Tag Archives: China

My Top 5 Biggest New Year Risks to the Global Economy

In order or scale, priority and impact, here are my picks for the five most critical trigger-points that may impact, negatively, a return to ‘old normal’. Currently we stand at the edifice of a new normal, the great stagflation, but the anti-establishment and populist changes taking place seem to suggest a knew-jerk reaction by nations fed up with socialist dressed-up-as-market politics that have led the West for 20 years.

  1. China’s economy stagnates or crashes. Debt levels are above EM levels and are now among the largest, approaching the incredulous Japanese levels. This dynamic is not sustainable for a nation whose currency is not a reserve currency. However the economy is the world second largest even without the development and emergence of whole swathes of other sectors such as healthcare and leisure, which may offset contracting first world growth over the next year or two. So the risk is there and there is no clear leaning one way or the other, yet. But debt is growing faster than these new sectors; exchange reserves at $3bn are limited (though huge), and currency value management is not market-bases. So greater risk is with the downside. China’s growth flags, currency sinks, counterbalancing US growth and confidence, creating a massive imbalance in the global economy. Europe watches on as global GDP sinks under its own debt weight. KPI’s to avoid/watch out for: China GDP falls to or below 4.5%; China’s debt load surpasses 300% of GDP.
  2. Trump quits after 18 months due to intractable political limitations that prevent policy changes he seeks related to healthcare, regulatory complexity, tax reform and trade. Trump’s political rhetoric is being replaced with solid business-based policy. However not all such policies have ever been tested at a national level and scale. Some efforts will fall foul to physical, social and political limitations. This may prove frustrating for Trump. As growth will return short term, such medium term frustration will lead Trump to claim, “My policies worked, see? But now the system has reached its limit and there is nothing I can do until the country agrees with me to shut down the whole government system! Since they are not ready, yet, I am ‘outa here’ until they are!” Markets crash, interest rates balloon, inflation rages all within a year. World economy sinks into the abyss. KPI’s to avoid/watch out for: US GDP 1H 2017 reaches 4.5% but Congressional conflict leads to policy deadlock ; vacancy in position at Whitehouse. 
  3. Emerging Marker currency crisis as massed capital investment is siphoned away towards a resurgent US economy and dominant dollar, as well as a stable and even growing China economy. This situation is already underway. The risk is that what is currently a reasonably ordered trend becomes a financial route. This is possible since the financial markets are starved of yield due to the collective policies of central banks to keep interest rates very low for too long and for the build up in their massive balance sheets. If the trend becomes a torrent, EM’s will have to yank up interest rates far beyond what their local economics can support and economic disaster will follow. This will ferment more political instability and drive increased destabilizing ebonies to ruin. Though the US may be growing well, compared to its peers, it’s the imbalance they tips the ship over. KPI’s to avoid/watch out for: dollar index, the weighted value against basket of currencies, surpasses 115. It is currently at 103.33, which is a 14 year high; EM interest rate differential balloons.
  4. Hard Brexit forced through by intransigent Europeans who think the EU experiment is more about political union than economic liberalism. A new trade deal, legal framework and social contract can be negotiated within a two year window. But only if politicians and civil servants want it too. Continental politicians however, under the strain from populist pressures, will equate intransigence over Brexit negotiations with an improved politicos standing with their electorates. Fool for them as this will actually create the opposite response for such behavior will simply worsen the economic climate. The lack of any sign of return to old normal will lead to political paralysis and the clock will time-out. Hard Brexit will be forced upon a supplicant Britian. Europe and UK economies will tank; currency wars will wage; global trade will collapse further. This will not sunk the global economy short term but will act as a dead weight slowing its resurgence down. KPI’s to avoid/watch out for: no agreement at end of two year period lost triggering of Article 50. 
  5. Latin or Indian debt or economic crisis. Much like with other EM’s, growing sectors of significant size around the world may blow up- India being the best example. India’s growth is different to China. It is more integrated socially and politically with the west, but it’s corruption levels are far greater than what one can see or observe in China. It is possible that local economic difficulties, hard to observe today, may trigger a collapse in confidence that leads to a destabilizing debt or currency crisis. Brazil’s economy is certainly in the dock currently; Argentina is struggling. India’s economy looks like paradise right now but the growth across the country is extremely uneven- you only have to look at public sector infrastructure investment. So should two such countries suffer local difficulties, the combination may result in significant risk to the global financial system. KPI’s to avoid/watch out for: two simultaneous financial/debt crisis afflicting EM or India.

