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