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The Fallacy of Homeownership

The Fallacy of Homeownership.

Many people have a weird obsession with homeownership.

When it comes to buying a house, they are willing to overlook, or even completely throw out, a bunch of financial values and principles they claim to hold dear.

The unfortunate truth is, for many middle-class folks, buying a house is often a very silly financial decision, especially if they are young (in their 20s or early 30s), or have a low net worth.

A well diversified portfolio

The most mind-boggling thing I’ve come across is that most people who punt the importance and wisdom of home ownership, will also tell you they believe you should have a well diversified investment portfolio.

You know…

“Spread your investments over many asset classes.”

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

And so on.

Well, for the average middle-class-30-year-old Joe, buying a house is akin to gathering up all his eggs, borrowing another 9 times as many, and putting them all together into one basket.

Not only is the the average middle-class-30-year-old-home-owner Joe way over-invested in exactly one asset class (residential property), he is also completely undiversified within that asset class, since he owns exactly one property, in exactly one area, based in exactly one town, located in exactly one country.

In short, it’s just about the most undiversified investment portfolio a person could dream up and manage to get himself into.

Leverage

Leverage basically comes down to borrowing money to invest in something.

If you invest R1,000,000 in something, but you borrow R900,000 and only use R100,000 of your own money, then you have an investment in which you are leveraged 10:1.

That 10:1 is called the leverage ratio of your investment. And it is 10:1, since the thing you’re investing in is worth 10 times as much as the cash you put in.

Leverage is great if the thing you invested in grows a lot in value over a short period of time, because it allows you to make a lot of money by investing only a small portion of your own cash!

Unfortunately, the reverse is also true.

If the thing you invested in loses value, then it is very easy for you to lose a lot of money – even more than the initial amount you put in!

While Warren Buffet’s ethics may be a stinker, I do agree with his views on employing leverage:

If you’re smart, you don’t need leverage. If you’re dumb, you have no business using it.
Warren Buffet

Even though, over the long-term, returns made on equities outperformed returns made on property, by far, almost no sane person will leverage themselves 10:1 to invest in equities (i.e. shares).

For most people, this is way too nerve wrecking to even consider. If you suggest such a thing, you might be labelled a gambler, or worse, a madman.

And yet, everyday, average middle-class-30-year-old Joes all around me are buying properties in which they are leveraged 10:1 (and even more), without a second thought.

After spending many months thinking about this phenomenon I can only put it down to the fact that the truth doesn’t matter.

It’s just another asset class

In case you think I have a deluded and deep seated mistrust of property that most likely stems from a childhood nightmare of being swallowed by a house, let me just make my position official:

I have zero issues with investing in residential property.

Residential property is just another asset class.

I don’t currently, but I have in the past allocated a portion of my investment portfolio to residential property (both locally and abroad), by buying shares in publicly listed companies whose business it is to buy and rent out houses and flats.

I just don’t view residential property as a magic-unicorn-galloping-over-a-rainbow-of-profits type of investment with which “you can never go wrong”.

I’ve spent a significant portion of my adult life looking for investments like those, but unfortunately I haven’t found one yet.

Liability and Liquidity

If you are still adamant that you want to invest in residential property, then I have a great suggestion for you:

Why don’t you just buy some shares in publicly listed companies whose business it is to buy and rent out residential properties?

If you do some research and choose a good one, chances are that they are better than you at spotting and buying well-priced properties and collecting rent, because that is what the people who work for those companies do for a living.

There are also some other advantages about investing in residential property by buying shares in publicly listed companies.

  • You can have a more diversified investment portfolio: By only buying a few shares you are able to limit your exposure to residential property to a reasonable percentage of your net worth.
  • You have limited liability: If the company goes bust, you will not be liable for any losses. Comparatively, if you buy a property using debt and, for whatever reason, become bankrupt and can’t afford to make the bond payments, then you most likely have quite a few years of hell to look forward to.
  • Shares in publicly listed companies are liquid: If you ever need to do so in a hurry, it will only take you about 5 minutes and a few key-strokes to sell all the shares you hold in almost any publicly listed company. Selling a house, on the other hand, is a ludicrously expensive multi-month administrative nightmare.

Interest rates and timing your property purchase

Residential property is an asset class that is very directly influenced by the cost of borrowing money.

In our society, it is considered a perfectly normal and responsible thing for a person to finance the purchase of a house by getting a 20-year loan from a bank.

In fact, it is considered such a normal thing for the average middle-class-30-year-old Joe to be a debt slave for most of his life, that if you had to suggest to him that he should save up for a house and only purchase it once he had saved up enough money to buy it outright, using cash, he will probably think that you are crazy to even suggest such a thing.

But, I digress.

My point is, the vast majority of residential properties are paid for using borrowed money.

Because of this, when interest rates go up, so do monthly bond payments. When bond payments go up, some people can’t afford to make their bond payments and they are forced to sell their homes, or default on their bond. A few actually do default, resulting in a seizure and forced sale of their properties by the bank.

To summarize: When interest rates go up, property prices fall (or increase very slowly, usually at a rate lower than inflation), because the available supply of residential properties increases, while at the same time the demand for residential properties decreases. Conversely, when interest rates go down, residential property prices usually go up quickly, because more people can afford to take out bigger loans!

The first rule of business is: buy low, sell high.

This is such an obvious concept and yet, in practice, it is very difficult to do, because it usually means doing the exact opposite to what everyone around you is doing.

If you are going to buy a property, for whatever reason, then at least buy it at the best possible time.

And when would that be?

Well, of course, a few months after interest rates hit their peak after having risen quickly for two or three years in a row.

Take a look at the graph below, which shows the prime interest rate in South Africa over the last few decades.

2014 started with interest rates at record lows and just entering an upward cycle.

In my opinion, the present is just about the worst possible time for anyone to be invested in residential property.

You will know it is the right time to buy your dream home by looking for a few of these signs:

  • Interest rates are starting to stabilize at a high rate, after rising steadily for two or three years in a row.
  • Many people are trying to sell their properties, some in a real panic, because they are struggling to make their monthly bond payments.
  • You hear many tales of properties being foreclosed on, also in neighbourhoods where people are considered to be wealthy.
  • People around you are generally feeling quite negative about owning property.

