Figuring out the Value of Yuan

John Mauldin looks at the true value of Yuan and its impact.

Recent Chinese stock market volatility has had more to do with China’s currency than its stocks. Donald Trump and other politicians (yes, he is one) often assail Beijing for devaluing its currency and acquiring an unfair advantage.

First, the Chinese have actually been manipulating their currency upwards. While countries in the rest of the world have been letting their currencies devalue against the dollar, China has maintained an effective dollar peg until very recently. And then the “move” that seems to have everybody in a dither was only about 4%. To be fair, what really had the markets worried was that this move might presage an effective devaluation. And considering that China has watched the euro, the yen, and nearly every emerging-market currency drop anywhere from 30 to 50% against the yuan – a rather painful experience for its export sector – the Chinese have been quite patient.

Beijing think it can boost exports by manipulating its currency lower? I don’t think so. Remember how their business model works. Unlike, say, Saudi Arabia, China doesn’t simply extract resources from the ground and export them. Chinaimports raw materials, transforms them into finished goods in its factories, and then exports those goods. Their gain lies in the value added in the manufacturing process.

That means that China can’t grow exports without also growing imports. Pushing the yuan lower helps, but it’s a relatively inefficient tool for reducing the trade surplus.

Cheapening the currency has another consequence China doesn’t want. It makes imported products more expensive for Chinese consumers. The country’s abilities are growing fast, but it still depends on outside sources for many important goods. Making them cost more doesn’t help build the consumer-driven economy Beijing says it wants.

For those reasons and more, China Beige Book has a contrarian view on the Chinese currency. They believe Beijing wants the yuan to rise, not fall. So what is happening with all these interventions the Chinese authorities are making in the currency market?

The first point to remember is that the adjustments have all been quite small – far smaller than the hoopla suggests. For all the clamor that erupted last year, the yuan fell just over 4.5% against the dollar. That’s quite a lot if you are leveraged 10x, as currency traders often are, but for most merchants and consumers the change was hardly noticeable.

Recall all that happened in 2015. Aside from the stock market fireworks, China won acceptance of the yuan into the IMF’s reserve currency basket. It also watched the Federal Reserve finally make a first, tentative move toward higher rates and a correspondingly stronger dollar. If all that couldn’t crush the yuan, it’s not clear to me that anything will.

 

The second point is critical: China controls its currency by both central bank action and subtler tools. They have immense power to nudge the currency up or down. Tightening and loosening the controls is like turning a volume knob. They can crank the yuan up or turn it down.

Presently they are clamping down harder than usual in order to deter speculation. Much of this is happening under the radar, one business and industry at a time. Nevertheless, people are starting to feel the consequences.

Source: Mauldin Economics

 

 

 

Understanding the Chinese Transition

John Mauldin looks at the latest happenings in the Chinese Economy and their significance.

China Beige Book’s fourth-quarter report revealed a rude interruption to the positive “stable deceleration” trend. Their observers in cities all over that vast country reported weakness in every sector of the economy. Capital expenditures dropped sharply; there were signs of price deflation and labor market weakness; and both manufacturing and service activity slowed markedly.

That last point deserves some comment. China experts everywhere tell us the country is transitioning from manufacturing for export to supplying consumer-driven services. So if both manufacturing and service activity are slowing, is that transition still happening?

The answer might be “yes” if manufacturing were decelerating faster than services. For this purpose, relative growth is what counts. Unfortunately, manufacturing is slowing while service activity is not picking up all the slack. That’s not the combination we want to see.

Something else China Beige Book noticed last quarter: both business and consumer loan volume did not grow in response to lower interest rates. That’s an important change, and probably not a good one. It means monetary stimulus from Beijing can’t save the day this time. Leland thinks fiscal stimulus isn’t likely to help, either. Like other governments and their central banks, China is running out of economic ammunition.

