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The dragon sneezes, Europe catches a cold

European stock prices, financial contagion and the trade exposure to China. How the turmoil in China’s stock market is affecting European stock market

Publishing date
26 August 2015

Should we be worried about the turmoil in China’s stock market, and the spill-overs to markets in other countries? Two competing hypotheses currently exist:

The first is that Chinese stocks had grown at unsustainable rates leading up to the crash, and this is simply a market correction back towards fundamentals, and not a warning of deeper weakness in the Chinese economy.

This view would align with that of the ECB’s vice-president Vitor Constâncio:

"Indications are that ... the (Chinese) economy is not decelerating so much to justify the rout in the stock market. (…) The problems in China are not affecting ... the concerns of German firms,"

Stock market declines around the world would in this view only represent some short-term financial contagion without a connection to real economic activity.

The second hypothesis is that the collapsing stock prices are linked to a slowdown in economic activity in China. Such a slowdown will then be passed on through trade linkages to China’s trading partners.

We want to investigate whether the stock market falls in Europe are primarily a financial contagion problem or whether they are linked to trade exposure to China. We look at the decline since the start of August until now, compared to the extent to which the respective OECD economy is linked to China, measured in gross exports to China as a share of GDP.

Contrary to the first hypothesis that this episode is just a matter of turbulence in financial markets, we can see that in Europe those countries with stronger trade connections to China have generally suffered bigger losses in their stock markets. We take this as an indication that there is a disruption in the real economy in China, leading to less demand for European exports to China that is passed on to European stock markets through trade channels.

For example, if we look at Germany, we can see that the DAX has fallen by around 12% (second highest in the sample), and also has the highest exports to China as a share of GDP at 2.66%.

Overall, we would warn European policy makers not to take the Chinese crisis lightly. The health of the Chinese economy is of essence to the global economy and there are reasons to believe that this could turn out to be a more fundamental cooling of China than previously thought.

Figure 1: Decline in European Stock Markets and Trade Exposure to China

China_Stocks

Source: UN COMTRADE, 2013. GDP from OECD. Stock indices not available for Portugal and Slovakia.

 

About the authors

  • Guntram B. Wolff

    Guntram Wolff was the Director of Bruegel. Over his career, he has contributed to research on European political economy and governance, fiscal, monetary and financial policy, climate change and geoeconomics. Under his leadership, Bruegel has been regularly ranked among the top global think tanks and has grown in influence and impact with a team of now almost 40 recognized scholars and around 65 total staff. Bruegel is also recognized for its outstanding transparency.

    A recognized thought leader and academic, he regularly testifies at the European Finance Ministers' ECOFIN meeting, the European Parliament, the German Parliament (Bundestag) and the French Parliament (Assemblée Nationale). From 2012-16, he was a member of the French prime minister's Conseil d'Analyse Economique. In 2018, then IMF managing director Christine Lagarde appointed him to the external advisory group on surveillance to review the Fund’s priorities. In 2021, he was appointed to the G20 high level independent panel on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. He is also a professor (part-time) at the Solvay Brussels School of Université Libre de Bruxelles, where he teaches economics of European integration.

    He joined Bruegel from the European Commission, where he worked on the macroeconomics of the euro area and the reform of euro area governance. Prior to joining the Commission, he was coordinating the research team on fiscal policy at Deutsche Bundesbank. He also worked as an external adviser to the International Monetary Fund.

    He holds a PhD in economics from the University of Bonn and studied in Bonn, Toulouse, Pittsburgh and Passau. He taught economics at the University of Pittsburgh and at Université libre de Bruxelles. He has published numerous papers in leading academic journals. His columns and policy work are published and cited in leading international media and policy outlets. Guntram is fluent in German, English, French and has good notions of Bulgarian and Spanish.

  • Thomas Walsh

    Thomas Walsh, a British citizen, worked as a Research Assistant at Bruegel in the area of macroeconomics from August 2014 to August 2015.

    He holds a Master’s degree in Economics from the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics with a thesis entitled “The Credit Channel of Monetary Policy at the Zero Lower Bound: A FAVAR Approach”.

    He also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Econometrics from the University of Bristol.

    Previously, Thomas worked at the European Central Bank as a Trainee in the Statistics Development and Coordination division, working primarily with the ECB’s SME access to finance survey, SAFE.

    He has also held positions as Research Assistant at the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow and as Intern at the Centre for Market and Public Organisation, University of Bristol.
    His research interests cover macroeconomics and finance, particularly monetary policy transmission and central bank decision making. Thomas speaks English, conversational Spanish, and basic German.

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