The financial world has been so focused on the turmoil in Greece the past few months that it’s easy to forget a very important fact: Greece is just one of many problem countries the international financial community has to consider.
Like Greece, both Spain and Portugal have seen debt fears translate into political pressures. Increasing debt means that world investors will insist on a higher return in order to carry a country’s bonds, accelerating the debt spiral. The unavoidable result is drastic service cuts and/or tax increases, either of which could flow into the streets. In addition, the prospect of major austerity measures threatening growth in other countries, including the U.S., continues to trouble investors. The crisis in Spain and Portugal may be less immediate, but it’s clear that the clock is ticking.
And concerns now spread far beyond Europe. Consider China. Here is a country that has grown over 9% annually for the past quarter century, and is now one of the top 4 biggest economies in the world. By turning to a more market-based system, China has fueled the biggest reduction in poverty, and corresponding increase in income level, in history. Nearly half of China’s GDP comes from industry and construction. Much of that comes from mining and ore processing, but China remains a major destination for relocating manufacturing.
The worry of some is that China now faces an asset bubble, with real estate jumping over 12% last year. There has been a huge amount of money flowing into China’s economy, which the government is now trying to stem. But if measures are too harsh, a major player in the global economy could sputter, causing ripples around a world that is already on fragile ground. Concerns weren’t helped when, for the first time in 6 years, China reported a trade deficit in March, reflecting a slowdown in manufacturing brought on by the world economic slowdown.
The situation in Greece may be dramatic, but it may also only be act I.