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Citi's chief economist says China is 'financially out of control'

Willem Buiter, Citigroup chief economist, sees a storm brewing in China.

[NEW YORK] Willem Buiter, Citigroup chief economist, sees a storm brewing in China.

This week, he estimated that there is a 55 per cent chance of a made-in-China global recession in the not too distant future, which he defines as a period of sub-2 per cent global growth.

Without a massive, consumer-focused stimulus plan, he argues, Chinese growth will slip below 4 per cent. This would constitute a recession for the world's second-largest economy, according to Buiter, and the rest of the world wouldn't be insulated from the slowdown.  Buiter appeared on BloombergTV to discuss his headline- grabbing call.

The cause of his consternation is the immense debt that Chinese non-financial companies have racked up in a short period of time.

Over the past decade, the indebtedness of China's private sector has exploded and exceeded that of the US, which Buiter pointed out has a much more advanced economy and sophisticated financial system: "I think things are financially out of control in China and we are waiting for the regulators and supervisors to bring things back under control and to do for the financial system the kind of things - recapitalizing banks and other systemically important financial institutions - that would give you the underpinning for continued growth," he said.

The economist isn't too optimistic about the prospects for the powers in Beijing to resolve their bloated credit situation. Chinese policymakers are playing a game of "extend and pretend," said Mr Buiter, drawing a parallel to the European Union's penchant for reaching short-term solutions to the crisis in Greece.

"Until the problems in the banking sector, the financial sector generally, and in the corporate sector - the excessive debt burden - is tackled by the government, the only entity that can do it, I think the prospects for resumption of healthy growth in China are dim," he concluded.