Tag Archives: China Miracle

Surpluses By Sophists

13 May

Stephen Bartholomeusz at Business Spectator shines a brilliant, all-revealing light on the Rudd Labor “return to surplus”. Unsurprisingly, he shows that the government’s latest budget is really just an exercise in pure political sophistry:

Wayne Swan might claim that the Federal Budget wasn’t a political document but the lengths the government has gone to so it is able to forecast a $1 billion surplus in 2012-13 while still being able to announce some popular pre-election spending tends to contradict his stance. In fact the budget represents a very clever political strategy.

It is a strategy built on the mislabelled resource super profits tax and the increase in tobacco excise announced just ahead of the budget. Without those taxes the surplus wouldn’t have arrived three years earlier than originally forecast, assuming it does arrivethe whole budget is predicated on a massive windfall from the terms of trade generated by a continuing book in commodities.

The really clever bit is that Swan and Rudd know that the opposition can’t support the RSPT, at least in its present form.

By dedicating the revenues they say they will raise from that tax to spending on health, superannuation, cuts to company taxes et al they appear to have funded the core of their platform and will be able to go into the election with the cloak of fiscal rectitude – even though the detail of the tax and the actual revenue it will raise, if any, won’t be known until after the election.

The opposition, therefore, if it wants to match the government in terms of fiscal credibility and deliver that surplus in three year’s time, will start at least $12 billion behind it. It will either have to propose slashing spending or raising taxes, or both to fill in that gap.

The government is presumably betting that the RSPT and its attack on greedy miners and their foreign owners will play favourably in the electorate, particularly as the tax will be dedicated to probably popular measures. So, the opposition will be accused of supporting big miners and opposing worthy spending if it opposes the tax and the measures it is supposed to fund.

After the election, of course, if the Rudd government were returned, their planned protracted ‘consultation’ with the resource sector could, and almost certainly will, lead to significant changes to the detail of the tax.

However, while it might look like clever politics, the RSPT is destructive economics which is going to have a chilling effect on resource industry investment until it is finalised and certainty is restored and which will have long-term and damaging implications for perceptions of sovereign risk and Australia’s attitude towards foreign investment and investors, given the way the sector was ambushed by the nature of the tax and the language the government has used in promoting it.

Whether the tax is ultimately imposed in its current form or redesigned, it won’t raise the revenue the government is claiming it will to get to that $1 billion surplus and, in the meantime an increasingly angry resource sector is telling the world that Australia is now a less attractive and less stable destination for mining sector investment – direct or portfolio.

The RSPT might represent a clever political strategy but the way it has been unveiled and the anti-industry and xenophobic language the government has used to leverage the political mileage in it is increasingly damaging to the national interest.

Bubble Proof: Chinese Maids Buying Houses

3 May

Unsure about the conflicting arguments in the ‘expert’ commentariat about whether China is in a massive real estate bubble?  Consider real-world anecdotes like those following, related by former Morgan Stanley chief economist and now independent Hong Kong-based economist Andy Xie, who has predicted that an overwhelming “get rich quick” mentality has doomed the Chinese economy.

From a must-read article in BusinessWeek:

“My maid just asked for leave,” a friend in Beijing told me recently. “She’s rushing home to buy property. I suggested she borrow 70 percent, so she could cap the loss.”

It wasn’t the first time I had heard such a story in China. Some friends in Shanghai have told me similar ones. It seems all the housemaids are rushing into the market at the same time.

There are benefits to housekeeping for fund managers. China’s housemaids may be Asia’s answer to the shoeshine boy whose stock tips prompted Joseph Kennedy to sell his shares before the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

Another friend recently vacationed in the southern island- resort city of Sanya in Hainan province and felt compelled to visit a development sales office. Everyone she knew had bought there already. It’s either buy or be unsocial.

“You should buy two,” the sharp sales girl suggested. “In three years, the price will have doubled. You could sell one and get one free.”

How could anyone resist an offer like that?

The evidence in official-corruption cases no longer involves cash stashed in refrigerators or starlet mistresses in Versace clothing. The evidence is now apartments. One mid-level official in Shanghai was caught with 24 of them.

