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The China Bubble (2)

Posted by Author on December 28, 2009

Gady Epstein, Forbes Magazine, dated December 28, 2009- (cont’d)

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The U.S. government’s $7.2 trillion in debt at the end of June represented 50% of gross domestic product. The Chinese government’s officially disclosed $840 billion in public debt represents less than 20% of GDP. But the People’s Bank of China and the treasury are also on the hook for potentially $1.5 trillion in off-balance-sheet debt owed by cities and provinces and entities they control. They’re also implicitly obliged to backstop $1 trillion, both in loans that “policy banks” were directed to issue, even when they made no economic sense, and nonperforming loans that the government removed from the books of state-owned commercial banks over the past decade.

Add it up and the national government is responsible for debt equal to over 70% of 2009 GDP. That doesn’t count any loans generated this year that might go sour amid a 30% increase in debt balances nationwide. (The U.S. government, in addition to its direct debt equal to 50% of GDP, is responsible for cosigning of mortgage borrowers’ obligations equal to another 18% of GDP.)

Like the U.S. housing industry a few years ago, China’s big developers are highly leveraged and dependent on low interest rates and rising prices. Municipal governments are knee-deep in this asset swamp. They use land sales as a means of funding themselves.

As fast as China is growing and urbanizing, its cities are churning out more office towers and luxury malls than can be leased for years to come. Tianjin, a gritty metropolis not far from Beijing, will soon have more prime office space than will be filled in a quarter-century at the current absorption rate. Shunyi County, in the capital’s suburbs, sold a residential plot last month for $400 per square foot, a new national record. The bidders were mostly state-owned companies and the winner none other than a developer owned by Shunyi County. Where the developer came up with the money for the purchase is unclear, but the county will nevertheless book $740 million as revenue from the sale……. (to be cont’d)

2 Responses to “The China Bubble (2)”

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