China's Debt-to-GDP Ratio Surges to 317 Percent

Mish

The IIF estimates that China’s total debt hit 317 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter of 2020.

Michael Pettis at China China Financial Markets comments on China's debt in a Tweet Thread.

Thread

  1. For those interested in China’s debt profile, this article has a lot of information, to which I have added some. According to China’s National Institution for Finance and Development, China’s debt-to-GDP ratio rose 6 percentage points.over 2019 to 245% by the end of the year. 
  2. According to the Institute of International Finance – which includes categories of debt not counted by NIF – China’s debt-to-GDP ratio rose 11 percentage points in 2019 to 310%, and rose a further 7 percentage points this year.during Q1 to 317%. 
  3. As high as these increases are, my own estimates are that either debt-to-GDP measure will rise by at least 12-18 percentage points in 2020. I would add four additional points. 
  4. First, almost everyone agrees that some categories of debt are not fully accounted for in the data, so both numbers are likely to be understated. 
  5. Second, because China’s GDP measure is not comparable to the GDP of other countries, but overstates it on a relative basis (see the essay below), its debt-to-GDP ratio should .be adjusted upwards to make it comparable. 
  6. Third, debt data for any country always excludes financial debt because to the extent that a financial system is solvent, it’s financial assets and financial liabilities can be netted out. 
  7. But because the liabilities of Chinese banks probably exceed the real economic value of their assets, the difference represents a contingent claim on the government that is not included in any of the debt data. 
  8.  Finally, unlike most governments, Beijing and local governments have substantial asset positions (real estate and SOEs). These can in principle be used to absorb some of the debt-servicing costs, although to date this has proven politically very difficult.
  9. China’s foreign debt has risen sharply from $0.55 trillion dollars ten years ago to $2.05 trillion today, according to this article, but at less than 15% of GDP, and equal to 2/3s of visible reserves, I think it is still quite manageable.

Note: I reformatted the thread to keep key ideas in the same numbered point. In doing so, I increased the number of points by one.

Mish

Comments (27)
No. 1-10
Sechel
Sechel

To all those that say China is kicking our butt this offers a good contrast. All this debt, malinvestment and subsidizing of state enterprises is making the consumer poorer and poorer. You can see this in their spending. Consumption as a percentage of GDP in china is under 39%.

Everyone keeps lamenting about the u.s. position in steel and cars. yet across the globe steel is a money loser, so are cars and tv sets. by and large u.s. industries are far more profitable than the basic industries china is stuck in. We're doing exactly the right thing, or at leas we were. move up stream into higher margin non commodity businesses.

Sechel
Sechel

I also agree its time to stop treating China as a devloping economy with access to the world bank. While that may be true of parts of China's econmy they clearly have access to capital and the means to invest. China is not Africa

rojogrande
rojogrande

What will happen if China's foreign debt ever becomes unmanageable?

Anda
Anda

How do you measure this though ?

I have seen US total debt put at towards 400%, or even towards 2000%

Obligations are debt...are there broad and narrow series ?

Jakefromstatefarm
Jakefromstatefarm

Who cares what their debt to GDP is. None of this debt is going to be paid back anyways. But China is printing and building infrastructure that is not going to disappear when the inevitable debt collapse occurs. Those buildings, factories , High speed rails and roads will be there after the bankruptcy. The costs will be reset lower. Now try to compete with low cost Chinese labor and no cost factories. The US on the otherhand is printing to shore up financial assets while watching their infrastructure crumble.

Dutch123
Dutch123

So you say 317% and Wikipedia says its 48.4%. So - big difference. There is almost nowhere that says China's ratio is even near 100%. So - this must be due to the math of the first quarter in which the GDP was essentially almost ZERO - sol this is a misleading article. The debt to GDP will probably normalize back to below 100% in which case it will be substantially lower than the USA's ratio...just saying...lets put it in context.

TimeToTest
TimeToTest

Everyone needs to put your war boots on.

There is no other way this shit show ends.

If it’s tomorrow or 18 years from now. It’s going to happen.

China is toast fiscally. There options are run away inflation or war. Run away inflation means a new government. War is the only answer.

FromBrussels
FromBrussels

Bwah, debt doesn t really matter, does it, we re all palliative in the same bed these days, aren t we ? In the meantime however, 'thanks' to globalisation madness, China has become a, to be feared in all aspects, world power ! And to think that only 30 or 40 years ago they were just a billion of poor rice grinders, now dramatically and exponentially contributing to the further destruction of the planet.... Hey, half the Amazon forest and other pristine wild life regions are being destroyed on their behalf !....Long live globalisation and all its nefarious consequences.....if only we had known before that similar insanity would create the path towards total annihilation at one point....Well, I guess we did and do know but unlimited greed, selfishness and depravity, is in our precious genes , that s the way it is.....

ReadyKilowatt
ReadyKilowatt

Plate spinning is a pretty good metaphor for a centralized economy. Until the earthquake hits and the whole think collapses...

Anda
Anda

O/T In Spain there is a big mixup occuring where the government has signed a pact to repeal previous centre right work reform law. The pact is with Bildu, a previous pro ETA party I think, and the far left of the coalition is celebrating, the centre left is trying to change a clause in that, the right is against, business associations say it will be a disaster, and few against the left wing coalition see a way to change their hold on power. It is complex there as always, the background of french socialism involved in Spanish politics and ETA having been tolerated over the border is just one of many background currents I am able to think of that spell chaos. Mathew Bennett tries to outline it today, some charts there on economy today also.

On the street protests at left wing handling of the pandemic turned violent. They were calling for resignation of the government, protesting loss of work, and were attacked by left wing agitators it seems.


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