China's 'zombie' companies are a big threat to the economy, and JPMorgan says their debt pile means the country could be slowing faster than anyone thought

VCG/VCG via Getty Images

  • China’s economy is beset by huge public and corporate debt problems that JPMorgan says threaten to derail the country’s growth story.
  • Economic growth in China has been steadily slowing and could get even lower, making the world’s second-largest economy unlikely to overtake the US anytime soon.
  • The key risk – disposing of “zombie” state-owned companies – means the economy could be forced to adopt a zero-interest-rate policy, JPMorgan said.

The trade war with the US is getting more of today’s China-focused headlines, but the world’s second-largest economy is facing an even greater problem.

“The biggest concern regarding financial stability and the sustainability of economic growth has been China’s ballooning debt problem, especially in the corporate sector,” according to a note published by JPMorgan.

Chinese corporate debt is among the highest in the world – it’s a stunning 162% of gross domestic product.

Read more:
Trump is winning the trade battle with China, but China could still win the war

The country’s debt will take serious and prolonged policy changes to rectify, said JPMorgan economists led by Haibin Zhu, the firm’s chief China economist. China’s slowdown comes alongside other economic red flags from its economy including poor PMI figures, lower exports, an ageing workforce, and spiralling household debt.

JPMorgan pushed back on estimates that China would soon overtake the US as the world’s biggest economy, predicting that China’s growth potential would slow from a 6.5% level to 5.5% in 2021 through 2025 and 4.5% in 2026 through 2030.

“This means that China will remain the second-largest economy much longer than expected,” the economists said.

“The transition to slower potential growth could be volatile and requires balancing reforms,” they wrote. “This will reshape China’s role in the global economy.”

The key risk – disposing of “zombie” state-owned companies – means the economy could be forced to adopt a zero interest policy, JPMorgan said.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.