The world economy stands on the brink of a second credit crisis as the vital transmission systems for lending between banks begin to seize up and the debt markets fall over. The latest round of quantitative easing from the European Central Bank will buy some time but it looks like too little too late. It was the collapse of US house prices back in 2007 that resulted in the seizure of the credit markets and banking crisis of 2008. And it would be easy to lay the blame for the 2008 financial crisis at the doorstep of American home owners, easy but wrong. The collapse of the US housing market was not the cause of the crisis, it was merely a symptom of the more insidious ills of cheap credit, low risk and the promise of another bailout round the corner.
The Keynesian pump priming that has taken place on a colossal scale across the world is failing. The Chinese economy was growing at 12pc in 2010, but that slowed to 7.7pc in 2013 and 7.4pc last year — its weakest in 24 years. Economists expect Chinese growth to slow to 7pc this year. It is the once booming property sector that has turned into a bust, and is now dragging down the wider economy as the bubble deflates. The second global credit crisis is now already unfolding in China some 6,800 miles away from the epicentre of the first in the US. The bonds of Chinese real estate companies are now falling like dominoes. Kaisa, a Shenzhen-based, Hong Kong-listed developer that raised $2.5bn on international markets had to be bailed out by rival group Sunac last week after it defaulted on its debts.
The bonds of other Chinese real estate groups such as Glorious Property and Fantasia have also sold off heavily as the contagion spreads. Chinese authorities have responded to try and contain the situation. The People’s Bank of China introduced a surprise 50-point cut in the Reserve Requirement Ratio (RRR) from 20pc to 19.5pc. But this misses the point, the credit system in China is completely unsustainable unless new money is printed every year to refinance the old, simply tinkering to ease liquidity won’t cut it. The strain in its banking system is highlighted by the elevated levels of the Shanghai Interbank Offered Rate (SHIBOR), which shows Chinese banks are worried about lending to each other. There is no schadenfreude in watching China unravel.
The idea that this is an isolated incident is laughable, remember the very same was said of US subprime. The problem is that banks such as Standard Chartered and HSBC have both rapidly increased their lending operations in Asia since 2008. Loans are very easy to make, it is getting the money back that is tricky. If loans go bad in Asia they will ultimately have to be recognised on the very same group balance sheet from which finance is extended here in the UK. So, the contagion can quickly spread from the Chinese property market to a poorly funded UK bank that has never set foot in Asia. That is because UK banks borrow billions in short term funding from each other. Loan losses in China can very quickly become a UK problem.
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