China is in the throes of a vast property mania. First, let me make it perfectly clear that calling China’s real-estate market a “bubble” isn’t denying China’s development success. As optimism is an essential ingredient in a bubble, economic success is a necessary condition. Nor am I saying that prices will drop tomorrow. A bubble evolves and bursts in its own time.

China On ‘Treadmill To Hell’ Amid Bubble

9 Apr

From Bloomberg:

China’s property market is a bubble that may burst by as early as this year, according to hedge fund manager James Chanos.

The world’s third-biggest economy may need to keep up the pace of property investment because up to 60 percent of its gross domestic product relies on construction, said Chanos. The bubble may begin to “run its course” in late-2010 or 2011, he said in an interview on “The Charlie Rose Show” that will air on PBS and Bloomberg TV.

China is “on a treadmill to hell,” said Chanos, who said in January the nation is Dubai times a thousand. “They can’t afford to get off this heroin of property development. It is the only thing keeping the economic growth numbers growing.”

Property prices in China rose at the fastest pace in almost two years in February even after officials this year re-imposed a tax on homes sold within five years of their purchase to curb speculation and ordered banks to set aside more funds as reserves to cool lending. The boom in China’s real estate has fueled concern that China may face a collapse seen in Dubai that has hurt the ability of some of its companies to repay debt.

Since his January prediction, Chanos, the founder of Kynikos Associates Ltd, has been joined by Gloom, Doom & Boom publisher Marc Faber and Harvard University professor Kenneth Rogoff in warning of a potential crash in China’s property market.

Barnaby Joyce has been warning about the external threats to the Australian economy since October 2009.  With every passing month, more and more evidence coming from economies around the world – including those such as China that are vital to Australia’s economic interests – indicates that there is big trouble brewing.  While the Ken Henry-led Rudd Government slumbers on in La La Land, spending like drunken sailors, confident of an unending China boom to lift us out of debt, more and more economists abroad are predicting a China crash.

Barnaby is also the only Australian politician with the courage to publicly question the Rudd Government’s weakening of Foreign Investment laws, which have allowed foreign ‘investors’ to help spike Australia’s already unaffordable housing bubble, and put our ownership of vital national assets at risk.  Only Barnaby Joyce has had the courage to call out the Rudd Government for ‘selling the farm’, paddock by paddock.

China Losing Control of Economy

8 Apr

From Bloomberg:

Failure to rein in local government spending could push inflation to 15 percent by 2012, said Victor Shih, a political economist at Northwestern University who spent months tallying government borrowing.

“Increasingly the choice facing the government is between inflation or bad loans,” said Shih, author of the book “Finance and Factions in China,” who teaches political science at the university in Evanston, Illinois. “The only mechanism for controlling inflation in China is credit restriction, but if they use that, this show is over — a gigantic wave of bad loans will appear on banks’ balance sheets.”

Attempts to curb borrowing by raising interest rates would boost debt-servicing costs for local governments. At the same time, tightening credit may stall projects, triggering “a build-up of bad loans,” the Basel, Switzerland-based Bank for International Settlements said in a quarterly report in December.

Sun Mingchun, an economist with Nomura in Hong Kong, estimates local governments have proposed projects with a value of more than 20 trillion yuan since the stimulus package was announced in November 2008.

Should the boom end in a property-market collapse, even those stocks tied to the local government projects will be affected along with most other industries, said Shanghai-based independent economist Andy Xie, formerly Morgan Stanley’s chief Asia economist.

“Corporate profits are very much driven by the property sector,” said Xie. “The largest sectors will be hit hard, especially banks and insurance companies.”

A gauge of property stocks has fallen more than 6 percent this year after more than doubling in 2009 as the government takes steps to cool rising prices, including raising the deposit requirement to 20 percent of the minimum price of auctioned land. Property sales were equivalent to 13 percent of gross domestic product last year.

“Policy makers may need to start thinking about how to handle the aftermath of the bust,” said Nomura’s Sun.

China’s Debt Bubble: When Will The Ponzi Unravel?

6 Apr

From Naked Capitalism via Roubini Global Economics:

Independent Strategy’s latest report, “China’s credit bubble: the missing piece in the jigsaw” makes a persuasive case that China’s debt fueled growth model is due for a hard landing, but the timing is uncertain, since the debt is funded internally.

