Saturday, July 20, 2013

Krugman: How Much Should We Worry About A China Shock?

by Bill McBride on 7/20/2013 09:33:00 AM

Quite a few people have asked me about China.   My view is the impact of a Chinese slowdown - or even recession - will be minimal on the US.

Note: As always, I recommend reading Michael Pettis' China Financial Markets website. He has been way ahead of the curve on China. (Pettis' site feed sometimes gets hacked - that is the joke at the bottom of Krugman's post today).

Paul Krugman discusses three possible impacts: How Much Should We Worry About A China Shock?

Suppose that those of us now worried that China’s Ponzi bicycle is hitting a brick wall (or, as some readers have suggested, a BRIC wall) are right. How much should the rest of the world worry, and why?

I’d group this under three headings:

1. “Mechanical” linkages via exports, which are surprisingly small.

2. Commodity prices, which could be a bigger deal.

3. Politics and international stability, which involves some serious risks.

So, on the first: this is what many people immediately think of. China’s economy stumbles; China therefore buys less from the rest of the world; and the result is a global slump. Or, maybe not so much.

Some quick, rough, but I think useful math: In 2011, the combined GDP of all the world’s economies not including China was slightly over $60 trillion. Meanwhile, Chinese imports of goods and services were about $2 trillion, or around 3 percent of the rest of the world’s GDP.

Now suppose that China has a slowdown of 5 percent relative to trend. Imports would fall more than this; typical estimates of the “income elasticity” of imports (the percentage change from a 1 percent change in GDP, other things equal) are around 2. So we could be looking at a 10 percent fall in Chinese imports — an adverse shock to the rest of the world of one-tenth of 3 percent,or 0.3 percent of GDP. Not nothing, but not [catastrophic].
There is more in Krugman's post. The mechanical trade impact is the one everyone worries about, and it really isn't a huge concern.  On the second point, the US does sell some commodities to China (Lumber prices started falling when Chinese buying slowed).   However, overall for the US, lower commodity prices is mostly a positive.

The last one - political unrest - is the scary one and is complete unknown.