Simplistic China Update: Housing and War
I make no claim to know much about contemporary China. I read a few newsletters, the mainstream coverage, and stories like the Philippines reef thing that sounds like gangs of children playing at war. But there is definitely a weird thing going on in this pivotal, power player nation.
First, housing and their economy. At some point during their recent growth period, prior to Covid, housing development was as much as 30% of the GDP. Given that housing is pretty speculative, especially on the grand scale of the big China developers, this should have been seen as a major problem.
Here’s an indicator of the scale of this: there are enough vacant or unfinished housing units in China to house the entire population. That’s in addition to existing units.
That is a preposterous factoid and like most ‘facts’ from the ancient land, it must be taken with skepticism. But, based on the absolutely bonkers images of dozens of identical high rise apartment buildings lined up in major cities, many vacant and unfinished, it seems possible.
Many average Chinese citizens, with newfound disposable income, invested in these units. But then, as might seem obvious given the numbers, the bottom fell out of the market, leaving millions holding the bag.
The nation’s two ginormous developers, Evergrande and Country Garden, are now teetering on bankruptcy. These are not normal Western real estate development companies. Their debts are measured in hundreds of billions and they are defaulting.
The Chairman of Evergrande was detained this week, on the usual unknown suspicions, by the totalitarian government that uses disappearing prominent figures to throw blame when obviously terrible economic decisions backfire. Given the scale of Evergrande’s problems, it is likely we will never see him again.
But it won’t solve that near trillion dollar collapse.
Nevertheless, supreme leader Xi is doubling down on absolute power, with senior government officials disappearing left and right. Not just government figures, almost anyone who achieves a certain degree of power or fame. Success in China is great, if you keep your head down.