NEW YORK (Minyanville) -- In a recent article, "How China Ate America's Lunch," Clif Carothers described what China has accomplished in the last 30 years:
In thirty short years, China was able to accelerate her GDP from $216 billion to $6 trillion. She amassed reserve capital of $3 trillion. She reversed America's fortunes from the greatest creditor nation to the greatest debtor nation. She gutted America's factories while creating the world's largest manufacturing base in her own country. A measure of output that highly correlates to GDP is energy consumption. In June of this year, 2011, China surpassed the United States as the largest consumer of energy on the planet. While the U.S. consumes 19% of the world's energy, China consumes 20.3%.While China was growing its economy by a phenomenal 2,800%, the U.S. GDP grew from $2.3 trillion to $15 trillion -- a mere 650% increase, of which 420% was due to inflation. There is no question that China's progress has been remarkable. The question is whether that growth is sustainable and built upon a solid foundation.
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This table paints a troublesome picture of rising inflation and gigantic over-investment in real estate. And this takes into account the fact that, much like the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) here in the U.S. massages data, the Chinese statistics are tortured by the Party to paint the best possible picture. Even still, the Chinese government's own numbers show inflation escalating as economic growth is slowing. And the trend is not improving: The latest data show year-over-year inflation surging by 6.4% in June and food prices skyrocketing by 14%. With annual disposable income of less than $2,500 in urban areas and just $600 in rural areas, food and energy account for a huge percentage of the average Chinese person's daily living expenses. The Chinese authorities are terrified by the revolutions sweeping across the Middle East and are desperate to put out the inflationary fires. To contain stubbornly high inflation, the Chinese central bank has raised the benchmark interest rate three times this year, including the latest rate hike of 25 basis points announced on July 6. In an attempt to rein in excess lending, it has also hiked the reserve requirement ratio six times, ordering banks to keep a record high of 21.5% of their deposits in reserve. Even with inflation surging, the Manufacturing Output Index fell to 47.2 in July -- the lowest in 28 months, and indicating contraction. China's automobile industry, which overtook the U.S. in 2010 with sales of 18 million autos, has experienced a dramatic slowdown, with growth of only 3% through June versus 32% growth last year. For all of 2011, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers expects sales to decline versus 2010. Real Estate Out of Reach
In response to the 2008 worldwide financial collapse, Chinese authorities unleashed $2.1 trillion of stimulus, or almost 33% of GDP. This compares to the U.S. stimulus of $800 billion, or 5.5% of GDP, spent on worthless Keynesian pork. Unlike the U.S., where no jobs were created, China's command-and-control structure funneled the stimulus into building cities, malls, roads, office buildings, and residential units. Millions of Chinese were employed in creating properties for which there was no demand. Moody's approximates that China's banks have funded at least RMB 8.5 trillion (US$1.3 trillion) of the RMB 10.7 trillion of outstanding local government debt, which was a significant portion of the 2008 national stimulus package. When the central authorities tell the banks to lend, the banks ask, "How much?" The result has been soaring real estate inflation and malinvestment.
China has methodically and relentlessly grown its economy for the last 30 years. However, as the U.S. and Europe discovered the hard way with their real estate busts, if one makes an abundance of cheap-money loans to speculators, prices will rise far above the true value of the asset bought with the debt. And in time, the bubble must burst. The pressure in this bubble is mounting. Andy Xie lays out the real situation on the ground in China: No other government in the world would spend that kind of money. If you go to local Chinese cities, you will see what they spent that money on: Tens of millions on just trees, parks and government buildings.