The Great Debate UK
A month before China ushers in the year of the Tiger, its central bank has begun to address the effects of its roaring liquidity boom. It is encouraging that the authorities in Beijing are alert to the threat of an overheating financial system. But with so many countervailing forces, the liquidity tiger will not be tamed so easily.
Markets yelped Tuesday after the central bank raised the minimum ratio of capital to loans at banks by half a percentage point. But this amounts to little more than scooping water out of the sea. Some 1 trillion yuan ($146 billion) of government bills mature in the next two weeks. If they are not rolled over, three times more money would flow into the system than the reserve hike will leech out. Then there are foreign speculative flows - an estimated 378 billion yuan in the fourth quarter of 2009.
The reserve hike is not enough to calm the banks' lending frenzy. They disbursed 600 billion yuan of loans during the first week of 2010 alone, according to local media, more than in the whole of December. Furthermore, the capital ratio in the banking system in aggregate is already two percentage points above what is strictly required, so the new targets won't necessarily have any effect on lending.
Asset price inflation is already running wild in property and stock markets, and another new government policy might make the problem worse. The State Council has approved the introduction of margin trading during 2010, so qualified investors will be able to use up to eight times leverage to buy stocks. The planned introduction of limited short selling at the same time is unlikely to be enough to compensate.
Oil price bulls and bears have both had their triumphs in recent history. The price of crude rose to $147 a barrel in July of 2008 only to plummet to $33 a barrel a few months later. It swung past $82 a barrel this week because of a cold snap, and is up 18 percent since mid-December. But barring heightened tension in the Middle East, oil looks likely to slide in the short term.
Demand remains relatively subdued, in spite of the massive stimulus applied to the global economy. This is especially true in OECD countries and the United States, the largest consumer of energy. American crude oil inventories actually rose by 1.3 million barrels last week when temperatures plummeted, according to the latest figures by the Department of Energy. Elsewhere in the OECD, oil inventories have fallen, but only slightly, according to the International Energy Agency. They are still high, at nearly 60 days of demand.
The economic worst is past. But there are many issues left to worry about.
Start with the good news. GDP is now growing almost everywhere, while the unemployment rate is hardly rising anywhere. Businesses and consumers are less fearful. As much as half of the 20 percent decline in international trade has been erased.
Perhaps the best news is what has not happened. There have been no national defaults, countries dragged into political chaos, bitter divisions among the great powers or, with a few tiny exceptions, massive declines in consumption. The global political-economic-financial system is still in business.
– Ian Wheeler is vice president of marketing and distribution at Amadeus. The opinions expressed are his own.-
In the last year, 45 million tourists (near to the population of Spain) travelled from China to the West. In fact, tourism from China grew by an average of 27 percent a year between 2002 and 2008.
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has come out with a new report that tries to measure, country by country on a global level, government and social restrictions on religion. You can see our coverage of the report here and here and can download the whole report here.
The report, which Pew says is the first major quantitative study of the subject on a global level, ranks countries under two indices -- one measures government restrictions on religion, the other social hostilities or curbs on religion that stem from violence or intimidation by private individuals or groups.
from Pakistan: Now or Never?:
When President Barack Obama suggested in Beijing last month that China and the United States could cooperate on bringing stability to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and indeed to "all of South Asia", much of the attention was diverted to India, where the media saw it as inviting unwarranted Chinese interference in the region.
But what about asking a different question? Can China help stabilise the region?
from Environment Forum:
At a major global climate summit in Copenhagen this week, China slammed rich nations for having weak and unambitious goals to cut carbon emissions.
Meanwhile, back at home, China's main government group charged with monitoring greenhouse gases struck a new contract with Picarro, a California-based company that makes gas analyzers. The deal will double the number of Picarro analyzers that the Chinese Meteorological Administration uses.
from Global Investing:
Some fascinating data about the growing power of emerging markets, particularly the BRICs, was on display at the OECD's annual investment conference in Paris this week. Not the least of it came from MIGA, the World Bank's Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, which tries to help protect foreign direct investors from various forms of political risk.
MIGA has mainly focused on encouraging investment into developing countries, but a lot of its latest work is about investment from emerging economies.
from Global Investing:
It may end up sounding like a famous ball-point pen maker, but an argument is being made that Goldman Sach's famous marketing device, the BRICs, should really be the BICs. Does Russia really deserve to be a BRIC, asks Anders Åslund, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, in an article for Foreign Policy.
Åslund, who is also co-author with Andrew Kuchins of "The Russian Balance Sheet", reckons the Russia of Putin and Medvedev is just not worthy of inclusion alongside Brazil, India and China in the list of blue-chip economic powerhouses. He writes:
from The Great Debate:
China watchers are worried that excessive lending leads to massive overcapacity. However, the risk of Beijing pressing too hard on the brake is even greater. At least for now, China should be able to growing its way out of its bad debt problems.
Banking regulator Liu Mingkang recently told a conference that China's banks should lend out 6-7 trillion yuan next year, equivalent to about one fifth of China's annual output. Some think that is too much. However, these fears are overdone. Indeed, if new lending falls below 10 trillion yuan, bad debts will soar, private investment will be crowded out and the economic recovery may be derailed.