When the blood is in the streets, my friends, that is the ideal time to buy your dream home.

Paying rent is simply throwing away money every month

I often hear people making this argument. I’m sorry, but that is just a silly thing to say.

Upon purchasing the average middle-class-suburbia home, you’re not only paying a massive amount of TAX to the government, you’re also forking over a significant amount in fees for bond registration, deeds and a bunch of other stupid banalities. Never mind the commission that goes to the estate agent.

Property tax, commission and other fees can easily add up to over 15% of the purchase price of a house. This makes residential property one of the most expensive asset classes to invest in, at least as far as up-front costs are concerned.

Then, once your bond is registered and you are the proud owner of your new home, you’ll be paying interest to a bank, every month, until your bond is paid off.

And don’t forget about maintenance! You know… paint starts peeling, roof start leaking, toilet stops flushing, that type of thing.

Lastly, you’ll also be forking out on a monthly basis for rates & taxes. Which,as property owners in Greece found out just recently, can easily go up by sevenfold in two years, if your government is anything like most governments are.

Safe-haven investment my ass.

Except for squatting on someone else’s land, there’s no such thing as living for free.

So are you saying no one should ever own a house?

No, of course not.

I’m saying people should save up for their family homes and buy them cash.

The saving part should be done by building a well diversified investment porfolio and the home buying part should be treated as an expense, rather than the purchase of an asset.

I know… in the world we live in I’m very much on my own in suggesting such a boring and outdated thing.

But I’ve looked at the facts, and even though I’m well aware that the truth doesn’t matter, I also know that nothing matters to anybody until it matters to everybody – and by then it’s too late.

If you disagree or find a flaw in my logic, please leave a comment below. I’d love to be proven wrong, and I’m willing and eager to consider any counter arguments.

China Is Crashing … As Predicted Washington’s Blog

China Is Crashing … As Predicted Washington’s Blog.

Big Bubble Brutally Bursts … Bringing Bankruptcies, Bond Busts

The head of China’s sovereign wealth fund noted in 2009: “both China and America are addressing bubbles by creating more bubbles”.

He’s right …

Global credit excess is worse than before the 2008 crash.

The U.S. and Japan have been easing like crazy, but – as Zero Hedge notes  – China has been much worse:

 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.

And here:

So what’s the problem?

Well, the world’s most prestigious financial agency – the central banks’ central bank, called the Bank of International Settlements or “BIS”  –  has long criticized the Fed and other central banks for blowing bubbles.  The World Bank and top economists agree.  So do many others.

As such, it was easy for us to predict a crash in China when the bubble collapses.

We argued in 2009 that China’s period of easy credit was analogous to America’s monetary easing starting in 2001 … and Rome’s in 11 B.C.

We noted in 2009 and against in 2011 that China is suffering from a lot of the same malaises as the American economy, including corruption, crony capitalism, and failure to disclose bad debt.

In 2010, we asked “When Will China’s Bubble Burst?

China’s $23 Trillion Dollar Credit Bubble Is Bursting

International Business Times noted last year that China’s debt-laden steel industry was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Quartz reported in December that a huge coal company called Liansheng Resources Group declared bankruptcy with 30 billion yuan ($5 billion) in debt.

Chinese Business Wisdom argues (via China Gaze) that waves of bankruptcies are striking in 10 Chinese industries: (1) shipbuilding; (2) iron and steel: (3) LED lighting; (4) furniture; (5) real estate development; (6) cargo shipping; (7) trust and financial institutions; (8) financial management; (9) private equity; and (10) group buying.

AP notes today:

Chinese authorities have allowed the country’s first corporate bond default, inflicting losses on small investors in a painful step toward making its financial system more market-oriented.

A Shanghai manufacturer of solar panels paid only part of 90 million yuan ($15 million) in interest [it owed] …

Until now, Beijing has bailed out troubled companies to preserve confidence in its credit markets. But the ruling Communist Party has pledged to make the economy more productive by allowing market forces a bigger role.

Time asks whether China has reached its “Bear Stearns moment”:

A dangerous build-up of debt and an explosion of risky and poorly regulated shadow banking have raised serious concerns about the health of China’s economy. That’s why the Chaori default — the first ever in China’s domestic corporate bond market — has sparked fears that the country could be headed for a full-blown economic crisis like the one that slammed Wall Street in 2008. “We believe that the market will have reached the Bear Stearns stage,” warned strategist David Cui and his team at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch in a report to investors.

The concern of Cui and others is that the Chaori default will be the tip-off point for an unravelling of China’s financial system. The default could wake investors and bankers to the realization that companies they thought were safe bets are potentially not, and they could begin to reassess other loans and investments to other corporations. In other words, they might start redefining what is and is not risky. That could then lead to a credit crunch, when nervous bankers become wary of lending money, or lending at affordable interest rates. More bankruptcies could result. That eventually causes the financial markets to lock up — and we end up transitioning from a Bear Stearns moment to a Lehman Brothers moment, when the financial sector melts down. “We think the chain reaction will probably start,” Cui wrote. “In the U.S., it took about a year to reach the Lehman stage when the market panicked … We assess that it may take less time in China.”

The Financial Post reported in January:

The U.S. and Europe learned the hard way about the dangers of shadow banks in the financial crisis but, five years later, China appears set to get its own painful lesson about what can happen when large capital flows get diverted to unregulated corners of the financial system.

***

“We estimate that 88% of the revenues of Chinese trust companies is at risk in the long term,” said McKinsey and Ping An.

***

Billionaire investor George Soros recently wrote on a popular news website that the impending default and the growing fear reflected in Chinese markets has “eerie resemblances” to the global crisis of 2008.

The big picture:  the $23 trillion dollar Chinese credit bubble is starting to collapse.

