China’s stock market stimulus has cost over $1 trillion so far

Deep pockets.
Deep pockets.
Image: REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic
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Since China’s stock markets tumbled from their mid-June peak, Beijing has rolled out a massive stimulus package, with mixed results.

The intensity of China’s stock market stimulus has raised concerns that the government is putting the country’s entire financial system at risk. It has also spooked small retail investors, who have responded by trying to front-run the government, selling before government support dries up, making the Shanghai Composite Index incredibly volatile in recent weeks.

So, how much money has Beijing actually spent trying to support the markets? Economist and Peking University professor Christopher Balding has tallied it all up, and arrived at an astounding figure—$1.3 trillion.

That’s more than five times the $247 billion the US government initially spent on the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, that was used to support financial institutions after the 2008 financial crisis. Here’s how Balding got to that figure:

  • June 29: China’s pension funds are allowed to invest in stocks for the first time—$100 billion.
  • July 3: The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) makes new loans to banks—$40.2 billion.
  • July 4: China’s major securities brokers pledge to invest to stabilize the market—$19.3 billion.
  • July 8: China Securities Finance Corp. (CSF), which makes margin loans for stock-buying, pledges new liquidity to mutual funds—$32 billion.
  • July 9: The PBOC pledges new financial support to CSF—$41.9 billion.
  • July 14: Beijing extends a program that converts local government debt into bonds—$450 billion.
  • July: Additional provincial bond support (sources tell Balding, no official confirmation)—$161 billion.
  • July 17: CSF given $483 billion in additional funds from the PBOC and state-run banks.

The figure doesn’t include other stimulus measures that were rolled out before the June plummet but are surely adding liquidity now. Among them: a series of reserve ratio cuts since December that added $282 billion in liquidity, and the PBOC’s $62 billion capital injection into two state banks in April.

If they were included, Balding said, the tally of total support would be $1.6 trillion.

“That is far and away the largest economic support package in history,” Balding told Quartz. The high level of support raises serious concerns about the state of the Chinese economy overall, he said.

The government “is dealing with much more profound problems than we realized,” he said, and while no one knows for sure what they are, he suspects there is a much larger bad corporate debt problem than previously acknowledged.

Whatever the issues, the cost of this stimulus is only going to strain economic growth going forward. Most of the cost so far has been borne by China’s commercial banks, Balding said, and “that is absolutely sapping the liquidity of these banks and their ability to invest in other assets going forward.”