China is barely past an episode of dealing with banks chock full of bad loans (there were debates among Western analysts in 2002 and 2003 as to how bad the damage was and whether the remedies were sufficient). On a more fundamental level, China has copied the Japanese mercantilist development model pretty much wholesale. It arguably hit the wall with the 1985 Plaza accord, when the US found the continued trade deficits unacceptable and succeed in organizing a G5 intervention to drive up the yen (that succeeded too well, the yen overshot, leading to the Louvre accord to push up the greenback). Japan’s central bank lowered interest rates to stoke asset prices in the hopes that the wealth effect would produce higher domestic consumption and offset the effect of the fall in exports.

We all know how that movie ended…

The report forecasts a large decline in growth rates, as well as land and real estate prices, since LGFVs [Local Government Financing Vehicles] will need to liquidate holdings to try to pay off non-performing loans.

‘Boycott Australian Iron Ore’ – China

6 Apr

From The Australian:

A Chinese industrial group has urged domestic steel companies to stop buying iron ore from the world’s top three miners, including Australia’s Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, in protest of an alleged price monopoly, state media says.

The China Iron and Steel Association has asked domestic steel firms and traders not to import iron ore from Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Brazil’s Vale for two months, the China Net, a government news website said.

The association called for the boycott on April 2 as the most effective means to fight the “monopolistic behaviour” of the three iron ore giants, the report said.

The Rudd Government, economically-led by (unelected) Treasury secretary Ken Henry, are banking on another China-fueled mining boom to bring the budget back to surplus.  In fact, Ken Henry has predicted a “period of unprecedented prosperity”, possibly stretching to 2050, thanks to his belief in a continuous 4-decade China Miracle.

Many leading economists believe that China is in a massive bubble. Some believe it will burst within ten years… others believe by 2012.

Whoever is right, this latest event makes it clear that China is flexing its economic muscles.  Barnaby Joyce’s warnings about changes to the Foreign Investment rules by Rudd Labor only appear more prescient in light of these developments.

China Bubble Ready To Pop

26 Mar

From the Financial Post (Canada):

The Chinese economy is a financial bubble that will inevitably pop, says Edward Chancellor, author of the classic text on financial manias, Devil Take the Hindmost. In a new report for GMO, the Boston-based money manager Mr. Chancellor lists 10 signs of a bubble in progress. They range from “blind faith in the competence of the authorities” to “a surge in corruption” to “inappropriately low interest rates.”

He figures the Chinese economy meets all 10 of the criteria. And he has harsh words for some of the cheerleaders for China: “Wall Street … tends to downplay the darker aspects of the Chinese demographic story,” he writes.

“China’s population is set to decline in 2015. The worker participation rate will peak this year. It’s anticipated that the number of people joining the workforce will fall off quite rapidly. Yet it’s this section of the population that tends to move to cities and has provided China with an apparently limitless supply of cheap labor.”

Mr. Chancellor figures that if China’s economy slows below Beijing’s 8% growth target, calamity will ensue. Excess capacity will stifle new investment, the real estate bubble will burst and non-performing loans will bring down the banking system.

China Says Greek Debt Crisis ‘Tip Of The Iceberg’

26 Mar

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

The euro slumped Thursday to a fresh 10-month low after a senior Chinese central bank official warned that the Greek debt crisis was just the “tip of the iceberg.”

Analysts said the comments, and a debt downgrade for Portugal on Wednesday, suggested the crisis was widening to take in the entire eurozone project.

“The fact that Zhu Min, the deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China, felt compelled … to call the Greek debt crisis ‘the tip of the iceberg,’ is as good an indication as any of how rapidly fundamental concerns are growing about the eurozone,” said analyst Neil Mellor at Bank of New York Mellon.

“Indeed, this comment might well signal the point that we stop talking about a ‘Greek debt crisis’ and start talking about a ‘Eurozone structural crisis’ instead,” Mellor said in a research note to clients.

Please take the time to browse the recent posts on this blog.

Our financial authorities – RBA Governor Glenn Stevens, Treasury Secretary Ken Henry, and the Labor Government – are all convinced that the global financial crisis is ‘over’.

