Tag Archives: China

Fintech in China

The Economist reports about the fintech revolution in China.

By just about any measure of size, China is the world’s leader in fintech (short for “financial technology”, and referring here to internet-based banking and investment). It is far and away the biggest market for digital payments, accounting for nearly half of the global total. It is dominant in online lending, occupying three-quarters of the global market. A ranking of the world’s most innovative fintech firms gave Chinese companies four of the top five slots last year. The largest Chinese fintech company, Ant Financial, has been valued at about $60bn, on a par with UBS, Switzerland’s biggest bank.

Munich Security Report 2017

Topics discussed in the report include:

  • Support for a “strong leader” as opposed to checks and balances has increased in many countries.
  • The share of households with flat or falling market incomes during the 2005-14 period has been around 65% in advanced economies, and 97% in Italy. In the preceding decade, it had been negligible.
  • The Eurasia Group’s top ten risks for 2017:
    1. Independent America
    2. China overreacts
    3. A weaker Merkel
    4. No reform
    5. Technology and the Middle East
    6. Central banks get political
    7. The White House vs. Silicon Valley
    8. Turkey
    9. North Korea
    10. South Africa
  • More than 60 percent of Americans want to keep or increase US commitments to NATO.
  • “Europe” could save 30% of its defense investments by cooperating more closely.
  • “Europe” operates many more weapon systems than the US.
  • In 2016, 94%, 73%, and 20% of US-led, Turkish, and Russian airstrikes in Syria targeted Daesh/ISIS.
  • China and Russia have strongly increased the number of their cultural institutes abroad.
  • Wikileaks has strongly gained support among Republican voters.
  • Most attacks on health care infrastructure are deliberate.

Monetary Policy Implementation in China

The Economist reports that implementation gradually changes:

[T]he way in which the People’s Bank of China conducts monetary policy is changing. It is beginning to look a little more like central banks in developed economies as it shifts towards liberalised interest rates. Rather than simply ordering banks to set specific lending or deposit rates—the focus for many years in China—it is altering the monetary environment around them. China does not yet have an equivalent of the federal-funds rate in America or the refinancing rate in Europe, but it has a few candidates for its new benchmark interest rate. The seven-day bond-repurchase rate, which influences banks’ funding costs, is in pole position.

There is also an element of political intrigue in this transition to a more mature monetary framework. The Chinese central bank sits under the State Council, or cabinet, which has the final say over lending and deposit rates as well as other big policy decisions. Repo rates, by contrast, are seen as sufficiently abstruse for the central bank to decide on its own when it wants to change them.

Dynamics of the World Income Distribution

In a Resolution Foundation report, Adam Corlett examines the “Elephant Curve.” The curve shows that between 1988 and 2008 income growth in the 70th to 95th percentile range of the world income distribution was much lower than for almost all other percentiles. Since the lower middle class of rich countries is situated around the 80th percentile of the distribution the Elephant curve has been interpreted as evidence for stagnating middle class incomes in the rich countries.

Corlett emphasizes that

  • the country composition in 1988 and 2008 is not the same. Holding it constant the Elephant curve is less pronounced.
  • “Population changes, rather than just income changes, have driven the income growth distribution in the elephant curve.” Holding the relative population size across countries constant the Elephant curve is less pronounced.
  • There is lots of variation across developed economies. “[T]he weak figures for the mature economies as a whole are driven by Japan (reflecting in part its two ‘lost decades’ of growth post-bubble, but primarily due to likely flawed data) and by Eastern European states (with large falls in incomes following the collapse of the Soviet Union after 1988). Looking only at the remaining mature economies, far from stagnation we find average real income growth of 52 per cent with strong growth across the distribution, though slightly higher at the top. [But] there are great differences between these nations. US growth of 41 per cent was notably unequally shared, with low (but not zero) growth for poorer deciles meaning that the US comes closest to matching the stagnation and inequality narrative – despite international trade being much less important on a national level there than elsewhere [my emphasis]. But most people in most other rich countries experienced stronger growth.”