One quarter doesn’t constitute a trend. Possibly some transitory factors depressed the Chinese economy the last few months, and it will soon resume its “stable deceleration” course. It is hard to imagine what those factors might have been, though. The data is so uniformly negative that it sure looks like something big must have changed.

What does this economic weakness say for Chinese stocks? Probably nothing. It should be clear to all that the Chinese stock market is completely unrelated to the Chinese economy. They don’t move together, nor do they move opposite each other. They have no consistent connection at all – or at least not one we can use to invest confidently. I went to Macau when I was in Hong Kong a few weeks ago, just to observe the fabled fervor with which the Chinese gamble. The place did indeed have a different “feel” than Las Vegas does. I’m not the only one to think that the Chinese stock market is just an outpost of Macau, but one in which leverage and monetary stimulus can overload the system.

Let me say that there are real companies with real value in China. But the rules on the ground, not to mention the accounting, make it a particularly treacherous market to invest more than your own “gambling money.”

Source: Mauldin Economics

Chinese Economy braced for a Reality Check

Valentin Schmid evaluates the Bank of America Report on the Chinese Economy.

The Chinese regime still has considerable power over the markets. After a 7 percent crash of the Shanghai Composite on January 4, it managed to reverseanother 3 percent drop on January 5.

So, in the very short term, all is well. In the long term and even in 2016, Bank of America sees big problems ahead for the Chinese economy. According to their analysts, the regime has to fight multiple battles at once and will ultimately lose to market forces.

“We judge that China’s debt situation has probably passed the point of no-return and it will be difficult to grow out of the problem,” states a report by Bank of America’s chief strategist David Cui.

The report points out that a spike in private sector debt almost inevitably leads to a financial crisis. China’s private debt to GDP ratio went up 75 percent between 2009 and 2014, bringing total debt-to-GDP to about 300 percent. Too much to sustain.

This is “a classic case of short-term stability breeding long-term instability. It’s our assessment that the longer this practice drags on, the higher the risk of financial system instability, and the more painful the ultimate fallout will be,” Cui writes.

For the coming crisis, Cui believes China will probably have to devalue its currency, write off bad debts, recapitalize the banks, and reduce the debt burden with high inflation.

After the events of last August, and after the International Monetary Fund finally included China in its reserve currency basket, the regime completely abandoned the stable currency objective and let the yuan drift lower. The regime promises reform, and even follows through in some cases. But if push comes to shove, it resorts to central planning to mould the market according to its needs, with less and less success.

“It seems to us that the government’s policy options are rapidly narrowing-one only needs to look at how difficult it has been for the government to hold up GDP growth since mid-2014. A slowdown in economic growth is typically a prelude to financial sector instability,” writes Cui, and predicts the Shanghai Composite to drop by 27 percent in 2016.

Source: Bank of America Report

 

6 Key Investment Themes For The Next Decade

Reported by Zerohedge for Asia Confidential:Thematic investing, or investing based on emerging themes, is fraught with some danger. Many people invest in the latest hot theme and get burned soon enough. Others mindlessly put their money into a company based on a theme without regard to valuation or quality of management – another sure-fire way to end up in the red.And let’s face it: the future is inherently uncertain. If picking future investment themes was easy, everyone would be sipping pina coladas in Bora Bora. The best investors know this and place their bets according to probabilities. That is, they invest when the odds are in their favour and invest large amounts when those odds offer significant upside with minimal risk.The question then becomes this: which investment themes might give you the best odds of success over the next decade? It’s a tough question. If there’s one thing for which I have a high degree of conviction, it’s that the world is currently drowning in debt and that debt will need to be cut, one way or another. If that’s right, you’ll want to avoid sectors which have benefited most from the three decade long expansion in credit. The finance sector is an obvious one and the bear market here is likely to last decades. The tech sector is another – think of all the tech start-ups and others which will evaporate when the silly venture capitalists funding them don’t have access to cheap and abundant money. There are many other sectors which will suffer too.In other words, you’ll probably want investment exposure to themes which may still thrive in a world of shrinking credit. There won’t be many of them but Asia Confidential has a few ideas. Asian outbound tourism has been, and should continue to be, a strong theme which transforms the global tourism sector. Privatisation of state-owned assets appears a sure thing – in the developed world as well as China – given bloated government balance sheets. Acquirers with deep pockets should benefit. Low to mid-end consumption should do well as developed world consumers tighten their belts while Asian ones start to spend more with increased wages. Finally, gold is likely to thrive as the credit boom turns to bust and faith in government policies and currencies is shaken.

