an effort to contain the disease, and even tech workers are working remotely. All over the country, from Beijing to Shanghai, to industrial provinces, workers are not reporting to factories (following government advice to stay home). Even today, as some parts of the country were supposed to return to work, many are not.
FINSUM: The Chinese economy seems to have completely stopped. It is hard to imagine there will not be a significant recession this quarter in China, which could reverberate all over the world.
The new SARS/Coronavirus that has broken out in China has been serious enough that it has actually spooked markets. 17 people have already died and 600 more have the pathogen, which is as yet poorly understood. Now the city where it was first found, Wuhan, has been quarantined. However, the quarantine has been greatly undermined by the fact that it was instituted after the country’s biggest annual migration—the Lunar New Year, when Chinese go home to visit family. One the big worries is that the virus seems to have “superspreading” characteristics, or the kind of virus that spreads much more rapidly from person to person than normal.
FINSUM: This is a pretty scary bug, and the US already had its first confirmed case (a man in Seattle that had come directly from Wuhan).
China’s newest GDP data has just come in and it is shockingly weak. Third quarter GDP growth was the lowest in has been since the early 1990s and appears to show the sting of US tariffs. Growth was just 6%, a major sign of the weakening state of the global economy. That is the same level of growth as in the late 1980s, though China’s economy is now far larger. Those paying attention will know that China’s economy grew at around 7-8% per year since the Crisis.
FINSUM: So this is an admitted 6%. Beijing keeps very tight control of its economic data, so it is not inconceivable that the real number is actually lower.
The US is considering some new rules that could cause a stock market calamity in China. The government is considering putting new restrictions on US capital flowing to the Chinese mainland. The move is considered the third and worst-case-scenario stage for Chinese markets in the current trade war. In particular, the big risk is that MSCI de-lists Chinese stocks from its broader indexes, meaning all that capital would need to be pulled out. That amount is currently around $50 to $60 bn.
FINSUM: This is not hugely massive, but it is certainly enough to hurt markets on a technical front, but perhaps even more from a perception angle.
Bloomberg has published a very interesting article arguing that China’s economy and financial system might be on the edge of implosion. The publication mentions that the government’s bailout of Baoshang Bank last month has put money markets on edge, and for the first time, short-term lending between big institutions has started to freeze up. For the first time in decades, lenders are facing the prospect of defaults and haircuts on loans to other financial institutions. This has led funding costs for companies to shoot higher.
FINSUM: As is the norm with China, we have little direct insight into this. However, if you take a step back and look at the overall pressure on the economy from the trade war and combine it with the data above, it does sound like something very nasty could be brewing.
Those of you who read our opinions on how the trade war with the US is affecting China will know that one of main concerns is about the relationship between the government and the people in China. This week, Xi has echoed that warning. The Chinese leader stressed the need to maintain political stability in the face of economic challenges. The warning, which came at an unusual meeting of Chinese leaders, shows the ruling party’s anxieties over the social implications of the slowing economy.
FINSUM: Chinese leadership is in a tight jam. On the one hand they have the US squeezing them with tariffs, and on the other, they have the need to maintain the economy’s strong growth to keep people happy. Remember that leaders are unelected, so their grip on control is very tied to keeping everyone satisfied.