TAIPEI, Taiwan (
) -- China's central bank added liquidity of 662 billion yuan before the spending blitz around the Lunar New Year holiday in February. Then last week it sucked 910 billion yuan right out. Is Wall Street the next place to feel the drain?
The sudden and record-high drain, equivalent to $146 billion, scared financial markets in mainland China and in Hong Kong, where many of the country's most vibrant firms are listed.
Things are still pretty loose in China on the whole. Interest rates are affordable. But after the new leadership picked in November formally takes control this month and examines the overall economy, it may decide to tighten things. Shifts in world monetary policy and an ongoing fight to rein in China's housing prices would add pressure to make a squeeze.
Then again, Chinese officials may decide just to leave things alone.
Whatever happens, the liquidity drain in February fanned fears of a tightening of China's monetary policy and led to three days of stock market declines in late February.
As of Wednesday, mainland China's A shares had fallen about 5% since the Lunar New Year holiday ended on Feb. 18.
Hong Kong's H-shares, all issued by Chinese companies, slid almost 6% over the same period. More fear, let alone the reality, would further pressure H shares, which are considered attractive to offshore portfolio investors who are keen on China.
Eventually, declines in stock prices would leech into New York stock exchanges because investors worldwide look to China for economic direction. U.S. multinationals are also tethered to Chinese suppliers. If those suppliers are depressed, the market may wonder about the welfare of their New York-listed customers.
So far, financial analysts aren't reading too much into the liquidity drain or any follow-up. It's just an offset, some argue. For more than a decade the government has encouraged consumer spending over the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, be that for travel or family banquets. It naturally wanted more money in the system ahead of the Feb. 9-18 festivities this year.