Professor Michael Pettis has recently published another brilliant post on the Chinese rebalancing issue. We regularly follow Pettis’ views on the Chinese economy, which we consider valuable if one wants to understand the macro management dilemmas China will have to face. In his post, Pettis does not address how the rebalancing process should be ideally done (something which he has explained on several occasions), but rather how much time China has in order to accomplish it successfully. Pettis says that:
Credit growth in China is too high as are current debt levels, and the sooner Beijing gets credit growth under control, the better. This latter statement in itself is not controversial of course, but my simple debt model shows just how urgent it is for Beijing to get credit growth under control. It clearly does not have ten years or even seven years. It might have five years, but only if the markets – Chinese investors, businesses, and savers, both wealthy and middle class – are convinced that it is moving in the right direction.
In other words, the current high levels of debt can derail the rebalancing process if it is not done quick enough. In order to understand the link between debt levels and GDP, Pettis proposes a simple model that captures their dynamics over the long run (up to 2023). In his baseline scenario, Pettis assumes (following the trend of the last few years) that nominal debt initially grows twice as fast as nominal GDP (notice the use of nominal values), but gradually converging in a linear way to the growth rate of GDP by the end of 2023 – at that moment the economy reaches a steady-state position, and GDP and debt grow at the same pace. Depending on the GDP growth rate assumed, Pettis’ model projects debt-to-GDP ratios from 251% (with a 3% growth in GDP) to 274% (with a 6% growth) by the end of the period, too high in comparison to other economies. He then proposes alternative scenarios, but the result is the same: unless Beijing advances more radical measures to curb debt growth and improve the efficiency of the financial system, the growth in debt will derail the rebalancing process.