These are my top 5 risks the global economy faces in 2017. I hope I am wide of the mark, in a positive way. I left Japan off the top 5 list yet their economy remains anathema to growth. The Japanese market invented the whole new normal cycle with a anaemic growth, massive debt, low inflation, and demographic contraction. And Japan has an amazing debt load that refuses to spook investors. Things may yet have a Japanese tinge before the year end. Does Japan, along with the US, lead the global economy back to the old normal!
What potential risks do you see?

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Trumponomics is About to go Global

The critics were wrong and we know this now. On election market futures tanked on the hint that Clinton would lose and Trump might win. They and their pundits assumes that mediocrity and continuation of the Obama polices would permit the investor class to get richer so Trump represented change and risk. Not five hours later the market reverses and streaks ahead.  

Today the market continues to charge ahead. Trump’s election promises of lower taxes, less regulation, less government, seems to be recognized for what it is- a growth agenda. But more importantly, Trump’s winning will result in the export of his policies abroad.

The dollar was already strong against all other currencies. The Fed has no choice but to seek to get to normality with interest rates, and soon. The more the US economy morphs towards higher GDP growth, the more US interest rates will rise. This is a good thing. We need to return to the old normal or an approximation for it.  

But as rates rise so the dollar will surge alongside GDP. As the dollar surges imbalances in exchange rates will lead to two cycles:

  1. Liquidity will center on US and emerging markets and other developed marked will contract as money seeks yield. This will starve other regions of cash. At the same time US exports will be hampered (not overly important to US national economy as a percentage) and for other nations, exports will balloon as their currency is cheaper. The result will be that the US trade deficit will itself balloon again. Inflation will get a fillip due to increased US demand (note that inflation is already showing signs of stability) and as a result, trade partners will suffer greatly under either the weight of their new economic normal (zero rates, no inflation, high relative tax rate, loose monetary policy) being inconsistent with a resurgent US or lack of capital.
  2. As a result, trading partners will need to raise their own interest rates to help stabilize currency markets. This will alleviate some of the dollar’s strength. But if this is the only policy followed, those trading partners will sink into the abyss of stagflation. They will therefore need to emulate many other of Trump’s polices in order to ‘keep up’. So deregulation, lower taxes and more devolved government (perhaps focused on education improvements and local healthcare) will follow.

Trump and his ‘buddy’ Yellen will together export Trumponomics around the world. And it will likely start by the middle of 2017 as the first increase in interest rates in Japan, Europe and/or in some emerging market is triggered.  

The real question though, the real conundrum, concerns China. China is still in a massively debt-fueled growth period and its currency continues to fall against the dollar. Trumponomics will push the Yuan down further and faster, helping Chinese exports to the US. But China will need to raise rates internally, or sell US treasuries (to buy yuan) or buy selling dollars from its massive foreign exchange reserves. Any and all of these will force the Fed to raise treasury yield and rates. Thus the entire cycle that has kept the world economy down for six years will reverse and little will stop it accelerating quickly. It could easily overheat within two years.  

China’s currency to be added to IMF’s SDR basket as of October 1. About two years too early.

Transcript of an IMF Conference Call on the SDR Basket.

This is a big risk for the IMF and suggests a confidence challenge as they could not resist the pressure from China. The RMB is not yet freely or fully convertible. China has a close-hand on how the currency moves. The IMF is thus handcuffing its own possible monetary policy instrument (it keeps talking about the SDR playing a legitimate role in currency trade settlements). Worse, when firms claim against their own SDR, their fees will be partly held hostage to China’s own rate setting for its currency.