Asia outbound tourism

I remember doing a research report as a sell-side analyst in Indonesia in early 2006 looking at the potential boom in visitors to the beautiful beaches of Bali due to a growing influx of Chinese tourists. It was considered then a far-flung theory as Bali was still suffering from a series of terrorist bombings and Chinese tourists only accounted for about 6% of total visitors to the island. Since then though, Balinese tourism has surged and the Chinese have played a significant part in that. China now tops Japan as the country with the second-largest number of visitors to Bali behind Australia. And Chinese tourists account for nearly 12% of total visitors to the island, double that of 2006.

Back then, there were no airlines offering direct flights from China to Bali. Now there are several. That’s not counting the many charter flights which the Chinese take to the island. In Bali today, there are also slews of foot massage shops, jewellers, status artwork and other items catering to Chinese consumers, Chinese restaurants and Chinese speaking guides.

These trends are not only happening in Bali, but in every tourist destination across the world. Chinese tourists are driving growth and their needs are being increasingly catered too. And those needs are very different to tourists from the U.S., Europe or Japan. For instance, Chinese tourists spend much more money on shopping vis-a-vis hotels. Various studies suggest two-thirds of Chinese overseas tourists spend more than 20% of their budgets on shopping with 25% spending greater than 50% of their budgets on shopping.

The trend of increasing Chinese outbound tourism looks set to continue. In 2012, the Chinese outbound tourism market became the world’s largest, moving ahead of the U.S. and Germany. The number of annual Chinese outbound tourists now totals 83 million, up almost 8x since 2000.

 

The great thing about this trend is that it appears to be in its infancy. Think about how the Japanese, having fully recovered from the ravages of World War Two, took to the skies from the 1970s and transformed tourism destinations such as Hawaii and Australia’s Gold Coast. They also transformed the airlines, hotels, amusement parks, travel agents, restaurant chains, spa and beach resorts as well as duty free stores which catered to them.

The same thing is likely to happen as China and other Asian countries catch the travel bug. The companies which best fulfil their needs will be big winners.

I like the Macau casino operators in the long-term even though valuations are somewhat stretched at present. Macau accounts for almost 30% of Chinese outbound tourism and that number should increase as transport infrastructure to the territory improves. Among the casino companies, U.S.-headquartered Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) is probably the pick of the bunch.

I also like Hong Kong retailers as a play on Chinese tourism. Hong Kong is still the dominant destination for Chinese tourists and is likely to remain so. Though be wary of some of the high-end retailers who’ve benefited from the lavish spending habits of corrupt Communist Party officials. That may not last.

Finally, hotel operators with significant Asian exposure should do well. Thailand conglomerate, Minor International (SET:MINT), is my preferred stock in this space.

Privatisation of state-owned assets

In 2011, the world’s biggest private equity firms were busy raising money to take advantage of over-indebted European countries needing to shed state-owned assets to stay afloat. Wholesale asset sales never really happened though as these countries papered over cracks, with the help of a few trillion dollars from the European Central Bank.

Europe’s problems haven’t gone away though. And the problems aren’t limited to Europe, as governments in the U.S., U.K, Japan and China have similar issues. Put simply, all of them have too much government debt. And one way or another, that debt will need to be cut back. Whether through write-downs, austerity, inflation or a combination of all of them, the debt will be reduced.

