China Needs to Engineer a Beautiful Deleveraging
Comment of the Day

August 17 2023

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

China Needs to Engineer a Beautiful Deleveraging

This article from Ray Dalio may be of interest. Here is a section:

So, how do those who reduce the debt burdens do it? It primarily depends on whether the debt is in one’s own currency or a foreign currency (if it’s in one’s own currency like China’s debt is, it’s easier to manage) and whether it is held by one’s own citizens or foreigners (if it’s held by one’s own citizens like China’s debt is, it’s easier to manage)—though it is never easy. Given these circumstances, it also depends on how the restructuring is done. A well-done restructuring happens in a balanced way. I call that a “beautiful deleveraging.” It balances deflationary defaults/restructurings with inflationary printing of money/debt monetization to spread out the burden. The mechanics of this process are explained in the first chapter of the book linked above, so I won’t try to squeeze them in here.

China is overdue in doing this, so in my opinion, it needs to follow this beautiful deleveraging process now because the debt-burdened balance sheets and burdensome debt service payments are freezing the economy, especially at the provincial level and most especially in some of the poorest provinces. One day the United States, Europe, and Japan will probably have to do their own deleveragings, which I expect to follow this process. Because the stabilities of orders (also known as “Mandates of Heaven”) in all countries are driven by the interrelated forces of 1) the credit/debt/economic dynamic, 2) the internal political dynamic, 3) the external geopolitical dynamic, 4) acts of nature (i.e., droughts, floods, and pandemics), and 5) human inventiveness (especially of new technologies), and because how this deleveraging process is handled has a big effect on the overall order or disorder of the system, it’s worth keeping in mind how this deleveraging dynamic works, which is why I’m passing along Principles for Navigating Big Debt Crises to you now. I hope it’s of some help.

Eoin Treacy's view

We can assume China’s policy makers have a better understanding of the country’s debt issues that we do. There is no doubt having the majority of debt denominated in the domestic currency and having few external liabilities provides China with a strong position to deal with excess debt.

If deleveraging is performed flawlessly, the process could take a decade or longer of subpar growth. The importance of construction and property to the economy will need to shrink. That represents an existential threat to the global commodity sector which depends on Chinese demand growth to support production aspirations.

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