With 2015 GDP of US$10.87 trillion, China is the world’s second-biggest economy behind USA. Its banking assets are around three times the size of its GDP while its stock markets, even after last year’s crash, were together worth $6.27 trillion in 2015, second only to America’s. Its bond market is the third largest behind USA and Japan but growing very rapidly. China is the third largest creditor nation behind Japan and Germany. At the end of September 2016, foreign exchange reserves stood at $3.17 trillion (nearly three times that of Japan, which is in second position globally) but they have been steadily declining since hitting a peak level of nearly US$4 trillion in June 2014.
China’s spectacular growth during the last decade has not only made it the “big elephant in the room” on the world stage, but has also created major imbalances in its economy, resulting in a major risk of contagion across the globe.
For example, official estimates for non-performing loans (NPL) stood at close to $300 billion, double the level of 2014. If off-balance sheet and shadow banking loans such as trusts and peer-peer-lending (P2P) were included, NPLs would be much higher. In 2015 alone, investors have lost around $25 billion through financial fraud and nearly $670 billion of capital has left the country while China spent nearly $200 billion to prop up its stock market. These are just a selection of some worrying statistics, which have become a focus of global investors.
In the summer of 2015, a mere 2% devaluation of the Chinese yuan sent global markets tumbling. There were similar China related worries for global markets in early 2016. The slightest of concerns over slowdown in China is having major consequences for commodity exporting countries. So, it is a big understatement to say that the prospect of a China hard landing and the impact on commodity producers and global stock, bond and currency markets would be very severe.
Global investors are currently pre-occupied with issues such as the US Presidential Elections, the nature and timing of Federal Reserve expected tightening and Brexit. China concerns appear to be on the back burner, at least for now. However, they certainly haven’t gone away and will continue to remain as one of the major concerns for investors across all asset classes, across the globe.
In this Research Perspective, we review some of the China issues that will continue to remain as major factors in driving global investment decisions across many of asset classes in the coming years.