As Michael Snyder wrote in January:

It could be a “Lehman Brothers moment” for Asia.  And since the global financial system is more interconnected today than ever before, that would be very bad news for the United States as well.  Since Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, the level of private domestic credit in China has risen from $9 trillion to an astounding $23 trillion.  That is an increase of $14 trillion in just a little bit more than 5 years.  Much of that “hot money” has flowed into stocks, bonds and real estate in the United States.  So what do you think is going to happen when that bubble collapses?

The bubble of private debt that we have seen inflate in China since the Lehman crisis is unlike anything that the world has ever seen.  Never before has so much private debt been accumulated in such a short period of time.  [Note:Private debt is much more dangerous than public debt.] All of this debt has helped fuel tremendous economic growth in China, but now a whole bunch of Chinese companies are realizing that they have gotten in way, way over their heads.  In fact, it is being projected that Chinese companies will pay out the equivalent of approximately a trillion dollars in interest payments this year alone.  That is more than twice the amount that the U.S. government will pay in interest in 2014.

***

As the Telegraph pointed out a while back, the Chinese have essentially “replicated the entire U.S. commercial banking system” in just five years…

Overall credit has jumped from $9 trillion to $23 trillion since the Lehman crisis. “They have replicated the entire U.S. commercial banking system in five years,” she said.

The ratio of credit to GDP has jumped by 75 percentage points to 200pc of GDP, compared to roughly 40 points in the US over five years leading up to the subprime bubble, or in Japan before the Nikkei bubble burst in 1990. “This is beyond anything we have ever seen before in a large economy. We don’t know how this will play out. The next six months will be crucial,” she said.

As with all other things in the financial world, what goes up must eventually come down.

***
The big underlying problem is the fact that private debt and the money supply have both been growing far too rapidly in China.  According to Forbes, M2 in China increased by 13.6 percent last year…

And at the same time China’s money supply and credit are still expanding.  Last year, the closely watched M2 increased by only 13.6%, down from 2012’s 13.8% growth.  Optimists say China is getting its credit addiction under control, but that’s not correct.  In fact, credit expanded by at least 20% last year as money poured into new channels not measured by traditional statistics.

Overall, M2 in China is up by about 1000 percent since 1999.  That is absolutely insane.

***

But I am not the only one talking about it.

In fact, the World Economic Forum is warning about the exact same thing…

Fiscal crises triggered by ballooning debt levels in advanced economies pose the biggest threat to the global economy in 2014, a report by the World Economic Forum has warned.

***

What has been going on in the global financial system is completely and totally unsustainable, and it is inevitable that it is all going to come horribly crashing down at some point during the next few years.

It is just a matter of time.

China Is Crashing … As Predicted Washington's Blog

China Is Crashing … As Predicted Washington’s Blog.

Big Bubble Brutally Bursts … Bringing Bankruptcies, Bond Busts

The head of China’s sovereign wealth fund noted in 2009: “both China and America are addressing bubbles by creating more bubbles”.

He’s right …

Global credit excess is worse than before the 2008 crash.

The U.S. and Japan have been easing like crazy, but – as Zero Hedge notes  – China has been much worse:

 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.

And here:

So what’s the problem?

Well, the world’s most prestigious financial agency – the central banks’ central bank, called the Bank of International Settlements or “BIS”  –  has long criticized the Fed and other central banks for blowing bubbles.  The World Bank and top economists agree.  So do many others.

As such, it was easy for us to predict a crash in China when the bubble collapses.

We argued in 2009 that China’s period of easy credit was analogous to America’s monetary easing starting in 2001 … and Rome’s in 11 B.C.

We noted in 2009 and against in 2011 that China is suffering from a lot of the same malaises as the American economy, including corruption, crony capitalism, and failure to disclose bad debt.

In 2010, we asked “When Will China’s Bubble Burst?

China’s $23 Trillion Dollar Credit Bubble Is Bursting

International Business Times noted last year that China’s debt-laden steel industry was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Quartz reported in December that a huge coal company called Liansheng Resources Group declared bankruptcy with 30 billion yuan ($5 billion) in debt.

Chinese Business Wisdom argues (via China Gaze) that waves of bankruptcies are striking in 10 Chinese industries: (1) shipbuilding; (2) iron and steel: (3) LED lighting; (4) furniture; (5) real estate development; (6) cargo shipping; (7) trust and financial institutions; (8) financial management; (9) private equity; and (10) group buying.

AP notes today:

Chinese authorities have allowed the country’s first corporate bond default, inflicting losses on small investors in a painful step toward making its financial system more market-oriented.

A Shanghai manufacturer of solar panels paid only part of 90 million yuan ($15 million) in interest [it owed] …

Until now, Beijing has bailed out troubled companies to preserve confidence in its credit markets. But the ruling Communist Party has pledged to make the economy more productive by allowing market forces a bigger role.

Time asks whether China has reached its “Bear Stearns moment”:

A dangerous build-up of debt and an explosion of risky and poorly regulated shadow banking have raised serious concerns about the health of China’s economy. That’s why the Chaori default — the first ever in China’s domestic corporate bond market — has sparked fears that the country could be headed for a full-blown economic crisis like the one that slammed Wall Street in 2008. “We believe that the market will have reached the Bear Stearns stage,” warned strategist David Cui and his team at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch in a report to investors.

The concern of Cui and others is that the Chaori default will be the tip-off point for an unravelling of China’s financial system. The default could wake investors and bankers to the realization that companies they thought were safe bets are potentially not, and they could begin to reassess other loans and investments to other corporations. In other words, they might start redefining what is and is not risky. That could then lead to a credit crunch, when nervous bankers become wary of lending money, or lending at affordable interest rates. More bankruptcies could result. That eventually causes the financial markets to lock up — and we end up transitioning from a Bear Stearns moment to a Lehman Brothers moment, when the financial sector melts down. “We think the chain reaction will probably start,” Cui wrote. “In the U.S., it took about a year to reach the Lehman stage when the market panicked … We assess that it may take less time in China.”

The Financial Post reported in January:

The U.S. and Europe learned the hard way about the dangers of shadow banks in the financial crisis but, five years later, China appears set to get its own painful lesson about what can happen when large capital flows get diverted to unregulated corners of the financial system.

***

“We estimate that 88% of the revenues of Chinese trust companies is at risk in the long term,” said McKinsey and Ping An.

