Fact: More than 64 million apartments remain vacant in China. That’s enough for every person in Great Britain, with another three million to spare.
Residential space isn’t the only thing China is stockpiling. Commodity imports have surged, including iron, copper, cotton, corn, soybeans, oil, and other raw goods to fuel future growth.
Several Chinese companies listed on American exchanges through the looser requirements of a “reverse IPO” have had to restate financial information. Investors in these small caps have seen their returns decimated.
China’s boom has been incredible, but these are just a few of the many warning signs that profiting from the growth of China is far from easy.
Despite being pegged to the US dollar, money supply in the Middle Kingdom has surged more than 30 percent in the past year. Lending for new construction projects has reached 29 percent of China’s GDP.
These facts point to a classic credit bubble in the making (although I think the term is overused and is rapidly losing meaning). Of course, as long as borrowers are willing to borrow, the lending can continue for a while.
This buildup could end poorly, like the austerity measures in Greece to bring debts under control. Or it could end up even worse, with a global credit crunch, much like the housing collapse in 2007-2008.
Extreme market events aren’t caused by risky assets. They’re caused by supposedly safe assets that suffer a crisis of confidence. Chinese loans are anything but safe.
For example, Chinese banks are lending to local municipalities to acquire commodities such are iron ore, with the ore itself being used as the collateral. This is akin to the leveraged bets on oil in the summer of 2008 that sent black gold to $147 a barrel before collapsing, or the speculation in silver by the Hunt brothers in 1980.
The country’s real estate market is so overbuilt that some new buildings are immediately demolished and rebuilt. Wasteful? Absolutely. But in terms of creating jobs and growing GDP, it’s effective to help China hit the growth numbers that investors are looking for.
Ultimately, a large amount of China’s growth is a mirage. That’s just starting to come to light. But part of China’s economy is still producing and manufacturing real goods, so the extent of the excess isn't yet known.
As investors, that makes China a tough country to analyze for potential opportunities. There are a lot of uncertainties.
Fortunately, uncertainty breeds opportunity. The world doesn’t come to an end, although every crisis seems to suggest that it’s about to.
China will have its crisis at some point, even if it’s a few years off. In only a few short decades, China will overtake the United States in terms of GDP.
Patient investors will be rewarded for waiting to buy amid the fear.
For now, the market is still tilted toward greed where China is concerned.
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