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A Chinese recession is inevitable – don’t think it won’t affect you

A man sits on a rock near demolished in Xiancun, an urban village in Guangzhou, southern China. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

When China finally has its inevitable growth recession – which will almost surely be amplified by a financial crisis, given the economy’s massive leverage – how will the rest of world be affected? With US President Donald Trump’s trade war hitting China just as growth was already slowing, this is no idle question.

Typical estimates, for example those embodied in the International Monetary Fund’s assessments of country risk, suggest an economic slowdown in China will hurt everyone. But the acute pain, according to the IMF, will be more regionally concentrated and confined than would be the case for a deep recession in the United States. Unfortunately, this might be wishful thinking.

First, the effect on international capital markets could be vastly greater than Chinese capital market linkages would suggest. However jittery global investors may be about prospects for profit growth, a hit to Chinese growth would make things a lot worse. Although it is true that the US is still by far the biggest importer of final consumption goods (a large share of Chinese manufacturing imports are intermediate goods that end up being embodied in exports to the US and Europe), foreign firms nonetheless still enjoy huge profits on sales in China.

Investors today are also concerned about rising interest rates, which not only put a damper on consumption and investment, but also reduce the market value of companies (particularly tech firms) whose valuations depend heavily on profit growth far in the future. A Chinese recession could again make the situation worse.

I appreciate the usual Keynesian thinking that if any economy anywhere slows, this lowers world aggregate demand, and therefore puts downward pressure on global interest rates.

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