One Belt, One Road, and One Debt Hangover, by Jim Rickards

Debt can wreck the best laid plans of mice and China. From Jim Rickards at dailyreckoning.com:

China is not only one of the world’s largest debtors, it is one of the world’s largest creditors.

China uses debt not in the customary financial manner, but as a political tool to generate employment and maintain social stability. Likewise China uses loans and investment as a tool to advance its strategic interests. This may be good geopolitics in the short run, but it will be a disaster economically in the long run.

Just as Chinese state owned enterprises (SOEs) can’t repay debts to Chinese banks, China’s foreign partners will not be able to repay debts to China itself. These twin disasters-in-the-making may converge in such a way that China’s assets disappear or become illiquid at exactly the time they are most needed to bail-out its own banking system.

China has launched four major overseas investment initiatives in the past ten years. The oldest is their sovereign wealth fund, China Investment Corporation, or CIC, established in 2007. Sovereign wealth funds are a way for countries to invest their reserves in securities other than safe instruments such as U.S. Treasury notes.

CIC today has assets of over $800 billion, spread among stocks, corporate bonds, hedge funds, private equity, commodities, and commercial real estate. Some of CIC’s investments are directly-owned enterprises, including gold mines in Zimbabwe.

While these assets may outperform Treasury notes over time, they are also illiquid, and would tend to decline in value during a financial panic. This means that about 20%, of China’s reserves are unavailable for critical tasks such as bailing out the banking system or defending the currency.

The second and third initiatives are the New Development Bank, NDB, created by the BRICS in 2014, and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, AIIB, created by China in 2016. These have participation from 35 countries in the Asia/Australia region, and 18 other countries from outside that region, mostly in Europe. The United States refused to join.

Although NDB and AIIB are both multilateral institutions, China was the principal sponsor and a major source of funding. It provided about $10 billion to NDB and $30 billion to AIIB.

These banks will expand their lending capacity by issuing notes and will fund infrastructure projects in competition with the World Bank and its regional development banks — without interference from the U.S. on priorities.

To continue reading: One Belt, One Road, And One Debt Hangover

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