This move by the IMF is too early and mostly as a result of pandering to the growth of China and its [IMF] effort to try to help work with/control how China evolves in the wider world. The RMB should be planned for and accommodated in the SDR, but not until full and free convertibility.

Two Long Term Concerns Stand Taller then Brexit

Two articles in this weekend’s US print editions of the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times highlight the real concerns that threaten global growth, far more so than the ministrations of (hopefully) rational politicians soon to embroil in Brexit negotiations. One concerns China and the other Italy.
In “Rising Worries Cloud China GDP“, Alex Frangis of the WSJ reports that GDP continues to show signs of weakness and more importantly, how the declining GDP is accounted for, is more troubling than its decline. It seems private investment continues to decline and public debt continues to raise.
The declining private sector investment is bad since it already represents the lions share of investment. So as that declines, overall GDP declines and the smaller sector of public debt has to step up. But this is exactly the opposite trend China needs to help transition its economy from product based to consumer based.
Housing prices show signs of cooling though by western standards the numbers are impressive. At the same time anecdotal data on unemployment shows troubling shifts too. Overall the article suggests all the wrong data points we need to suggest positive changes. If anything, China is headed towards more problems and with that, so do we.
The second article, “Exploiting the fine print to save Italy’s Banks“, Dan MccRum a and Thomas Hale of the FT, report the troubling challenges facing EU regulators that still have not closed all the leaks that sprang up post the Greek crisis. Forget the fact that Greece’s economy remains a basket case, Italy’s banks are in trouble. Italy never addressed the bed debt problem overhanging their economy; they neither farmed out all major losses to debt holders, nor give off the bad debts to a ‘bad bank’. The chickens are coming home to roost.  
The resolution will be yet another fiddle by the EU. The Italian banks will need a bail out using public funds. Italy is always over budget and should face an EU penalty for financial promiscuity. It will be waived, as it has been waived for France and Germany before. Why do we even accept such rules if they just don’t count?  
If we ignore the politics of rule setting and bypassing then, and just focus on Italy’s financing, we can determine that the fundamental issues facing Greece are not dissimilar to Italy. What differs is how such nations seek to address those challenges. Italy needs to modernize and revamp its banking and investment sector. It needs to address losses that have piled up. Until, and if, it does, the Euro will remain a troubled currency. This is what sits at the heart of a rotten Europe.

The Relentless Rise of the Dollar and Fall of the Yuan

With sentiment at the Fed shifting toward a rate rise in June, and news today in the Wall Street Journal (see China loses resolve to revamp Yuan) that China is again worried about the pressure on the Yuan, we can all predict what is about to happen. 

The low interest rate the Fed promotes has been described as a response by the Fed to the lack of active policy by the US government to drive economic growth. The market distortion as a result of the low interest rate are frightening. There was a piece, albeit an opinion, in yesterday’s Financial Tines that explained the impact on savings (negative), retirement planning (disastrous), and debt (growing toward all time highs again).   But we will not change the government’s actions overnight, not until November that is, and even that is not guaranteed. So we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Fed wants to raise rates but has to avoid chocking off the meager growth that is limping along.

China has its own economic challenges. As it wrestles with the gradual transition from a manufacturing based economy to a consumer and services based economy, it is using the exchange rate to control its export competitiveness. Note that in recent times, in studying the UK’s transition between late 1950’s to the 1990’s, this effort won’t be easy or quick. But China is trying to move quickly, perhaps too quickly.  And despite the IMF signaling it’s faith that China was going to let the market drive the Yuan’s exchange rate, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) continues to take action to stabilize its currency. 

Assuming the Fed increase interest rates in June, we will all hear that big sucking sound again as capital flies from emerging markets including China back to American shores and the powering dollar. This will trigger a fall in the Yuan and the PBOC will again start to leverage its foreign exchange reserve to stem the losses. That reserve has fallen from an estimated $4th to about $3.2tn in the last year or so. The question is, how far can that reserve go in defending the Yuan?

