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Soros says China is resembling 2008 US crash

Billionaire financier George Soros has warned that China's debt-fueled growth is bearing an "eerie resemblance" to the conditions leading up to the 2008 financial crash.

"It's similarly fueled by credit growth and eventually unsustainable extension of credit. But it feeds on itself, and it has a lot to do with real estate," he said at an Asia Society roundtable in New York late Wednesday.

"Of course since it feeds on itself, it can reach the turning point later than anybody expects. This happened in America where, you know, 2005/2006 a lot of people like (former chairman of the Federal Reserve) Paul Volcker saw it coming, but it went on to 2007/2008."

George Soros in Jakarta, Indonesia, December, 30, 2014.
Jevayona Delita | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
George Soros in Jakarta, Indonesia, December, 30, 2014.

China, the biggest economic story of the last 30 years, has soured in the eyes of many analysts. A stock market crash that began in the country last summer has thrown the vast difficulties officials are now facing into sharp relief. A raft of data has disappointed in recent months as the country's leaders refocus the economy on consumption from manufacturing.

Soros said that most of the damage usually occurs in the last years of a credit cycle as "more and more credit is needed to sustain growth."

"(China) re-lit the furnaces. They also induced a construction boom and real estate boom. It is a bubble but it can grow and it can feed on itself. And markets are not infallible and they buy into it and of course that is another factor that makes it grow," he added.

"(Stimulus) can buy you additional time but it makes the problem that much bigger. That's where we are."

It's not the first warning from the widely-followed investor but it's likely to play on the fears of nervous investors that have exposure to the world's second-largest economy. Gone are the days of double-digit growth in China with the country posting gross domestic product of 6.7 percent in the first quarter of 2016 - its slowest pace of expansion in seven years.

Nonetheless, credit continues to bulge. Chinese banks made 1.37 trillion yuan ($211.23 billion) in new local-currency loans in March, according to Reuters. The news agency also noted that social financing rose to 2.34 trillion yuan ($360.78 billion) in March from 780.2 billion yuan in February as the country's central bank continues to stimulate the economy and aid its slowing growth.

"It's a warning sign because it shows how much more credit is needed to stop a decline," Soros said, commenting on the March credit data.

Last week, China's vice finance minister sought to ease nerves over the country's high levels of corporate debt, defending the government's performance on the issue in an interview with CNBC.

Corporate debt is estimated at around 160 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and has raised alarm bells with some analysts. In a report last week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that about $1.3 trillion of corporate bank loans were owed by firms which do not earn enough to make interest payments. If left unchecked, that could result in bank losses equal to 7 percent of GDP, the IMF said.

Zhu Guangyao conceded the government needed to "pay attention to avoid any systemic financial risk," but added that at the government level, the debt-to-GDP ratio stood at no more than 40 percent.

"We understand there are challenges on the company side, so that's why we must promote deleverage," he said.

—Antonia Matthews contributed to this article.