By now, U.S. citizens have heard a lot about fake news from the likes of CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times. Now comes a new source of fake news — China.
As this article shows, the fake news from China is not about politics or scandals — it’s about the economy. New research shows that China probably overstated its economic growth by several percentage points in 2015.
Investors recall that 2015 was the year China engineered a shock devaluation in August that took U.S. stock markets down 11% and another more gradual devaluation that December that took U.S. markets down another 11% between January and early February 2016. The Chinese stock market also plunged in the early summer of 2015.
With all of that turmoil, it was surprising that China reported official growth figures for 2015 of 6.9%, down only slightly from 7.4% in 2014. Now we know that the 2015 Chinese growth figure was fake.
This is determined by comparing the official growth figure with better data in industrial inputs such as electricity consumption. Even the adjustments reported in this article don’t get to the bottom of China’s overstated growth because investment amounts, about 45% of GDP, have to be adjusted further for the amount of wasted investment in the form of ghost cities, white elephants and other worthless infrastructure projects.
All in all, Chinese growth has been running at about 4% per year for the past five years rather than the much-vaunted 6–7% pace. This has serious negative implications for global financial stability because of the enormous volume of debt that the Chinese economy must support. Chinese debt-to-equity ratios were already sky-high, over 250%, using the old GDP data.
After these adjustments, it looks like the Chinese debt-to-equity ratio could be over 400%, making a Chinese debt crisis with global implications inevitable. When that happens, it won’t be fake news: It will be a true catastrophe.