China In The Spotlight

More Than Reading Tea Leaves

Okay, non-movie related entry today. Sorry guys, but this stuff keeps being so interesting, so bear with me.

Time Magazine had this article today, pondering the likelihood of China being able to help out Europe as the global financial crisis part 2 unfolds.

China certainly has the cash on hand ($3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves) to make a difference. It also seemingly has a strong interest in keeping global markets afloat. But that wasn’t the take I got at a lunch this week in Hong Kong with a regional banker, an economist, and a Hong Kong politician.

For one thing, frugal Chinese citizens aren’t keen on spending their country’s savings to bail out profligate Europeans, they said. Beijing is already under enough pressure to spend more of its export cash on its own people. The government and China’s sovereign wealth funds also aren’t sold on the idea. That’s partly because China doesn’t feel as vulnerable to Europe’s debt crisis as we might think.

That sounds oddly familiar. For one thing, the Germans don’t want to spend the money to bail out the profligate Greeks but in their instance it can be argued that they should seeing that the Euro actually keeps Germany sheltered from a much more fluctuating and volatile currency. Some have done the sums and think that a re-issued Deutschmark would appreciate 30% above where the Germans are trading, putting a massive dent in their exports.  So an argument can be made that the lazy Greeks are in part keeping the Germans in business, even if they owe too much money.

Furthermore, there’s this interesting article here.

The concerns about Europe’s banks have been simmering in the background for some time. Economists have warned that at the core of the euro zone crisis is an unstable support system: Poorly capitalized banks were holding up poorly financed governments, which in turn were expected to back the poorly capitalized banks. As the sovereign debt crisis has escalated, sucking in giant Italy, those fears have only inched closer to becoming reality. Many influential voices have proclaimed that Europe’s banks just don’t’ have the level of capital necessary to withstand a one-two punch of slowing growth and widening debt crisis. They could end up taking a massive smack from losses on their holdings of European sovereign debt.

Right. And when the European banks start really failing, what is that going to do to Europe which is China’s great export market? Hot on the heels of that article is this article here in Yahoo7.

“Everyone is getting more concerned about risks accumulating domestically (in China)” said Ju Wang, a fixed income strategist at Barclays Capital in Singapore.

The implications for Australia are huge. Although BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have both issued bullish statements about demand from China for our natural resources booming for at least another decade, experts say that producers such as our miners are often the last to know when demand from customers falls off a cliff.

If China’s property market continues to fall, building will stop abruptly and demand for Australian iron ore will plummet because most of our goods go towards building China’s infrastructure.

“This is certainly a big issue and one we cannot afford to be complacent about” said Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP Capital.

“The biggest concern are the loans from outside the banking sector that fuelled the property boom. But there are risks across the economy and it could have a big impact on our exports. China needs to look at loosening monetary policy sooner rather than later to help stop so many investors borrowing from unregulated lenders.”

In other words, China actually needs Europe to sort out this Greek sovereign debt mess because if it doesn’t, it has as much to lose in the ensuing global recession. One can’t say with any confidence that wise heads will prevail in the Euro debate or the US policy debate, let alone who-know-what that passes for policy setting in Beijing. So strap yourselves in for the double-dip recession and hope like hell it doesn’t devolve in to wars and destroy the world.

The Dark Crystal Ball Says…

This one is from Pleiades, and everybody who is vaguely interested in where things are likely to go should have a read of it.

Unless Germany moves quickly to reverse its current account surplus – which is very unlikely – the European crisis will force a sharp balance-of-trade adjustment onto Germany, which will cause its economy to slow sharply and even to contract. By 2015-16 German economic performance will be much worse than that of France and the UK.
If Germany does not take radical steps to push its current account surplus into deficit, the brunt of the European adjustment will fall on the deficit countries with a sharp decrease in domestic demand. This is what the world means when it insists that these countries “tighten their belts”.

If the deficit countries of Europe do not intervene in trade, they will bear the full employment impact of that drop in demand – i.e. unemployment will continue to rise. If they do intervene, they will force the brunt of the adjustment onto Germany and Germany will suffer the employment consequences.

For one or two years the deficit countries will try to bear the full brunt of the adjustment while Germany scolds and cajoles from the side. Eventually they will be unable politically to accept the necessary high unemployment and they will intervene in trade – almost certainly by abandoning the euro and devaluing. In that case they automatically push the brunt of the adjustment onto the surplus countries, i.e. Germany, and German unemployment will rise. I don’t know how soon this will happen, but remember that in global demand contractions it is the surplus countries who always suffer the most. I don’t see why this time will be any different.

About a week after I set down these “predictions”, and two days after I finished this point, I saw in the Financial Times that German growth has already hit a wall. Expect to see a lot more articles like this over the next few years.

The rest of the article makes for fascinating reading.

I was thinking the other day that there is far more debt than there is money in the economies all combined. So at some point somebody is going to be stuck with the un-payable debt, and that will lead to all kinds of conflict. There’s really nowhere to run in the markets or even outside of it. The money you hold might evaporate in policy-led inflation; the assets you hold might devalue severely. The governments you vote in might have to tax you harder than you thought. And none of this would add up to what would be enough.

Ultimately we’re going to end up like Argentina in the late 1990s. You wouldn’t be able to insure anything because insurance companies will die back. All those Woody Allen jokes about insurance salesmen will sound quaint on that day. It’s all in the cards. We live in interesting times, that’s for sure.

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