China's Domestic Economy in Slowdown Mode
The easiest way to envision China's current relationship with the rest of the world is as a giant manufacturing center. The world sends its raw material and money to China, and China produces shoes, consumer electronics and myriad other products that it ships all over the world. Foreign trade is the foundation of the Chinese economy and provides the capital, economic activity and revenue that it can invest in the growth of its domestic economy.
This is a macroeconomic version of what each person goes through in life -- work, earn, spend and save -- ultimately to the point that your assets' earnings can replace your labor. In terms of China, that means expanding its domestic economy to the point that it no longer relies upon foreign trade and capital.
Right now, though, that's not the case. As exports decline, the risks to the domestic economy increase as foreign investors slow their investment in the country, and the Chinese government must stimulate in order to make up for the revenue shortfall.
Ever since the Lehman Brothers crisis in the U.S. in 2008, analysts have been watchful for signs of a domestic economic crisis in China. Chinese foreign trade did indeed plunge in the 12 months following Lehman's collapse. The offset to this was massive fiscal and monetary stimulus in China -- at about three times as much as the U.S. government spent in the wake of the Lehman crisis, as a percentage of GDP.
The immediate result of that action was an infrastructure build-out that has now left the country with a multi-year excess of capacity that is reflected in ghost cities and idle factories.
The expectation by economists and government claims has been that eventually, exports would pick up and capacity utilization would rise. What was not expected was that the European debt and banking crisis, which is a residual effect of the 2008 U.S. banking crisis, would result in another round of export crashes.
In the simplest terms, for China, this is the equivalent of losing your job in late 2008, living on credit cards throughout 2009, getting a new job with lower pay in 2010, having that pay cut further in 2011, and now in 2012 having it cut even more.
China's predicament is that it needs more fiscal and monetary stimulus, but its debt levels are already inflated.