The world wide economic crash is affecting China in some good ways and some not so good ways.
Tao built River Dragon from a start-up with four employees into one of China's biggest textile printing firms in just five years. He had even grander dreams: He wanted to see his company's stock trade on Nasdaq alongside the likes of Microsoft and Intel.China has not been immune to the property crisis.
The dreams are dead. River Dragon shut down on Oct. 7. Tao and Yan have vanished, leaving behind more than $290 million in debt and a lot of anger in this city 140 miles south of Shanghai in the Yangtze River Delta. The company's demise put 4,000 workers on the street and jilted hundreds of suppliers and creditors.
The speedy rise — and speedier fall — of River Dragon is a depressingly familiar story in China these days. Thousands of Chinese factories have shuttered in the past year, done in by:
•An export-killing global slowdown that began with the collapse of the U.S. housing market and the ensuing financial crisis. Local textile merchant Fang Xingquan, a River Dragon creditor, is among many who believe a sharp drop-off in exports was a key factor in the company's demise.
The Chinese economy is absorbing another blow beyond crumbling exports: collapsing home prices. Nicholas Lardy, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C., reckons a slowdown in construction could shave another 1 to 2 percentage points off China's economic growth.Well that is the bad news. How about the good stuff?
"The property bubble is already starting to burst," says Yan Yu, a business management scholar at Peking University, researching the export center of Dongguan in southern Guangdong province. "House prices here in Dongguan have fallen by up to 50% this year," leaving many homeowners owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.
"People have worked all their lives and believed the hype and bought overvalued properties, then saw their savings vanish," says independent economist Andy Xie in Shanghai. "That carries more political risk" than rising joblessness.
"Chinese authorities appear to be well aware of the global economic situation," JPMorgan Chase reported this month. The bank expects government to turn the spigot on spending, quadrupling the budget deficit to the equivalent of 2% of economic output from 0.5% this year.So it seems that even the silver clouds have a dark lining. Pollution will be declining, but so will jobs.
The authorities aren't going to save everyone. The Chinese government has put pressure on small firms that foul the environment, pay miserly wages and turn out cheap products. "Beijing no longer wants to be the world's sweatshop for junk," CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets says in a recent report.
First, China cut tax breaks for exporters and imposed new export taxes on polluters, even targeting producers of disposable chopsticks. Then it introduced a labor law in January, requiring companies to give workers written contracts and making it harder for them to lay off employees or to hire informal part-time help.
The combination of tougher regulations, weakening exports, rising costs and a stronger Chinese currency has hammered thousands of small factories. The pain has been especially agonizing in Guangdong, a low-cost manufacturing center across the border from Hong Kong in southern China.
It will be interesting to see if China can weather the current economic storm.