One way to cut debt is through the privatisation of state-owned assets. I think that this will be one of the enduring investment themes of the next decade. Ironically, it seems probable that the paragon of communism, China, will be the first to accelerate the sale of government-owned assets in an effort to reduce the influence of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and encourage competition.

Which companies will benefit from the broad-based sale of state-owned assets? Well, most would point to private equity firms such as Blackstone and TPG. But I’d suggest otherwise as these firms rely on outside funds and in a credit-deprived world, these funds will dry up.

Instead, I’d look to conglomerates with deep pockets and minimal debt to take advantage of asset sales. Some of the large North American companies such as Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) and Brookfield Asset Management (NYSE:BAM) should be in poll position.

In Asia, it’s a bit trickier as the private companies bidding on state-owned assets will need high-level government connections to be successful. Particularly in Japan and China.

Low to mid-end consumption

In the West, excess debt and declining real wages have resulted in consumers cutting back on spending since 2008. That’s been bad for high-end retailers but good for businesses such as dollar stores. It’s a trend which is likely to continue for many years to come.

In Asia, the situation is very different. Consumer balance sheets are in great shape, barring South Korea. Savings are abundant while debt is minimal. Better yet, wages are growing rapidly, even in slowing economies such as China, India and Indonesia. Excess savings and rising wages augur well for future spending.

Moreover, you have countries such as China which are encouraging people to spend more. It’s part of China’s strategy to re-balance its economy away from being over-reliant on investment for economic growth.

As a consequence, low to mid-end consumer companies across the globe are likely to do well going forward. In the developed world, consumers will continue to trade down. In the developing world, you should have people spending more, albeit still at the lower end given most of the region, including China and India, remains poor.

I’m not an expert on consumer companies in the developed world but discount operators should outperform from here. Dollar store companies in the U.S., U.K. and Australia have recently underperformed on hopes of economic recovery, which may provide some interesting potential entry points.

In my neighbourhood of Asia, Hong Kong headquartered, Giordano (HKSE:709), is one of the best low-end clothing retailers in the region and is inexpensive at current levels. Other exceptional consumer brands worth looking at include Chinese beer giant, Tsingtao Brewery (HKSE:168), and Thailand television operator, BEC World (BSE: BEC).

Gold

Long-time readers will know my preference for having gold in an investment portfolio. Gold has two things going for it. First, if you think that debt contraction is probable in future as I do, that brings risks to the world’s financial system. After all, the still thinly-capitalised banks own much of the debt which will need to be restructured/written down. Therefore, it’s be wise to own assets which sit outside the financial system. That’s where gold comes into play.

Secondly, the current policies of the world’s central banks may be preventing the contraction in debt which needs to occur to cleanse the financial system. In my view, central bank moves to reflate the credit bubble are likely to lead to a larger credit bust down the track. In many ways, gold is the anti-central bank. The less faith that you have in central banks, the more gold that you should own.

As for the best ways to play gold, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and stocks both have counterparty risks, though I do find the latter attractive given they’re arguably the most hated assets on the planet. Physical gold is my preferred way to play this theme though as it’s the least risky of these options.

Agriculture

If a prudent investment strategy involves holding physical assets outside of the financial system, then agriculture should also be considered. Unlike many of the hard commodities, agriculture has a serious supply-demand imbalance which should result in prices remaining elevated for years to come.

Agriculture inventories are at multi-decade lows. That means inventories are being drawn down as consumption exceeds production. Global agricultural production has only increased by 2.1% per annum over the past decade and the OECD forecasts that growth rate will decline to 1.5% over the next ten years.

The principle reasons behind the lack of supply are limited expansion of agricultural land, increasing environmental pressures, rising production costs and growing resource constraints.

Meanwhile, demand continues to grow solidly primarily due to growing populations, higher incomes and changing diets (higher calorific intakes) in developing markets. On the latter, for example, it’s well known that meat consumption increases as a country becomes wealthier. The OECD predicts that the developing world will account for 80% of the growth in meat consumption over the next decade.

