Inflated Chinese business lending set to burst?

A hard landing could be on the horizon.

Well this isn't good. The Wall Street Journal has a story about the growing credit bubble in China. Dinny Mcmahon and Colum Murphy write:

Analysts at Standard Chartered PLC estimate that Chinese corporate debt was equivalent to 128% of gross domestic product by the end of 2012, up from 101% at the end of 2009. In a 2011 research paper, economists at the Bank for International Settlements found that when a country's corporate debt exceeds 90%, it becomes a drag on growth.

While accessible loans may be good news for China's struggling companies, it could be bad news down the road. Some economists worry such heavy debt in China's financial system could create serious problems for the economy if borrowers are unable to meet their obligations. Soured loans could ultimately force companies to consolidate—which could lead to politically unpalatable job losses—or force leaders into some sort of expensive bailout.

The news is yet more evidence that a significant proportion of China's growth could be illusory. Chinese infrastructure spending is notoriously wasteful, leading to the creation of ghost cities, collapsing bridges and impossible promises.

So much of the rest of the world's economy is based on Chinese growth remaining well about 5 per cent that the prospect of that not happening — a so-called "hard landing" — is usually held up as the third of the big economic disasters waiting to happen, after a US debt-ceiling default and a Eurozone breakup.

If the private economy is as unsustainably inflated as the state sector is, that hard landing is looking uncomfortably possible.

A Chinese labourer works at a saltern in Hami. Photograph: Getty

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.