In the 1990s and early 2000s, China was the most significant economic success story in the world. Rapid industrialization and trade grew the Chinese economy and kept consumer prices down in the West. This was accomplished by utilizing China's large pool of inexpensive labor to produce an increasingly greater number of goods for export. Since labor is the largest cost component for almost all manufactured goods, this lowered prices globally for a number of items. However, China went one step further to insure it could continue to sell its exports at low prices - it pegged its currency to the U.S. dollar (an idea originally suggested by the American monetary authorities, much to the later regret of U.S. politicians). The dollar peg allowed China to keep its currency undervalued, just as Japan had done during its decades of spectacular growth, and provided its exports with a huge advantage in world markets. It also insured the creation of a massive bubble.
As Chinese exports to the U.S. increased, China accumulated a growing hoard of dollars that it used to purchase U.S. treasury bonds. This in turn kept interest rates low in the U.S. and allowed Americans to borrow ever greater sums to finance a purchasing-based consumer economy and for the U.S. government to borrow cheaply to finance a ballooning national debt.
Pegged currencies are not without their downsides, however, as China eventually found out when its internal rate of inflation began rising. In July of 2005, China officially, but not actually depegged the Yuan from the U.S. dollar. The Yuan was allowed to float in such a narrow trading band that by September 2007 it had fallen only to 7.50 from 8.28 to the dollar. Since the Yuan wasn't allowed to float to a realistic level, inflation started taking off in the mainland and the Chinese government announced price controls that month to try to halt it.
Meanwhile, the greater wealth created within the Chinese economy led to an exploding stock market. This bubble in stocks was further fueled by asset controls that prevented most Chinese investors from moving their money outside of China. The effects of this could be seen by examining prices of Chinese stocks that traded in both the mainland and Hong Kong. The prices on the mainland exchanges were much higher than those in Hong Kong. In August of 2007, the Chinese government announced a policy shift that would allow mainland investors to buy and sell stocks in Hong Kong. The effect of stock prices in Hong Kong was explosive and only days later the Chinese government announced this policy change would be on hold for the foreseeable future.
For more on this topic, please see the video: "Global Perspectives on the Decline and Fall of the U.S. Dollar" at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbHxbOvjYis&NR=1
Next: All that Glitters Isn't Gold, It's Also Silver
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
For more about us, please go to our web site at: http://investing.meetup.com/21.