The example of China illustrates the ways that credit can flow through the economy: good investment, bad investment, and asset price inflation:
Some is spent fruitfully, on new capital and infrastructure, increasing the economy’s productive capacity. Because lending of this kind adds to both demand and supply, it should result in higher economic growth without higher inflation. Another chunk of credit is spent wastefully, either on consumption or on misconceived projects, such as bridges without destinations or coal mines without markets. These loans add nothing to the economy’s productive capacity, but they do add to demand. They make a claim on the economy’s goods and services, without adding anything to its ability to provide them. Credit of this second kind should, then, result in higher inflation, increasing nominal GDP but not real GDP. The surprising lack of inflation suggests that much of China’s credit is instead of a third kind. It is spent speculatively, on existing assets, real or financial, in the hope they will rise in value. Because these assets already exist, they can be purchased (and repurchased) without adding directly to GDP or straining the economy’s capacity to produce new goods and services. Credit and asset prices can chase each other higher, even as consumer prices remain flat.