Monday 21 May 2007

China goes shopping for the world's resources

China is taking in $20 billion a month of foreign capital, according to this 9 March article from the International Herald Tribune. It has set up an agency to decide how to invest its (now) $1.2 trillion in foreign currency reserves.

There are many implications, some contradictory. Diversification could mean less demand for US Treasury bonds, and if China lends less to America, interest rates could rise in the USA. On the other hand, increasing its holding of other currencies will make it less disruptive for China to let the dollar drop against the yuan.

A stronger yuan will affect some Chinese businesses that trade with America, as previously noted. In a thread discussing America's trade deficit on China Daily, "tradervic" from Chicago says: "Mexico thought it had the cheapest labor market, welcoming all the American companies they could get. Then China showed up with their workforce, and those same American companies left Mexico, leaving the Mexicans running into America looking for jobs. It will be interesting to see what happens when the American companies start pulling out of more factories out China for Vietnam, Bangledesh, and other countries. It is like I told my cousins-in-law in China what happened to my cousins-in-law in Mexico and my immediate family in Detroit: Do not get too used to the jobs - they will not last forever."

I have previously suggested that China may be willing to accept these consequences, to some extent, as part of a strategic economic plan. Just as the Chinese in light industry should not take their jobs for granted, the US cannot rely forever on its bargaining power as one of China's biggest customers.

A Bloomberg article today explains how China is trying to manage the currency appreciation so as to limit the damage in employment terms. It also has a stockmarket bubble on its hands. Did China ever expect that wealth and success could be such a problem?

Now it can also start buying the world's assets. The IHT article quotes Jing Ulrich of J.P. Morgan: "They're not going to be looking for financial assets, but energy assets and natural resources, minerals — things China desperately needs." So bears who look to buy commodities as a hedge against US inflation, may be doubly motivated when they see a big player enter the same market.

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