Much has been said about the Fed’s attempt to stimulate inflation (instead of just the stock market) by injecting a record $2.5 trillion in reserves into the US banking system since the collapse of Lehman (the same goes for the ECB, BOE, BOJ, etc). Even more has been said about why this money has not been able to make its way into the broader economy, and instead of forcing inflation – at least as calculated by the BLS’ CPI calculation – to rise above 2% has, by monetizing a record amount of US debt issuance, merely succeeded in pushing capital markets to unseen risk levels as every single dollar of reserves has instead ended up as assets (and excess deposits as a matched liability) on bank balance sheets.
Much less has been said that of the roughly $2 trillion increase in US bank assets, $2.5 trillion of this has come from the Fed’s reserve injections as absent the Fed, US banks have delevered by just under half a trillion dollars in the past 5 years. Because after all, all QE really is, is an attempt to inject money into a deleveraging system and to offset the resulting deflationary effects. Naturally, the Fed would be delighted if instead of banks being addicted to its zero-cost liquidity, they would instead obtain the capital in the old-fashioned way: through private loans. However, since there is essentially no risk when chasing yield and return and allocating reserves to various markets (see JPM CIO and our prior explanation on this topic), whereas there is substantial risk of loss in issuing loans to consumers in an economy that is in a depressionary state when one peels away the propaganda and the curtain of the stock market, banks will always pick the former option when deciding how to allocated the Fed’s reserves, even if merely as initial margin on marginable securities.
However, what virtually nothing has been said about, is how China stacks up to the US banking system when one looks at the growth of total Chinese bank assets (on Bloomberg: CNAABTV Index) since the collapse of Lehman.
The answer, shown on the chart below, is nothing short of stunning.
Here is just the change in the past five years:
You read that right: in the past five years the total assets on US bank books have risen by a paltry $2.1 trillion while over the same period, Chinese bank assets have exploded by an unprecedented $15.4 trillion hitting a gargantuan CNY147 trillion or an epic $24 trillion – some two and a half times the GDP of China!
Putting the rate of change in perspective, while the Fed was actively pumping $85 billion per month into US banks for a total of $1 trillion each year, in just the trailing 12 months ended September 30, Chinese bank assets grew by a mind-blowing $3.6 trillion!
Here is how Diapason’s Sean Corrigan observed this epic imbalance in liquidity creation:
Total Chinese banking assets currently stand at some CNY147 trillion, around 2 ½ times GDP. As such, they have doubled in the past four years of increasingly misplaced investment and frantic real estate speculation, adding the equivalent of 140% of average GDP – or, in dollars, $12.5 trillion – to the books. For comparison, over the same period, US banks have added just less than $700 billion, 4.4% of average GDP, 18 times less than their Chinese counterparts – and this in a period when the predominant trend has been for the latter to do whatever it takes to keep commitments off their balance sheets and lurking in the ‘shadows’!
Indeed, the increase in Chinese bank assets during that breakneck quadrennium is equal to no less than seven-eighths of the total outstanding assets of all FDIC-insured institutions! It also compares to 30% of Eurozone bank assets.
Truly epic flow numbers, and just as unsustainable in the longer-run.
But what does this mean for the bigger picture? Well, a few things.
For a start, prepare for many more headlines like these: “Chinese buying up California housing“, “Hot Money’s Hurried Exit from China“, “Following the herd of foreign money into US real estate markets” and many more like these. Because while the world focuses and frets about the Fed’s great reflation experiment (which is only set to become bigger not smaller, now that the Fed has thrown all caution about collateral shortage to the wind and will openly pursue NGDP targeting next), China has been quietly injecting nearly three times in liquidity into its own economy (and markets, and foreign economies and markets) as the Fed and the Bank of Japan combined!
To be sure, due to China’s still firm control over the exchange of renminbi into USD, the capital flight out of China has not been as dramatic as it would be in a freely CNY-convertible world, although in recent months many stories have emerged showing that enterprising locals from the mainland have found effective ways to circumvent the PBOC’s capital controls. And all it would take is for less than 10% of China’s new credit creation to “escape” aboard from the Chinese banking system, the bulk of which is quasi nationalized and thus any distinction between prive and public loan creation is immaterial, for the liquidity effect to be as large as one entire year of QE. Needless to say, the more effectively China becomes at depositing all this newly created liquidity, the faster prices of US real estate, the US stock market, and US goods and services in general will rise (something the Fed would be delighted with).
However, while the Fed certainly welcomes this breakneck credit creation in China, the reality is that the bulk of these “assets” are of increasingly lower quality and generate ever lass cash flows, something we covered recently in “Big Trouble In Massive China: “The Nation Might Face Credit Losses Of As Much As $3 Trillion.” It is also the reason why China attempted one, promptly aborted, tapering in the summer of 2013, and why the entire third plenum was geared toward economic reform particularly focusing on the country’s unsustainable credit (and liquidity) creation machine.
The implications of the above are staggering. If the US stock, and especially bond, market nearly blew a gasket in the summer over tapering fears when just a $10-20 billion reduction in the amount of flow was being thrown about, and the Chinese interbank system almost froze when overnight repo rates exploded to 25% on even more vague speculation of a CNY1 trillion in PBOC tightening, then the world is now fully addicted to about $5 trillion in annual liquidity creation between just the US, Japan and China alone!
Throw in the ECB and BOE as many speculate will happen eventually, and it gets downright surreal.
But more importantly, as with all communicating vessels, global liquidity is now in a constant state of laminar flow – out of central banks: either unadulterated as in the US, Japan, Europe and the UK, or implicit, when Chinese government-backstopped banks create nearly $4 trillion in loans every year. If one issuer of liquidity “tapers”, others have to step in. Indeed, as we suggested a few weeks ago, any possibility of a Fed taper would likely involve incremental QE by the Bank of Japan, and vice versa.
However, the biggest workhorse behind the scenes, is neither: it is China. And if something happens to the great Chinese credit-creation dynamo, then we see no way that the rest of the world’s central banks will be able to step in with low-powered money creation, to offset the loss of China’s liquidity momentum.
Finally, when you lose out on that purchase of a home to a Chinese buyer who bid 50% over asking sight unseen, with no intentions to ever move in, you will finally know why this is happening.