James Saft

China’s sugar rush may be ending

May 17, 2011 14:51 UTC

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

There are signs that China’s stupendous debt-fueled boom is cooling, posing new risks for global growth and markets.

The People’s Bank of China on Thursday raised the bank reserve requirement ratio to a record 21 percent, a rise of a half a percentage point and the fifth so far this year. The move, effectively a tightening of monetary policy, comes as inflation at 5.3 percent remains high and industrial output slides, albeit to a still high 13.4 percent in the year to April.

China is an economy addicted to investment, a sort of fun house mirror of the U.S.’s addiction to consumption, with an astounding 93 percent of GDP growth in 2009 attributable to investment.

That’s a strategy that worked well for years, but China’s response to the global financial crisis, a sort of all-in push for lending and investment, has led to over-heating, uneconomic projects and possibly now a disruptive slowing of growth.

An estimate by Lombard Street Research of broad money growth, including various banking shenanigans, showed growth equal to 40 percent of GDP in 2010, but falling quickly to 23 percent of GDP in the first quarter. Those figures reflect the tremendous growth of money being pushed through the banking system and through a shadow banking system that grew rapidly last year as banks tried to evade government control. The slowdown is almost as striking as the still heady heights of the growth.

Good luck hedging against inflation

Feb 3, 2011 13:42 UTC

Looking to hedge against a spike in inflation? Equities may not be much help.

Neither, for that matter, will you do all that well over the longer haul with bonds, cash or even commodities, at least on the historical evidence. In short, when it comes to investing, inflation is a real drag.

It’s impossible to know if, much less when, the current very stimulative monetary policy in the developed world will spur inflation, but increasingly indicators are raising concerns. Emerging market economies show signs of overheating, while prices of food and many other commodities are surging.

The traditional view has been that equities are an effective hedge against inflation, in least over the long term, because companies will, all things being equal, eventually pass on inflation to their clients as higher prices.