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Why markets are so worried about China

Tracey Samuelson Jan 4, 2016
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Why markets are so worried about China

Tracey Samuelson Jan 4, 2016
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If investors were hoping for a quiet day to ease into the New Year — maybe next year.

A rout in China, rooted in lousy manufacturing news there and more worries about the Chinese currency, became a European rout, which became a Wall Street rout.

Why?

Well, there’s the obvious: China is the world’s second largest economy. It’s been a major driver of global growth in recent ye­­ars.

“At its height, it was almost 50 percent of all growth when the rest of the world was receding, due to the global financial crisis,” said Dan Rosen, head of the China practice at the Rhodium Group. “But even typically, it’s been 15, 20, 25 percent of all the growth on the planet the past decade.”

Nick Consonery, with the Eurasia Group, says investors are unsure what to expect from China in 2016.

“Investors, globally, are still very uncertain about how much slower the economy is going to grow and how long it’s going to take to get there,” he said. “Really, the key theme is just this opacity and uncertainty.”

In addition to that uncertainty, this is largely a trade story, says David Dollar, a senior fellow in the China center at the Brookings Institution.  

“China is the main trading partner for more than 100 countries in the world,” he said. “So a country like Chile that exports copper to China. Brazil, I believe, exports Iron, Mexico exports energy.”

And while those countries are directly affected by China’s slowing growth, they then translate that impact to their own trading partners, including the United States.

However, the impact won’t be uniformly negative, says Patrick Chovanec, the chief strategist at Silvercrest Asset Management.

“When you look at companies that have been selling to the Chinese consumer, they’re doing quite well,” Chovanec said. “Chinese outbound tourism is booming, so the Chinese consumption sector remains fairly resilient.”

Additionally, some industries may see new opportunities as Chinese government investment wanes.

“It could be your own market you’re selling to, but Chinese overcapacity was drowning you out,” he said, offering the example of the solar sector, “where essentially, the Chinese built out so much capacity as part of building out their GDP, that they drove the Americans out of business, the Europeans out of business, and then themselves.”

Those companies may now feel some relief from that pressure. 

In other words, there are plenty of ways a Chinese slowdown hurts the rest of the world, but Chovanec said that’s not the whole picture — there will be some winners among the losers out there.

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