 

While droughts in recent years and subsequent surges in agricultural prices have grabbed television headlines, it’s worth remembering that these events merely exacerbated the already tight supply in soft commodities. And it seems that tight supply will only worsen unless there are major technological breakthroughs to improve agricultural productivity.

As for where best to get investment exposure to agriculture, I’d suggest you look at commodities where supply-demand imbalances may further deteriorate, such as sugar, coffee and potash.

Infrastructure

In the U.S., good arguments have been made for an urgent upgrade of creaking infrastructure. Increased spend on infrastructure could create jobs, improve security at ports and electricity grids as well as keep the U.S. competitive with China – all of which could be financed at exceedingly low interest rates thanks to Mr Bernanke’s quackery. But political gridlock means it probably won’t happen.

In the developing world, the problem is not of repairing infrastructure, but building it. Some countries such as Singapore and China are host to some of the world’s best highways, airports and ports. Others such as India and Indonesia remain in the dark ages.

For instance, Indonesia spends just 1.7% of GDP on infrastructure, compared to China’s 8%. More than 40% of Indonesia’s roads remain unpaved. The country has only 11 miles of railway line per person, less than half that of Thailand, India or China.

Anyone who’s been in a traffic jam in Jakarta can attest to the underspend. Are traffic jams in Jakarta the worst of any capital city in the world, I wonder?

The likes of Indonesia don’t have any choice but to improve infrastructure, and fast. Otherwise, supply bottlenecks will choke economic growth. The cement sector in Indonesia is an oligopoly and a great way to play to the increased infrastructure spend to come. Indocement (JSE: INTP) is the pick of the bunch.

This post was originally published at Asia Confidential: http://asiaconf.com/2013/10/06/6-key-investment-themes/

Roubini Says ‘Hyped Up’ BRIC Success at Risk on Rising State

By Lyubov Pronina for Bloomberg:

The biggest developing nations risk overturning the achievements of the past decade by increasing the state’s role in the economy, according to Nouriel Roubini.

Roubini — dubbed Dr. Doom for predicting hard times before the global financial crisis began in 2008 — said Brazil, Russia, India and China have been moving away from market economies recently.Roubini Says ‘Hyped Up’ BRIC Success at Risk on Rising State Nouriel Roubini said, “BRICs have been hyped up too much.” Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

“BRICs have been hyped up too much,” Roubini said in an interview today at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. “Too much state role in enterprises, banks, resource nationalization, protectionism, lack of structural market-oriented reforms that increase the size of the private sector — this is happening in most of the BRICs.”

China maintained control of its biggest companies, Russian businesses spent shareholder money on projects favored by the government and Brazilian politicians intervened to cut utility rates last year.

State-owned OAO Gazprom (GAZP) may lose its monopoly on natural gas exports as long as the move doesn’t cut prices and damage Russia’s economic interests, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in a Jan. 23 interview in Davos. Gazprom is using its cash to finance the industry’s largest capital expenditure program, part of which goes to fund projects favored by President Vladimir Putin.

Downgrade Threat

It took the threat of a credit-rating downgrade for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s administration to remove barriers on foreign investment in the retail and aviation industries and cut fuel subsidies. Roubini, a professor at New York University, said he favors the Philippines and Indonesia over China and India.

“They are actually doing more in terms of structural reform,” Roubini said. “The economies are growing more than 6 percent.”

Developing economies are set to grow by an average 5 percent worldwide this year, compared with 1 percent for advanced nations, according to Roubini.

In Latin America, Chile and Colombia “have done a lot of things to improve their potential for growth,” he said. “In central Europe, I see success stories like Poland and Czech Republic doing reforms.”

Source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-01-25/roubini-says-hyped-up-brics-risk-success-on-growing-state-1-.html