China’s sudden economic slide and growth slowdown has caught many financial analysts asleep at the wheel, but not Jim Chanos.
Chanos, founder of Kynikos Associates, a $3 billion New York hedgefund that specializes in short-selling, was the first person to figure out, some 15 years ago, that Enron was going to crash and said that six years ago he saw there was big trouble in big China.
In a piece in the New York Times, Op-Ed columnist Joe Nocera pointed out that Chanos could see what was coming and gave the right advice about it.
Chanos said he realized that commodity producers had been largely unaffected by the financial crisis and were profiting while other sectors were hurting.
Behind that, he said, was an orgy of commodity buying of everything from copper to iron ore that led him to believe a credit bubble was building and heading toward a burst and bet on China’s slide.
Chanos said he realized the fast-growing Chinese economy was being sustained not just by its export prowess, but by a property bubble built on mountains of debt encouraged by a go-for-broke government to keep the economy thriving.
The result: China’s debt is now $28 trillion, or some 71 times more than Greece’s unsustainable $390 billion.
Chanos said China was building buildings that couldn’t be filled just to have the illusion of building growth that one day would collapse faster than overweight sky cranes because there wouldn’t be enough revenues to pay for them, what he called “the treadmill to hell.”
Chanos disputed the convention belief China would just keep on growing at any cost. “It reminded me of 1989, when everybody said that we should emulate the Japanese model,” he told Nocera.
“They used to say, ‘They can get stuff done and we can’t’ ” — just as the supposed experts were now saying about China.
While others were buying China, he wasn’t and began shorting the stocks of a number of companies who depended on the country for their own growth prospects.
With Wall Street turning volatile on China tremors, Chanos made the right call first and confidence in the Chinese government’s ability to fix it has evaporated. Just like he said.