- Money Morning Australia

More Bad News for the Asian Century


Written on 02 November 2012 by Kris Sayce

‘Climate change adviser Ross Garnaut has lambasted Australian executives for destroying shareholder funds in the blind belief China’s demand for Australia’s big three mining exports would continue to climb.’ – The Age

Perhaps Mr Garnaut should ask why company executives are blowing up shareholder funds.

Maybe it’s because for 30 years, Australian governments have spouted off about the Asian economic boom.

And now the Aussie government has just released the Asian Century white paper. The gist of the white paper is that Asia will undergo an economic boom for another 100 years.

But before you trust everything the government says, just remember that they can’t even correctly forecast their budgets six months in advance. So we find it hard to take a 100-year forecast with anything more than a pinch of salt.

Our advice? Ignore the long-range forecast and look at history instead. That’s because history tends to offer useful lessons for the future…including a lesson Australia could learn from previous Asian booms and busts…

Take this report from the New York Times in 1996:

‘Are East Asia’s fiercely competitive tiger economies starting to lose their fangs?

‘Things probably have not gotten quite that bad. But if the teeth are still intact, they have lost some of their sharpness of late. Export growth for many countries in the region – including the original “Four Tigers” of Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea, as well as a half-dozen other countries that are following the same fast-growth path – has slowed sharply this year. And China’s exports have actually declined.

‘The deceleration in part reflects a healthy cooling off of economies that were running the risk of overheating. But it also raises questions about the staying power of East Asia’s export-driven economic boom. In particular, it translates into a deterioration of the region’s trade balance.’

One year later, the Asian Economic Crisis was in full flow. The Asian Tiger economies collapsed and their currencies were devalued. To rub the salt in, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) handed out bailout money.

In simple terms, the cause of the Asian Economic Crisis was over-investment, over-borrowing, and over-enthusiasm…

Asian Tiger Slaughtered

It was a classic bubble. An investment or economy begins growing on its own fundamentals. This attracts attention. So more people invest. Things get even better…imagine if growth continued at this rate.

Then the snake-oil salesmen arrive. In this case they called it the ‘Asian Tiger’. Businesses expanded and new businesses appeared. But because they hadn’t saved enough, they had to borrow money.

The banks cautiously loaned money at first. But when they started seeing the returns, they imagined what they could have made if they had loaned twice or three-times as much.

You get the picture. In the end, like every investment bubble in the history of mankind, the world runs out of fools who are prepared to buy into the bubble.

The euphoria that sucked everyone in disappears. Replacing it is fright as everyone rushes for the exit.

They sell the investment at a loss. Businesses can’t sell enough goods to repay the loans. That means loans go unpaid. The currency falls as investors abandon it for safe haven currencies…and finally, the whole economy collapses in a heap.

That’s the (abridged) story of the Asian Financial Crisis. And it’s the story of every other asset or economic bubble…and it’s the story of the Chinese economic bubble.

‘Oh, but Kris, China is different, it doesn’t have a bunch of external debt. It owns other nations debts, so it will be fine.’

We often hear that excuse.

But, it’s worth paying attention to an article in Forbes earlier this year:

‘Here’s some terrific news about China’s economy: at the end of last year, the debt-to-GDP ratio of the Chinese government, the key measure of its fiscal sustainability, stood at 16.3%. That’s an improvement from the already impressive 17% at year-end 2010.

‘Based in large part on Beijing’s low debt load, the Economist’s “wiggle-room index,” which ranks economies on their ability to afford stimulative measures, assigns a great rating to China. Of 27 emerging nations, only petroleum-blessed Saudi Arabia and Indonesia look stronger…

‘All this sounds wonderful, but none of it correlates with the facts. The 16.3% calculation excludes Beijing’s “hidden liabilities.” Once you add them in, China’s debt-to-GDP ratio increases to somewhere between 90% and 160%. And if you believe Beijing has been overstating its GDP recently – it has, at least starting from the last quarter of last year – China’s ratio approximates Greece’s 164%.’

Greece is Nothing Compared to China

Wow! The European Union is on the verge of collapse, and asset markets have crashed due to Greece’s debt problems. Given the relative size of the Greek economy to the Chinese economy

…can you imagine what will happen to asset prices when the Chinese economy implodes? It almost doesn’t bear thinking about. Only you have to think about it because the Australian economy is handcuffed to the Chinese economy.

Now, we’re not saying that China won’t be an economic force…to a large degree it already is. But what we are saying is something we’ve said for the past couple of years.

That is, regardless of a country’s strength, economic growth doesn’t go up non-stop forever. Booming economies will always have periods of bust.

If an economy sees excessive credit growth and an economic boom, as sure as night follows day, that economy will see credit contraction and an economic bust.

Bottom line: 100 years is a long time, and anything can happen. But don’t fall for the spin that Australia’s future wealth is safe.

The Chinese economy is following the same path as every other economic boom…and it will soon follow the same path as every other economic bust.

History will show that the Asian Financial Crisis was nothing compared to the coming fallout from the Chinese Financial Crisis.

Cheers,
Kris

From the Port Phillip Publishing Library

Special Report: After the Bust

Daily Reckoning:
It Won’t Be Long Before the Problems in Greece Resurface

Money Morning:
Is the Asian Century Already Kaput?

Pursuit of Happiness:
Tax = Theft

Australian Small-Cap Investigator:
The Power of Small Cap Stocks

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Categories | Asia Economy, China Economy

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