They have publicly declared that Australia is all set for a new, multi-decade mining boom (thanks to China), that will provide us with a “period of unprecedented prosperity”.

They have ridiculed Barnaby Joyce, our only politician with the courage to publicly raise questions about the state of the rest of the world’s economies, and what calamity that might mean for Australia, since last October.

And, all of them (except Barnaby) completely failed to predict the GFC in the first place.

Yet, our media and the public believe that everything is fine.  That the Government can just keep right on borrowing around $2bn a fortnight, to continue squandering on a massive, rushed and bungled “stimulus”.

Barnaby is right.

Ten Ways To Spot A Bubble In China

26 Mar

From SeekingAlpha:

Edward Chancellor, author of the seminal book on financial speculation and manias “Devil Take The Hindmost,” is now turning his eyes to China. He sees a number of red flags which point to excess in China.

Chancellor writes:

“In the aftermath of the credit crunch, the outlook for most developed economies appears pretty bleak. Households need to deleverage. Western governments will have to tighten their purse strings. Faced with such grim prospects at home, many investors are turning their attention toward China. It’s easy to see why they are excited. China combines size – 1.3 billion inhabitants – with tremendous growth prospects. Current income per capita is roughly one-tenth of U.S. levels. The People’s Republic also has a great track record. Over the past thirty years, China’s Gross Domestic Product has increased sixteen-fold.

So what’s the catch? The trouble is that China today exhibits many of the characteristics of great speculative manias

  1. “Great investment debacles generally start out with a compelling growth story.” 100% yes. Check.
  2. “Blind faith in the competence of the authorities.” See Roach’s comments above or read Goldilocks is not sleeping in America anymore; she’s now in China. Check.
  3. “A general increase in investment is another leading indicator of financial distress. Capital is generally misspent during periods of euphoria. Only during the bust does the extent of the misallocation become clear.” See my posts China’s present growth story is built on malinvestment and Jim Chanos still bearish on China, talks malinvestment for evidence that China is misallocating resources. Check.
  4. “Great booms are invariably accompanied by a surge in corruption.” Remember this post “I want to be a corrupt official when I grow up”? That’s exactly what Chancellor is talking about. Check.
  5. “Strong growth in the money supply is another robust leading indicator of financial fragility. Easy money lies behind all great episodes of speculation from the Tulip Mania of the 1630s – which was funded with IOUs – onward.” Andy Xie: Chinese monetary policy has to be tightened Check.
  6. “Fixed currency regimes often produce inappropriately low interest rates, which are liable to feed booms and end in busts.” Think Latvia or Argentina. Are the Baltics the new Argentina? And we know China’s peg is creating problems because that’s a bone of contention right now. Check.
  7. “Crises generally follow a period of rampant credit growth.” “Enron-Esque Characteristics” Hiding An Even More Explosive Credit Growth In China. Check.
  8. “Moral hazard is another common feature of great speculative manias. Credit booms are often taken to extremes due to a prevailing belief that the authorities won’t let bad things happen to the financial system. Irresponsibility is condoned.” See Stephen Roach’s comments again. Check.
  9. “A rising stock of debt is not the only cause for concern. The economist Hyman Minsky observed that during periods of prosperity, financial structures become precarious.” See #7 again. Check.
  10. “Dodgy loans are generally secured against collateral, most commonly real estate.” The Andy Xie story shows you this. Check.

It looks like China is ten for ten. Is China in a bubble blow-off top like Japan post-Plaza accord? I say yes. Anyone who thinks this will not end badly is in for a rude awakening.

China Facing “Boom, Bubble, Bust”

26 Mar

From BusinessWeek:

China appears on track for an “asset boom, bubble and bust” that may take three years to play out and probably won’t be thwarted by tighter economic policy, Citigroup Inc. economists said.

Citigroup joins hedge fund manager Jim Chanos, Gloom, Boom & Doom publisher Marc Faber and Harvard University professor Kenneth Rogoff in warning of a potential crash in China.

“What is policy in China doing about the threat of overheating in the financial and real economy?” Buiter and Shen said. “The short answer is: not much, and not enough to prevent the creation of what could become a major asset boom, bubble and bust.”

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