***

Billionaire investor George Soros recently wrote on a popular news website that the impending default and the growing fear reflected in Chinese markets has “eerie resemblances” to the global crisis of 2008.

The big picture:  the $23 trillion dollar Chinese credit bubble is starting to collapse.

As Michael Snyder wrote in January:

It could be a “Lehman Brothers moment” for Asia.  And since the global financial system is more interconnected today than ever before, that would be very bad news for the United States as well.  Since Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, the level of private domestic credit in China has risen from $9 trillion to an astounding $23 trillion.  That is an increase of $14 trillion in just a little bit more than 5 years.  Much of that “hot money” has flowed into stocks, bonds and real estate in the United States.  So what do you think is going to happen when that bubble collapses?

The bubble of private debt that we have seen inflate in China since the Lehman crisis is unlike anything that the world has ever seen.  Never before has so much private debt been accumulated in such a short period of time.  [Note:Private debt is much more dangerous than public debt.] All of this debt has helped fuel tremendous economic growth in China, but now a whole bunch of Chinese companies are realizing that they have gotten in way, way over their heads.  In fact, it is being projected that Chinese companies will pay out the equivalent of approximately a trillion dollars in interest payments this year alone.  That is more than twice the amount that the U.S. government will pay in interest in 2014.

***

As the Telegraph pointed out a while back, the Chinese have essentially “replicated the entire U.S. commercial banking system” in just five years…

Overall credit has jumped from $9 trillion to $23 trillion since the Lehman crisis. “They have replicated the entire U.S. commercial banking system in five years,” she said.

The ratio of credit to GDP has jumped by 75 percentage points to 200pc of GDP, compared to roughly 40 points in the US over five years leading up to the subprime bubble, or in Japan before the Nikkei bubble burst in 1990. “This is beyond anything we have ever seen before in a large economy. We don’t know how this will play out. The next six months will be crucial,” she said.

As with all other things in the financial world, what goes up must eventually come down.

***
The big underlying problem is the fact that private debt and the money supply have both been growing far too rapidly in China.  According to Forbes, M2 in China increased by 13.6 percent last year…

And at the same time China’s money supply and credit are still expanding.  Last year, the closely watched M2 increased by only 13.6%, down from 2012’s 13.8% growth.  Optimists say China is getting its credit addiction under control, but that’s not correct.  In fact, credit expanded by at least 20% last year as money poured into new channels not measured by traditional statistics.

Overall, M2 in China is up by about 1000 percent since 1999.  That is absolutely insane.

***

But I am not the only one talking about it.

In fact, the World Economic Forum is warning about the exact same thing…

Fiscal crises triggered by ballooning debt levels in advanced economies pose the biggest threat to the global economy in 2014, a report by the World Economic Forum has warned.

***

What has been going on in the global financial system is completely and totally unsustainable, and it is inevitable that it is all going to come horribly crashing down at some point during the next few years.

It is just a matter of time.

The High Price of Delaying the Default – Thorsten Polleit – Mises Daily

The High Price of Delaying the Default – Thorsten Polleit – Mises Daily.

Mises Daily: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 by 

Credit is a wonderful tool that can help advance the division of labor, thereby increasing productivity and prosperity. The granting of credit enables savers to spread their income over time, as they prefer. By taking out loans, investors can implement productive spending plans that they would be unable to afford using their own resources.

The economically beneficial effects of credit can only come about, however, if the underlying credit and monetary system is solidly based on free-market principles. And here is a major problem for today’s economies: the prevailing credit and monetary regime is irreconcilable with the free market system.

At present, all major currencies in the world — be it the US dollar, the euro, the Japanese yen, or the Chinese renminbi — represent government sponsored unbacked paper, or, “fiat” monies. These monies have three characteristic features. First, central banks have a monopoly on money production. Second, money is created by bank lending — or “out of thin air” — without loans being backed by real savings. And third, money that is dematerialized, can be expanded in any quantity politically desired.

A fiat money regime suffers from a number of far-reaching economic and ethical flaws. It is inflationary, it inevitably causes waves of speculation, provokes bad investments and “boom-and-bust” cycles, and generally encourages an excessive built up of debt. And fiat money unjustifiably favors the few at the expense of the many: the early receivers of the new money benefit at the expense of those receiving the new money at a later point in time (“Cantillon Effect”).

One issue deserves particular attention: the burden of debt that accumulates over time in a fiat money regime will become unsustainable. The primary reason for this is that the act of creating credit and money out of thin air, accompanied by artificially suppressed interest rates, encourages poor investments: malinvestments that do not have the earning power to service the resulting rise in debt in full.

Governments are especially guilty of accumulating an excessive debt burden, greatly helped by central banks providing an inexhaustible supply of credit at artificially low costs. Politicians finance election promises with credit, and voters acquiesce because they expect to benefit from government’s “horn of plenty.” The ruling class and the class of the ruled are quite hopeful that they can defer repayment to future generations to sort out.

However, there comes a point in time when private investors are no longer willing to refinance maturing debt, let alone finance a further rise in indebtedness of banks, corporations, and governments. In such a situation, the paper money boom is doomed to collapse: rising concern about credit defaults is a deadly enemy to the fiat money regime. And once the flow of credit dries up, the boom turns into bust. This is exactly what was about to happen in many fiat currency areas around the world in 2008.

A fiat money bust can easily develop into a full-scale depression, meaning failing banks, corporations filing for bankruptcy, and even some governments going belly up. The economy contracts sharply, causing mass unemployment. Such a development will predictably be interpreted as an ordeal — rather than an economic adjustment made inevitable by the ravages of the preceding fiat money boom.

Everyone — those of the ruling class and those of the class of the ruled — will predictably want to escape disaster. Threatened with extreme economic hardship and political desperation, their eyes will turn to the central bank which, alas, can print all the money that is politically desired to keep overstretched borrowers liquid, first and foremost banks and governments.

Running the electronic printing press will be perceived as the policy of the least evil — a reaction that could be observed many times throughout the troubled history of unbacked paper money. Since the end of 2008, many central banks have successfully kept their commercial banks afloat by providing them with new credit at virtually zero interest rates.

