Beneath all the clamor over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the efforts to tamp down inflation, investors are largely passing over a huge story in China, famed short-seller Jim Chanos said Wednesday.
Troubles in the Chinese real estate market are a distant third to the war and rate hikes targeted at containing inflation.
But Chanos, known in particular for his long history of bets against the world’s second-largest economy, said it’s a major story with far-reaching implications, particularly at a time when global markets are in a fragile position.
“If what is going on in the world, whether it’s Russia/Ukraine, whether it’s central banks losing control, whatever might be, weren’t happening right now, I think what would be happening in the Chinese real estate market would be front and center for investors,” the Chanos and Co. founder said Wednesday at CNBC’s Delivering Alpha conference in New York.
The nation faces a deepening crisis caused by multiple factors, resulting in the worst plunge in home sales since China started allowing private property sales in the late 1990s.
In an effort to stem the crisis, authorities earlier this week lowered five-year mortgage rates and one-year prime rates to allay concerns that builders have had over private financing. The pandemic has exacerbated the problems, with the government’s zero-Covid policy hammering economic activity.
Chinese apartment prices are, probably, “after Treasury bonds [the] most important asset class in the world. And they are declining,” Chanos said. “We are seeing a real real estate problem in China over the past 18 months that the government does not seem to have a handle on, and the reason that’s important is that investment is still almost 50% of the Chinese economy.”
Evergrande, China’s second-largest property developer, has come under scrutiny for its financial dealings and defaulted on dollar-denominated bonds, making it a symbol of the China real estate bubble.
But Chanos said the problems run deeper.
“You have to understand that like Tokyo … almost every large company in China has a real estate development arm. So it’s not just the developers,” he said. “This is endemic to the whole economy there. And I think that we ignore it at our own peril.”