Crisis Diary as it unfolds ….

China conundrum

Here is a great blogpost by Brad Setser explaining China America relationship and how the interests of the two economies are diverging.

Three final observations:

1) The US needs financing, but China also needs markets for its exports. The “balance of financial terror” is such that China cannot reduce its financing of the US without also reducing the market for its exports. That limits China’s options. My own guess is that China is more constrained than in the past, as it presumably doesn’t want to do anything with its reserves that would add to the global slump in demand for Chinese goods. If hot money outflows subside, China will almost certainly need to continue to add to its reserves. And China’s ability to shift its reserves from dollar to the euro is also constrained by its desire to maintain good relations with its European trading partners. Key eurozone countries wouldn’t appreciate a big euro rally right now induced by a surge in Chinese purchases, especially if China maintained its dollar peg during the process.
2) China’s currency has appreciated significantly in real terms even as the pace of its appreciation against the dollar has slowed. That implies more not less friction between the US and China. China was willing to allow the RMB to go up against the dollar when the dollar was going down against other currencies and other countries were snapping up more Chinese goods. Now that the dollar is going up and Chinese exports are going down, China is reluctant to allow the RMB to appreciate at all against the dollar. But the US naturally cares far more about the RMB’s value against the dollar than its value against other currencies.
3) Even though China’s currency has appreciated significantly in real terms recently, most real exchange rate indices put it only a bit above its levels in 2000. The expansion of China’s current account surplus since then – and the huge increase in China’s exports since then — suggests that the RMB remains fundamentally undervalued. Other Aisan countries exports are actually falling faster than China’s exports. But the RMB’s real appreciation clearly came at a less than opportune time. The RMB was weak in real terms when China’s domestic economy was strong, and now it is getting stronger when China’s domestic economy is slowing sharply.

The US — a large deficit country — would benefit in a lot of ways if it could export its way out of trouble. That would also help to bring the world closer to balance. Yet with its own economy slowing sharply, China’s willingness to accept a stronger RMB has likely gone down. Here, US and Chinese interests diverge. Both want to draw on external demand to support their own growth.

Fortunately it is a littler harder to see why China would think that a major fiscal stimulus isn’t in its interests …

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January 25, 2009 - Posted by | Crisis Snapshot | , ,

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