This policy is actually meant to make banks churn out even more credit and fiat money. More credit and money, provided at record low interest rates, is seen as a remedy of the problems caused by an expansion of credit and money, provided at low interest rates, in the first place. This is hardly a confidence-inspiring route to take.

 

 

It was Ludwig von Mises who understood that a fiat money boom will, and actually must, ultimately end in a collapse of the economic system. The only open question would be whether such an outcome will be preceded by a debasement of the currency or not:

The boom cannot continue indefinitely. There are two alternatives. Either the banks continue the credit expansion without restriction and thus cause constantly mounting price increases and an ever-growing orgy of speculation, which, as in all other cases of unlimited inflation, ends in a “crack-up boom” and in a collapse of the money and credit system. Or the banks stop before this point is reached, voluntarily renounce further credit expansion and thus bring about the crisis. The depression follows in both instances.[1]

A monetary policy dedicated to averting credit defaults by all means would speak for a fairly tough scenario going forward: depression preceded by inflation. This is a scenario quite similar to what happened, for instance, in the fiat money inflation in eighteenth-century France.

According to Andrew Dickson White, France issued paper money

seeking a remedy for a comparatively small evil in an evil infinitely more dangerous. To cure a disease temporary in its character, a corrosive poison was administered, which ate out the vitals of French prosperity.

It progressed according to a law in social physics which we may call the “law of accelerating issue and depreciation.” It was comparatively easy to refrain from the first issue; it was exceedingly difficult to refrain from the second; to refrain from the third and with those following was practically impossible.

It brought … commerce and manufactures, the mercantile interest, the agricultural interest, to ruin. It brought on these the same destruction which would come to a Hollander opening the dykes of the sea to irrigate his garden in a dry summer.

It ended in the complete financial, moral and political prostration of France — a prostration from which only a Napoleon could raise it. [2]

Note: The views expressed in Daily Articles on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

Thorsten Polleit is chief economist of the precious-metals firm Degussa and co-founder of the investment boutiquePolleit & Riechert Investment Management LLP. He is honorary professor at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management and associated scholar of the Mises Institute. He was awarded the 2012 O.P. Alford III Prize in Libertarian Scholarship. His website is www.Thorsten-Polleit.com. Send him a mail. See Thorsten Polleit’s article archives.

Notes

[1] Ludwig von Mises. Interventionism: An Economic Analysis. Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1998. P. 40.

[2] Andrew Dickson White. Fiat Money Inflation in France, How It Came, What It Brought, and How It Ended. D. Appleton-Century Company Inc., New York and London: D. Appleton-Century, 1933. S. 66.b

Why the Crowd Is About to Get Destroyed in US Stocks |

Why the Crowd Is About to Get Destroyed in US Stocks |.

February 27, 2014 | Author 

Debt – the Name of the Game

Dow down a bit on Tuesday. Gold up a bit. The upward trend of US stocks – and now gold – has not yet been broken. Looking broadly at major trends of the last 50 years, debt was the name of the game from 1980 to 2007. Is it still the most important thing?

From about 160% of GDP in 1980, total debt in the US rose to about 360%. That was a big deal. Not the least because it meant that US businesses availed trillions of dollars in income with no offsetting labor charge.

Stocks, earnings, GDP, employment – with all this borrowed money flowing into the economy, the whole shebang looked good.

Dr. Jekyll, Meet Mr. Hyde

As we’ve been saying, debt may be the kindly Dr. Jekyll when it is expanding. But it becomes maniacal when it contracts. Mr. Hyde showed up in 2008, and the party was over. The US went into a debt contraction. We’ve been living with it ever since. Until the last quarter of last year, the private sector was either paying down or defaulting on its debt.

But since 2008, we’ve also lived with ambiguity, split personalities and confusion. As households and businesses deleveraged, Washington leveraged up. The feds added nearly $7 trillion in debt after 2007. Overall, debt to GDP shrank… but not much. The tally fell from 360% of GDP down to 345%.

Deleveraging was the market’s natural reaction to excess debt. QE was the unnatural and monstrous response of the Fed. It expanded its balance sheet to reach a staggering $4 trillion, as it tried desperately to keep the EZ credit flowing. From a recent Bank of America Merrill Lynch research report:

 

“The US Fed’s modus operandi worked through asset prices, and animal spirits. This involved getting stock prices up, getting corporate animal spirits up by issuing cheap debt, buying back stock with cash or cheap debt to raise EPS, lowering government borrowing and mortgage costs, and raising consumer net worth/income ratios. Also, asset bubbles were generated in emerging markets, raising their growth, labor costs and currencies.”

 

Sharp operators followed the Fed like vultures trailing a sick cow. They borrowed at the Fed’s ultra-low rates… and bought stocks, real estate, contemporary art and emerging market debt. Anything that promised a higher yield than was available in the Treasury market.

 

Monetary Mambo

QE has been the name of the game since 2008. But QE helped Wall Street, not Main Street. Just look at charts of shipping indexes, real wages or the velocity of money. You see lines that head down in 2008… and don’t come back up. In recent Diary entries, we’ve focused on two factors that weigh heavily on the economy: debt and demography.

And we warned that these two factors will weigh heavily on US stocks prices. But we also noticed a possible spoiler – no prediction based on history has ever included the effects of QE or Janet Yellen! Eventually, everything normalizes. Eventually, we will almost certainly be right about stock market performance. But eventually can still be a long way into the future. Which brings us to our updated, revised, and improved outlook:Remember our prediction six years ago?

“Tokyo, then Buenos Aires,” we said.

The idea was that the US economy would stay in deleveraging mode for “7 to 10 years”… and then, it would be off to the races. We suspected that the feds would get tired of Tokyo. We figured they’d be ready for some Latin-style action – a little central bank salsa… a bit of monetary mambo.

We predicted that QE wouldn’t work… and that the Fed would want to be more activist – probably by giving up on QE and directly intervening in the money supply (which it is currently constrained from doing; the effects of QE are limited to boosting only the monetary base).

