Will China be the next subprime disaster?


An economic miracle or a disaster waiting to happen? As far as Goldman Sachs – and their chief economist, Jim O'Neill - is concerned, China is set to overtake the U.S. to become the world's biggest economy by 2027.

Writing in the London Evening Standard, O'Neill says: "When we first suggested back in 2003 that China could possibly challenge the US to be the world's number one by 2041, many thought it was a pipedream, and had virtually no chance. In fact, it is possible a lot sooner, and indeed, we now think it could happen within 20 years — in fact 2027 to be precise, so 18 years."

But there are plenty of sceptics who would take issue with O'Neil, believing that China's economic miracle is based on smoke and mirrors and is on the brink of collapse. As billionaire hedge fund investor, Jim Chanos, put it:

"You have to keep in mind that the last command economy that really saw this kind of growth was the old Soviet Union and what happened was the misallocation of resources into inefficient plants, dams that burst, nuclear plants that had accidents and so on and so forth, as well as the fairly large defense budget. China's heading the same way."

Chanos may be a famed short-seller, but it's hard to dismiss one of the few people who saw through the Enron charade in 2001 and consistently argued that the company's figures were fiction.

But a melt-down of the Chinese economy has the potential to be far more damaging than the Enron scandal. As a report by Pivot Capital Management earlier this year argued: "We believe the coming slowdown in China has the potential to be a similar watershed event for world markets as the reversal of the U.S. subprime and housing boom."

Hold on. 2010 could be every bit as rough a ride as this year.