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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Is China really growing?

China is booming…isn’t it?’

Well, here’s a question for you: if China were really growing at 8% per year, how come its electricity consumption is going down?

Answer: Because the Chinese bureaucrats can jiggle and jive the numbers for employment, GDP, and inflation. But the number of kilowatt-hours consumed in China is just a number. It is not computed. It is not seasonally adjusted. It is not tortured by statisticians nor tormented by economists. It is just a number. And that number is a smaller number than it used to be.

Oh, and here’s another number. China’s exports for July were down 22% from the year before. Here’s another question: how can an export led economy grow when its exports are collapsing?

Again, we have an answer: when it is not really growing.

According to the meddlers, China is growing because meddling works. China is spending $586 billion (proportionally nearly 3 times as much as the US) to keep its economy booming. The program must be working, say the economists, because China’s economy is still growing.

But is it? Most of the money is spent on infrastructure. The Chinese are doing what the Japanese did before them. Japan bailed out its banks and spent trillions on infrastructure. There were years when little Japan was pouring much more cement than the entire USA. – channeling rivers, building bridges to nowhere, and creating highways for no one. What did they get for their money? Well, you could say they got a lot of infrastructure…and the most cemented–up country on the planet. Is that a good thing? We don’t know. But one thing they didn’t get was durable economic growth.

Why not? The easy answer is because an economic system is too sophisticated to yield to these ham fisted interveners. Another way to look at it is because the economy had already spent too much…creating too much capacity. Adding infrastructure that could handle more capacity was not a solution.

“Keep in mind,” says The Richebächer Letter’s Rob Parenteau, “China needs at least 9% growth to soak up the 24 million new Chinese workers who come of age each year – something even the Chinese Premier doesn’t like to mention.”

But heck…it’s summer. And in the sum…sum…summertime, we’re not going to criticize our fellow man. Instead, we’re just going to laugh at him.

In China, for example, the government’s stimulatory programs are having the same flaccid results they got in Japan. Prices are going down. The Chinese feds are trying to get people to spend more money – just as they did in Japan. But people do not spend more when prices are falling. They wait for a better deal. And as they wait, consumer demand falls…forcing prices down further. Japan has gone through almost two decades of on-again, off-again consumer price deflation. Now it’s China’s turn. Consumer prices in China have been going down for the last six months…and are now reported falling at a 1.8% annual rate.

How could prices be going down in a booming economy? Well, because the economy isn’t booming. Instead, it’s burdened with overcapacity – just like Japan’s. And like Japan’s it is probably doomed to go through a long period of re-adjustment…before a durable recovery can begin.

-- from "What Chinese Depression?" by Bill Bonner

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