So, what have we learned in the last six years? How has our view changed?

The answer to both questions is “not much.” As we guessed, an aging, deeply indebted, zombie-ridden economy will not improve by adding more debt. Instead, it is doomed to follow Japan down that long, lonesome road of low consumer prices, low growth and high debt.

This road leads to eventual destruction. But when? And how?

In the US, as in Japan, QE does not help stimulate a real recovery. But it does help simulate one. House prices are up (thanks, in part, to ultra-low mortgage rates). The middle class has more “wealth” (albeit the paper kind) due to gains in their stock market portfolios. The rich are feeling fat and sassy, too.

The Fed can continue modest tapering. But this is likely to produce a sell-off in the stock market. Then the Fed will stop tapering. But it will be too late to reverse the damage to equities. They will go down for many years… bringing us even closer to the Japanese model. Our guess now is that this situation will persist for a few years. As long as the pain is tolerable, the Fed will not be so bold as to abandon QE or take up more daring measures.

Tokyo today. Tokyo tomorrow. After tomorrow… we’ll see.

 


 

The above article is from Diary of a Rogue Economist originally written for Bonner & Partners.

Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.

 

How To Identify Economic Zombies – Monty Pelerin’s World

How To Identify Economic Zombies – Monty Pelerin’s World.

 February 25, 2014

apocalypsezombie-apocalypse

Economics is not a difficult subject, unless you try to learn it from an economist. As described by John Kenneth Galbraith, who posed as an economist but was far better as a critic:

Economics is a subject profoundly conducive to cliche, resonant with boredom. On few topics is an American audience so practiced in turning off its ears and minds. And none can say that the response is ill advised.

Common sense is all that is required to be a good economist. Unfortunately, in order to get your union card, you must pretend to have none. Belief in fairy tales like more spending and “free lunches” is also necessary.

But that is of little import in regard to the title – How to identify economic zombies.  

What Is A Zombie?

Webster defines zombie as

… a will-less and speechless human in the West Indies capable only of automatic movement who is held to have died and been supernaturally reanimated

An economic zombie can speak and is not dead in any physical sense. His defining feature is a focus almost solely on the present. He assumes tomorrow will be just like today. If his current behavior has not created trouble or hardship thus far, then it won’t tomorrow or on into the future. Linearity describes his thinking and world. The future will be just like today.

A Simple Test For Economic Zombie Determination

The test to determine whether you or your friends are zombies is simple. Answer the following question: How would you live if debt/credit were outlawed? The economic zombie has difficulty comprehending the question, no less answering it. If you or your friends do, then you are well on your way toward full zombie-hood, if in fact you are not already there.

The question is relevant because it identifies those too ignorant to comprehend the fact that you cannot consume more than your income will support, at least not forever.

Income for a period determines the amount you can spend that period, or it would in the absence of debt or savings. Borrowing this period enables spending to exceed income this period. But borrowing is nothing but advancing consumption that otherwise would occur in a later period. Whatever is borrowed raises consumption this period but reduces it next period when some of the income earned then cannot be spent because it must be used to service the prior debt. Total consumption for both periods is lower than it would have been without the borrowing. That is due to the paying the carrying cost of debt, interest.

If you cannot understand this concept or you believe that you can nullify it by borrowing again next period, you qualify as an economic zombie. If you answered that you could not live if debt/credit were outlawed, you are an economic zombie, and perhaps also an economic idiot. Osavi Osar-Emokpae colorfully described debt:

And don’t tell me debt is not a big deal. Debt will cut off your legs and laugh at you as you grovel in the dirt begging for mercy. If you don’t need it, don’t get it. If you can’t afford it, don’t get it. If you’re already in debt, get out quickly. If you think you’ll never get out, you’re right, you won’t.

If you are using your credit cards as loans (i.e., you are not paying in full the balance each month) then you are zombie-qualified.

Economic zombies are not born. They are made. They choose their lifestyle. Behind every economic zombie is someone who believes he should live better than his abilities allow. That may work for a time. Then the Osar-Emokpae quote takes over.

The reality is that negative borrowing, saving, should be occurring every year. Man has a finite lifespan and a finite earning career. The latter is shorter than the former. Part of life is to be responsible enough to prepare for the future when income stops. Borrowing is a sign of immaturity and ignorance. Occasionally borrowing is necessary to meet an unforeseen emergency. If it is routine, then you are an economic zombie!

Junk Yield Premiums Soar on China’s Looming First Default – Bloomberg

Junk Yield Premiums Soar on China’s Looming First Default – Bloomberg.

By Bloomberg News  Feb 9, 2014 9:42 PM ET

The extra cost to borrow for China’s riskiest companies is at the highest in 20 months as soaring interest rates heighten concern the nation will experience its first onshore bond default.

The yield gap on five-year AA- notes over AAA debt jumped 27 basis points last month to 224, the most since June 2012, Chinabond indexes show. Ratings of AA- or below are equivalent to non-investment grades globally, according to Haitong Securities Co., the nation’s second-biggest brokerage. The similar spread in the U.S. is 403 basis points, Bank of America Merrill Lynch data show.

The failure of coal companies to meet payment deadlines for trust products has increased concern over debt defaults, with the equivalent of $53 billion of bonds sold by renewable energy, construction materials, metals and mining companies due in 2014. A report on Jan. 30 signaled China’s factories are contracting for the first time since August amid signs of financial stress including mounting losses and bailouts.

“China’s bond market will definitely see its first default this year,” said Xu Hanfei, a bond analyst inShanghai at Guotai Junan Securities Co., the nation’s third-biggest brokerage. “The economy is slowing while the government seems still confident about growth, which means the authorities probably won’t announce any measures to avert the slowdown. This is the worst scenario.”

Financial Panic

A further $21 billion of securities in those three sectors mature in 2015, the Bloomberg data show, with companies including Baoshan Iron & Steel Co., China Minmetals Corp. and Wuhan Iron & Steel Co. among the most indebted. Bonds of steel and coal companies are under added pressure considering the government’s campaign to reduce smog, and industry overcapacity, according to Moody’s Investors Service, which has a negative outlook on both.

