Investment binge fueled by easy credit and fiscal stimulus increases volatility; prices surge, then slide
Workers in Shenzhen, China, move materials at a construction site in August. The city had the world’s largest increase in apartment prices last year, a sign of China’s housing bubble. Photo: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg News
A succession of asset bubbles has formed in China, caused by a torrent of speculative money sloshing from stocks to bonds to commodities.
The biggest apparent bubble is in housing, but prices have surged for niche assets, too, such as calligraphy, antiques and art. In May, futures prices for soybean meal, used as pig feed, jumped 40%. The trading volume of 600 million tons was nine times higher than China’s annual consumption. The pipe-making material PVC is up 40% so far this year on the Dalian Commodity Exchange.
The world’s second-largest economy is slowing. Easy credit and successive fiscal stimuli, designed to keep China aloft, mean it is awash in money that is chasing an increasingly small number of investment opportunities. China’s money supply has quadrupled since 2007, and the new cash is largely trapped inside the country by government capital controls.
“There are very few places left to invest in the real economy, so the money goes into the so-called virtual economy,” said Yang Delong, chief economist at First Seafront Fund Management Co., which manages $6 billion and is based in the manufacturing hub of Shenzhen. First Seafront has sharply cut its stockholdings in the past year and shifted toward bonds and commodities.