By Eric Jackson, Senior Contributor04/14/10 - 06:00 AM EDT
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We know that China's GDP was 53% construction-related in 2005. If we accept Chanos' current number, construction activity has not changed as a component of China's overall economy in five years. It's flat -- even after the financial collapse of 2008 and the Chinese government's $600 billion (which some same may in fact be more like $1.2 trillion when you add in local government contributions) stimulus package that brought about what Chanos says is now a bubble. If Chanos' view is correct that rampant property speculation and silly (e.g., "indoor ski resorts") construction has increased because of a "Dubai times 1,000" bubble going on, wouldn't it follow that construction as a percentage of Chinese GDP has increased in the last 18 months compared to the middle part of last decade? It has not. Is "construction" bad? Chanos believes having so much of the Chinese economy devoted to construction -- at least, by Western standards -- is terrible. But "construction" isn't limited to expensive luxury Shanghai condos that a farmer in Xi'an province can't afford. "Construction" is roads, railways, airports, sewers, high-end housing, low-end housing,commercial real estate, office buildings, distribution centers, manufacturing plants, etc. Is income "bad" that is derived by workers building these projects, or by local governments benefitting from increased tax revenue, or by farmers who sell their land for it to be developed into a large manufacturing plant? Of course not. These "construction" projects are laying the foundation for future growth and development for generations. This is not an economy like Dubai built only on real estate and debt. It is built on manufacturing, farming, exports and -- more recently -- internal consumption. There are certainly expensive real estate projects in China. This is the second largest economy in the world with 1.5 billion people. It would be alarming if they didn't have expensive projects. Canada has the largest indoor water park in the world. What of it? Let's not bolster an argument with a titillating but inconsequential anecdote. Chanos is implying that the only development going on right now in China is expensive residential condos, at the expense of affordable middle-class housing. That's simply not the case. Even in Shanghai and Beijing, according to the Chinese equivalents of Craigslist, there are affordable two-bedroom apartments available at approximately 25 %-35% of an average couple's income.
........On Monday night, he went on Charlie Rose with more colorful phrases about why China's property market will crumble by the end of 2010, saying "they're on a treadmill to hell." Chanos went so far as to suggest that the renminbi will actually decrease in value over the next couple of years because of soured