Sterling was ‘broken’ in the 1970’s and the U.K. Government had to go to the IMF for a loan – check out “Decline to Fall: The Making of British Macro-Economic Policy and the 1976 IMF Crisis, Douglas Wass, 2008”.  That was a low point for the UK. The pound was again ‘broken’, perhaps more famously, by George Soros during ‘black Friday’ when the UK was forced to leave the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), a pegged exchange-rate system that preceded the single currency, the euro. 

Clearly the PBOC won’t use up all its reserves. So the question becomes: what is the level at which the market expects massive red flags? Perhaps a leading indicator to watch are the monthly reported FX outflows from the PBOC. As that ramps up, the red flags will start to fly. And they won’t be the party flags of choice- they will be the economic panic flags that none of us want to see.

The Incredible Shrinking Chinese FX Reserve

See: China capital outflow pressure persists.
Good news: Chinese reported foreign exchange reserves reversed recent direction and recovered in March and April.

Bad news: The falling dollar, triggered by the US Federal reserve’s no stationary interest rate policy, helps stem the flow.

Even worse news: If you take account of updated valuation of the dollar since its slide began, the actual flow of funds from China’s FX reserve did continue to contract: by $54bn.

At some point this year the Fed will raise rates again. The dollar’s fall will halt; it most likely will rise in value and with, that great big sucking sound will again reverberate around the world. Capital will flow towards the stronger dollar, the yuan and various assorted emerging markets will come under strain and China will again, in earnest, use its FX reserve to slow the yuan’s fall.  

Add to this the current moribund state of the global economy and their can only be one outcome: ongoing imbalances across major economies and no sign of the necessary collaboration to regenerate growth.

Fed Watch: Taking a Long-term, Global View, Suggests No Interest Rate Rise for a While

The IMF’s annual fiscal monitor is as full of good and albeit hapless ideas as ever. It’s gets off to a poor start. The IMF has been calling (correctly) on large economies to increase debt and spend such money on growth generating projects. This could include infrastructure spending or perhaps tax rebates or write-offs for increased innovation or capital investment. The executive summary reports that government debt has been increasing and now approaches pre-crisis levels- yet money (debt) has not been used in the way the IMF suggested, nor has it been coordinated by regions. The money has been squandered on political issues and wasted away. Consequently growth remains lacking and yet risks are now greater and growing. IMF scores a B+ for ideas, D- for coordination. And leading nations a strait F for fail.

More alarming news in this weekends US print edition of the Financial Times is in an article titled, Chinese shadow lending evades regulation and more critically, a Comment by George Magnus, associate at Oxford University’s Chine Centre and senior economic advisor at UBS, titled China’s debt reckoning cannot be deferred indefinitely. This last article calls out the known risks: the share of total credit in the economy is approaching 260 per cent of GDP. It seems it is on track to bust past 300 per cent by 2020. Note here that the US is in a simile boat. Ignoring all the complexities in the data, its reliability and quality, it seems China has so little wiggle room to cope with any economic pressure and also little head room to sustain its credit binge.

The first article suggests that even though official credit might be at straining point, there is much more credit being created outside of the official governance. Given the reportedly growing amount of bad loans, all this boasts badly for China, and so the global economy. If China were to sneeze, we all would catch a severe cold. Everyone else that matters is already at the doctors office waiting treatment.

Finally I read John Auther’s The Long View in the US print edition of the Financial Times. It was depressing reading. He calls out the four reasons why the good times (yes, these are ‘good’ times) will not continue. Of course these ‘good times’ relate to the equity market, which has been the main beneficiary of central bankers quantitative easing experiment.
The flour reasons are:

  1. Inflation has been tamed – can it ever be tamed again?
  2. Interest rates have fallen – they have to go up soon
  3. The economy has grown – few new triggers remain and demographic drag will increase 
  4. Corporate profitability rose – it’s leaked and in its way down

The article draws from McKinsey Global Institute and new research. All told its more data suggesting we are in the second half of a natural down cycle whose rise has been flattened by central bank policy and the lack of political policy agreement. We are now headed for what should be a natural slow down with no gas in the tank and no cash in the wallet and an already overloaded credit card. Hang in folks, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.