Scary Data From China And The UK As Global Economic Crisis Worsens
While politicians have ceased denying what cannot be denied, that the world is enduring a crippling global financial and economic crisis, they still largely inhabit the land of make believe. What is more, they beckon their fellow citizens to enter blindly into their Alice in Wonderland construct for global economic salvation. Never mind that loose monetary policies enacted by central banks and massive deficit spending sustained by political actors lubricated the skids of this global economic disaster, we must accept on faith the prescription of the political establishment; even more public debt, compounded by near-zero interest central bank rates.
The latest macroeconomic data that has emerged from China and the UK should pour a bucket of cold water over even those most tolerant of political smoke-and-mirrors disguising itself as economic salvation. To say that the numbers were dismal would be an extreme understatement. Perhaps more poignantly, they are further markers on the highway to acute global economic meltdown.
China has for a decade been the primary engine of global economic growth. By becoming the factory for much of the consuming world, it accumulated huge savings, this cash pool being used to loan money to the United States, its major customer by a wide margin. As long as Americans bought Chinese products and kept the factory floors from Shanghai to Canton buzzing with full employment, the bosses in Beijing were quite content buying U.S. Treasury bills by the hundreds of billions of dollars. Now that consumer demand in the U.S. is contracting, however, along with other major markets, China will likely need to shift its accumulated savings towards financing its own deficit spending, as opposed to Washington’s stimulus credit needs. The official results for the 4th quarter GDP show a drastic reduction in growth, pointing to a sharp downturn in the Chinese economy.
A 4th quarter result of 6.8 % growth would seem like manna from heaven in comparison with other major economies. However, in the context of China’s massive labor pool this number is problematic, as double-digit growth has been essential for maintaining a level of employment satisfactory for sustaining social cohesion. Economist Nouriel Roubini points out, however, that this number is misleading. He believes that the Q4 in China brought no growth, perhaps even the beginnings of negative growth. Signs point to a recession in China during 2009, with disastrous consequences for the global economy.
The boom in the past decade in the Chinese economy also fueled economic expansion in much of Southeast Asia. Enterprises in South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Singapore, as well as other Southeast Asian nations, provided raw materials, products and services that were incorporated into the output of China’s vast economy. Contraction in China will be devastating to the economies on her periphery, while also diminishing her appetite to lend increasingly scarce savings to finance the profligacy of the U.S. federal budget.
In the UK, the 4th quarter GDP numbers, revealing a decline of 1.5%, magnified the apocalyptic news that has emerged from the carcass of its banking sector. As this is the second consecutive quarter of negative GDP growth in the UK, that country is now technically in a recession, hardly a startling revelation for the beleaguered British taxpayers. As with America, the political establishment offers only more tax-funded bailouts, even more massive deficit spending, garnished with historically low Bank of England fund rates.
In addition to the appalling quantitative data emerging from China and the UK, there is one other barometer of the cascading Global Economic Crisis, the obscure Baltic Dry Exchange Rate. In simple terms this is a measure of the cost of shipping raw materials to China by freighter. When the Chinese economy was humming, the demand for shipping dictated a high rate. That is now history; as the Baltic rate is sinking like a broken old rusty ship, reflecting collapsing demand by China for raw materials, as its factories shutter their doors. In essence, the current anemic Baltic rate attests to a process of virtual de-industrialization occurring on the planet on a titanic scale.
Though China and the UK have different economic characteristics and dynamics, they are both significant actors, along with the United States, in the global drama that is now unfolding. The examples I have sited are just another dose of empirical data pointing to the year 2009 as being one of economic extremis.