Monday, October 29, 2007

Froth and Bubbles....

"What should China do to try to reduce excess liquidity and inflation" - Qin

China is increasingly exhibiting the signs of an overheating economy. Asset prices are incredible (literally, in my view; see here for my earlier views), and domestic price inflation has increased to 6.5%, with increasing signs of further rises to come.

What can China do about this? Let's start with the standard prescriptions: a contractionary policy, using either fiscal or monetary policy. On the fiscal side, this could take the form of either a tax rise or a government spending cut. Given the chronic state of many parts of the mainland government sector (for example, health care), a spending cut seems out of the question. Further, a significant tax rise is likely to result in increasing compliance issues, so may not be desirable either.

That leaves us with monetary policy, which has already been tried with limited effect. In part that is because any increase in interest rates is being offset by an increasing money supply due to growing foreign reserves. When Beijing prevents the RMB from appreciating by buying USD assets, it increases the money supply by an offsetting amount. The scale of this is almost impossible to sterilize, so the net effect is actually an expansionary monetary policy, in contrast to the contractionary one that is required to stabilize the economy.

My conclusion is that ultimately, stabilizing the economy in China will require the rate of money supply growth to fall. A significant appreciation of the currency would certainly help, as this would reduce the growth rate of foreign reserves, and the corresponding injection of currency into the economy. An alternative would be to encourage increased capital outflows, so that the current rate of appreciation of the currency could be maintained with less official intervention.

Based on the rapid appreciation of the RMB earlier today, maybe the mainland authorities are opting for more rapid currency appreciation, although one day is hardly a trend! In sum, any action by Beijing to try to slow the money supply brings with it significant economic risks. But doing nothing and hoping for the best may bring even greater risks.

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