Low Interest Rates

In the 17th Geneva Report on the World Economy (Low for Long? Causes and Consequences of Persistently Low Interest Rates), Charles Bean, Christian Broda, Takatoshi Ito and Randall Kroszner take up the theme of a recent report by the White House Council of Economic Advisors (see previous blog post). In the abstract, some of the authors’ conclusions are summarized as follows:

… aggregate savings propensities should fall back as the bulge of high-saving middle-aged households moves through into retirement and starts to dissave; this process has already begun. And though Chinese financial integration still has some way to run, the net flow of Chinese savings into global financial markets has already started to ebb as the pattern of Chinese growth rotates towards domestic demand rather than net exports. Finally, the shifts in portfolio preferences may partially unwind as investor confidence slowly returns. But … the time scale over which such a rebound in real interest rates will be manifest is highly uncertain and will be influenced by longer-term fiscal and structural policy choices.

One chapter in the report discusses the Japanese experience.

Major IMF-Internal Disagreement Preceded the First Greek Bailout

At the 9 May 2010 meeting at which the IMF board approved the first bailout program for Greece, not all members approved. In fact, many members, including the Executive Director representing Switzerland, challenged the proposal, suggested less optimistic scenarios and asked for modifications. The Wall Street Journal published excerpts of the minutes in October 2013, see below.

Sebastian Bräuer in the NZZ am Sonntag also reports on the issue. He points out that the Swiss Executive Director asked what would happen if the Greek government were not to implement the agreed reforms; and if IMF and European commission were to disagree. Bräuer also reports that some European banks would have been prepared to bear losses resulting from their Greek exposure, see below.

The WSJ writes:

Swiss executive director Rene Weber in a prepared statement to the board for the May 9, 2010 meeting: We have “considerable doubts about the feasibility of the program…We have doubts on the growth assumptions, which seem to be overly benign. Even a small negative deviation from the baseline growth projections would make the debt level unsustainable over the longer term…Why has debt restructuring and the involvement of the private sector in the rescue package not been considered so far?”

“The exceptionally high risks of the program were recognized by staff itself, in particular in its assessment of debt sustainability.”

“Several chairs (Argentina, Brazil, India, Russia, and Switzerland) lamented that the program has a missing element: it should have included debt restructuring and Private Sector Involvement (PSI) to avoid, according to the Brazilian ED, ‘a bailout of Greece’s private sector bondholders, mainly European financial institutions.’ The Argentine ED was very critical at the program, as it seems to replicate the mistakes (i.e., unsustainable fiscal tightening) made in the run up to the Argentina’s crisis of 2001. Much to the ‘surprise’ of the other European EDs, the Swiss ED forcefully echoed the above concerns about the lack of debt restructuring in the program, and pointed to the need for resuming the discussions on a Sovereign Debt Restructuring Mechanism.”

“The Swiss ED (supported by Australia, Brazil, Iran) noted that staff had ‘silently’ changed in the paper (i.e., without a prior approval by the board) the criterion No.2 of the exceptional access policy, by extending it to cases where there is a ‘high risk of international systemic spillover effects.’”

The NZZ writes:

[Swiss ED Weber asked:] “Wie reagiert der Fonds, wenn die Behörden die Sparmassnahmen und Strukturreformen nicht umsetzen?”

[IMF-deputy John Lipsky said:] “Es gibt keinen Plan B. Es gibt einen Plan A und die Absicht, dass Plan A erfolgreich ist.”

“Ich kann die Direktoren informieren, dass deutsche Banken Unterstützung für Griechenland erwägen”, sagte der deutsche IMF-Direktor Klaus Stein. Sein französischer Kollege Ambroise Fayolle ergänzte, auch die Banken seines Landes würden ihren Job tun.

World War II in 42 Maps

Timothy Lee and collaborators provide a map-based account of World War II in Vox. Short texts and 42 maps cover Germany, China and Japan, Central Europe, Finland, France and the UK, Russia, the Pacific, Africa, the Allies’ invasions, the Holocaust, Israel and Korea, among other aspects. An animated map displays the opponents’ varying spheres of influence during the war years.

Myopia in East Asia

The Economist reports about a rising share of teenagers in East Asia that suffer from myopia.

The biggest factor in short-sightedness is a lack of time spent outdoors. Exposure to daylight helps the retina to release a chemical that slows down an increase in the eye’s axial length …

Once they start school, Chinese children spend about an hour a day outside, compared with three or four hours for Australian ones.

Chinese Government Report on Options to Reduce Wealth Inequality

Markus Ackeret in the NZZ discusses a long-awaited Chinese government report on policy options to reduce wealth disparities. They include: Less manipulation of interest rates; more manipulation of wages; higher real estate taxes; higher dividend payments of government owned enterprises; changes in the legal status of workers moving from the countryside to the cities (hukou).