LDK Solar Co. is looking at ways to restructure obligations on its offshore yuan debt after missing payments on its dollar debt last year. Zhuhai Zhongfu Enterprise Co. (000659), a manufacturer of beverage packaging, said on Jan. 28 its 2015 debentures may be suspended from trade after its estimated net loss was as much as 450 million yuan ($74.2 million) in 2013. The yield on the 5.28 percent notes has climbed 217.5 basis points this year to 18.76 percent, exchange data show.

Steel, Shipping

The world’s second-biggest economy slowed in the fourth quarter to 7.7 percent from 7.8 percent in the previous three months as Premier Li Keqiang drove up money-market rates to encourage companies and local governments to deleverage.

China’s central bank signaled in a Feb. 8 report that volatility in money-market interest rates will persist and borrowing costs will rise, further underscoring the risk of defaults which could weigh on confidence and drag down growth.

China Credit Trust Co. reached an agreement last month to repay bailed-out investors in a high-yield product whose threatened failure spurred concern bad debts will rise in the nation’s $1.7 trillion trust industry.

The gap between top-rated and lower-rated bonds in China may widen further this year as news about possible defaults shakes the market, according to Cheng Qingsheng, an analyst at Evergrowing Bank Co.

“There should be a default in China’s onshore bonds this year,” Shanghai-based Cheng said. “Privately issued bonds have higher default risks than publicly traded bonds.” A first default may happen in the steel, coal, shipping or photovoltaic power industries, Cheng said.

Default Swaps

As default concerns escalate, the cost of insuring the nation’s debt against non-payment is rising. China’s credit-default swaps have increased 13 basis points this year to 93 as of Feb. 7. The yuanfell to 6.0646 per dollar on Feb. 7, the lowest level this year. It was little changed at 6.0605 as of 10:32 a.m. in Shanghai.

There have been no defaults in China’s publicly traded domestic debt market since the central bank started regulating it in 1997, according to Moody’s.

Local governments have helped some companies avert missing payment deadlines, according to Yao Wei, the Hong Kong-based China economist at Societe Generale SA. CHTC Helon Co., a fiber maker which used to be called Shandong Helon Co., repaid 400 million yuan of notes in April 2012 even as it failed to make loan repayments.

Shanghai Chaori Solar Energy Science & Technology Co. (002506), which averted default on an interest payment last year and had just 618.7 million yuan cash as of September, will pay 898 million yuan of debt in March, according to Guotai Junan. The solar-panel maker’s debt-to-asset ratio was 90.1 percent at the end of the third quarter, according to a company financial report released Oct. 27.

High Cost

Other companies are receiving help from related entities. Changzhou Wintafone Chemical Co., a maker of herbicides and insecticides based in the eastern province of Jiangsu, said last month it’s stopped production and can’t repay notes due in March. Changzhou Qinghong Chemical Co., the note’s guarantor, repaid 36.9 million yuan on its behalf on Jan. 17.

A first default may be avoided if local governments continue to step in, said Beijing-based Yang Feng, a bond analyst at Citic Securities Co., the nation’s biggest brokerage.

“The cost of a default on a bond would be very high,” said Yang. “If a company in Shanghai defaults, it would be difficult for every company in the city to raise money.”

Turning Cautious

The yield on AA- rated five-year corporate bonds climbed 13 basis points last month to 8.38 percent. The rate on the benchmark five-year government bond dropped 24 basis points to 4.22 percent over the same period.

The average yield on high-yield Dim Sum bonds, or yuan-denominated notes sold in Hong Kong, has climbed 14 basis points this month to 5.66 percent on Feb. 6, the highest since October, according to an index compiled by HSBC Holdings Plc. Yields averaged 5.52 percent on Dec. 31.

U.S. dollar-denominated 13.25 percent notes sold by Glorious Property Holdings Ltd. (845) in February last year and due in 2018 were yielding 19.61 percent on Feb. 7, Bloomberg-compiled prices show. The company’s chief executive officer and chief financial officer resigned last week, less than one month after shareholders rejected an offer by Chinese billionaire Zhang Zhirong to take the developer private.

“Investors have turned cautious on high-yield bonds,” said Guotai Junan’s Xu, who forecasts China’s economy will grow 7 percent this year. “Since China’s onshore bond market hasn’t had a default, the market may not have priced in all the risk it should have.”

Sinovel, Nanjing

Sinovel Wind Group Co. (601558), said on Jan. 29 its bonds due 2016 may be suspended from trade because it may report a second year of losses. The yield on the 6.2 percent notes has jumped 329 basis points in 2014 to 15.01 percent as of today. Similarly, Nanjing Iron & Steel Co. (600282), partly owned by Chinese billionaire Guo Guangchang, said last month its 2018 bonds may stop trading because it too could report a second year of losses. The yield on those notes has soared 208 basis points this year to 10.72 percent, exchange data show.

“It would be best if the government will allow defaults,” Zhang Ming, a senior research fellow at the government-backed Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, said in a Jan. 22 interview. “The bubbles are gradually inflating, and sooner and later there will be a collapse. The best scenario is that you allow defaults in some places when you are ready so that some risks can be released. The later the default, the more damaging.”

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Judy Chen in Shanghai atxchen45@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katrina Nicholas at knicholas2@bloomberg.net; Sandy Hendry at shendry@bloomberg.net

Bringing the Empire of Debt to its Knees

Bringing the Empire of Debt to its Knees.

Addison Wiggin

Posted Feb 7, 2014.

“The relentless credit deluge in America is beyond belief…” Kurt Richebächer bemoaned in 2005. “Credit growth, financial and nonfinancial, in the United States has effectively run riot in the short time since 2000.”

Fast-forward nearly a decade and we have no doubt Kurt would express himself with even greater discontent if he were with us now. From CNN Money this afternoon:

“The CBO projects that under current policies, public debt will reach $21 trillion — or 79% of GDP — by 2024. That would be its highest level in more than 75 years and would leave debt at nearly double its long-term average of 40% of GDP.”

