The Great Debate

Market plunge makes Beijing’s exit harder

wei-gu.jpg– Wei Gu is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own —

The Chinese leaders have a dream. The banks pump trillions of yuan into the market, which props up asset prices, creates new demand, and gets the economic engine roaring again. Then, just before inflation starts to surge, the money is drained out of the system.

Others, from U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to Bank of England Governor Mervyn King, share the dream but the Chinese economy, still largely driven by the state, should make it easier to realise. Unfortunately, investors in Shanghai’s stock market have their own ideas — the mere suggestion of credit tightening caused the index to plunge 20 percent in just two weeks to Wednesday’s close before bouncing slightly.

The Chinese policymakers are left between a rock and hard place. At some stage, they must stop pumping money into the system, and prepare to mop it up instead, but timing this to avoid another stock market slump looks close to impossible.

Investors can remember what happened the last time. The central bank’s resumption of sales of one-year bills in July looks similar to the tightening action which began in May 2003. That prompted a six-month fall in stock prices.

Japan: The mother of all miserable recoveries

jamessaft1(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

Investors met the news that Japan’s economy has emerged from a bone-breaking recession calmly and rationally: they sold shares quickly and in large amounts and made bets that consumer prices are going to be falling for years to come.

That’s because Japan’s recovery, coming as it does after a global bubble in the production of what I call, for lack of a more technical term, “stuff,” is really not sustainable.

The fact that the consumer portion of the recovery is only a reflection of income transfers from government to individuals isn’t very encouraging either.