What would Kurt say if he were here today? Probably that a nation, no less than you or I, should earn its money before spending it. And that the U.S. may very well thrive as its public and private debt climbs ever higher… yet it’s probably in spite of indebtedness, not because of it…

…the size of its interest payments is as likely to bring the empire of debt to its knees as anything.

At writing, the national debt sits at $17.3 trillion. The debt limit will need to be raised, according to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, lest the U.S. default on some of its obligations. That’s old hat.

What’s more interesting is the interest on the debt. After all, the size of its interest payments is as likely to bring the empire of debt to its knees as anything.

According to the CBO, the U.S. will shell out “only” $233 billion to service its debt this year. That’s a little more than 1% of GDP. At the same time, the federal deficit is set to decline this year and next — to nearly half the amount of 2009′s deficit.

We would humbly posit, however, that digging yourself deeper into a hole isn’t an enviable position… no matter how slowly you dig. This is especially true while interest rates are so low.

What happens when they go back up, as they inevitably will?

The answer, according to the CBO report, is that interest payments will make up the biggest portion of the federal deficit. “By 2024, it will reach $880 billion, or 3.3% of GDP,” reports CNN. That will be 80% of the projected $1.1 trillion deficit a decade from now. That amount rivals what we spend on Medicare alone right now.

It sounds like the end of the road for the ol’ US of A… then again, what do we know? When we produced our film I.O.U.S.A. in 2007, the federal debt was about $9 trillion. Today, it’s nearly double that. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that these things can go on a lot longer than you’d figure. Alas, for all of our uncertainty about the journey’s time frame… the destination is certain.

“For decades,” Dr. Richebächer told us in France two years prior toI.O.U.S.A., “one dollar added to GDP in the United States was tied to $1.40 in additional debt. But all that changed in the 1970s. Since then, the debt-to-GDP growth relationship has skyrocketed. Now for one dollar of additional GDP, there is $4 in additional debt.”

How Much Debt it Takes to Produce $1 of Additional GDP

The good doctor might have been engaging in a bit of hyperbole. Comparing the GDP numbers from the Commerce Department with the total credit market debt as reported by the Federal Reserve, it took $3.20 in debt to produce $1 of additional GDP at the time of that interview. But the acceleration since the 1970s is undeniable.

The good news — if that’s what you can call it — is that the upward spiral reversed as the “official” recession ended in mid-2009. We’re now back to $3.44 — the level where it was when Dr. Richebächer died, in August 2007. It’s bad news when you consider that much of that debt has been frittered away on entitlement programs, which have exacerbated the problems they were created to solve.

Regards,

Addison Wiggin
for The Daily Reckoning

Ed. Note: In the Daily Reckoning email edition, from which this essay was taken, Dr. Marc Faber followed Addison’s musings with an exploration of some specific instances of government failure. Specifically, schemes like the war on poverty… a decades-long mission to flush $20 trillion down a massive toilet. But these essays are just one benefit of reading The Daily Reckoning email editionbefore it hits the Daily Reckoning website… Readers of the email edition are also treated to several chances to discover real, actionable profit opportunities every single day. So don’t wait. Get the full story by signing up for The Daily Reckoning, for FREE, right here.

Addison WigginAddison Wiggin is the executive publisher of Agora Financial, LLC, a fiercely independent economic forecasting and financial research firm. He’s the creator and editorial director of Agora Financial’s daily 5 Min. Forecast and editorial director of The Daily Reckoning. Wiggin is the founder of Agora Entertainment, executive producer and co-writer of I.O.U.S.A., which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, the 2009 Critics Choice Award for Best Documentary Feature, and was also shortlisted for a 2009 Academy Award. He is the author of the companion book of the film I.O.U.S.A.and his second edition of The Demise of the Dollar, and Why it’s Even Better for Your Investments was just fully revised and updated. Wiggin is a three-time New York Times best-selling author whose work has been recognized by The New York Times MagazineThe EconomistWorthThe New York TimesThe Washington Post as well as major network news programs. He also co-authored international bestsellers Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt with Bill Bonner.

How Dangerous Is China’s Credit Bubble for the World? |

How Dangerous Is China’s Credit Bubble for the World? |.

February 7, 2014 | Author 

Global Meltdown Predicted by Charlene Chu

Following on the heels of a report that appeared in the Telegraph on the topic, William Pesek at Bloomberg has recently also written an article about Charlene Chu (formerly with Fitch, nowadays with private firm Autonomous Research) and her opinions on China’s shadow banking system and the dangers it represents. The article is ominously entitled “China, the Death Star of Emerging Markets”. 

China has recently made unwelcome headlines, as one of the shadow banking system’s countless ‘wealth management trusts’ which was evidently invested in a bankrupt venture (in this case in a coal company – reportedly a great many such investments in insolvent coal mines exist) was about to go belly-up and then was bailed out at the last minute. Here is a recent article by Mish on the trust that was ironically named “Credit Equals Gold Number 1”. At first it was reported that the trust wouldn’t be bailed out, but in the end its 700 investors were able to ‘breathe a sigh of relief’ as Tom Holland remarked in the South China Morning Post (SCMP). However, Holland also cautioned  that by bailing out this trust, China has laid the foundations for a much bigger crisis down the road, as moral hazard has increased considerably as a result.

 


 

shadow banking chinaThe size of shadow-bank lending relative to China’s GDP, via the SCMP

 


 

 

 

 

Interestingly, Holland actually disagrees on a major point with Charlene Chu and Pesek. Let us first look at what Pesek writes:

 

“On any list of banking accidents waiting to happen, China is assured a place at the very top. But could a crash there take the entire global economy down with it? Absolutely, says Charlene Chu, who until recently was Fitch’s headline-generating analyst in Beijing. Chu has fearlessly trod into an area that China is trying desperately to keep off limits: its vast shadow-banking system. Now that she’s working for a private firm that doesn’t have to rely to governments for revenue, as do rating companies, Chu is free to speak completely openly. And is she ever.

“The banking sector has extended $14 trillion to $15 trillion in the span of five years,” Chu, who is now with Autonomous Research, told the Telegraph. “There’s no way that we are not going to have massive problems in China.” What’s more, she added, China “could trigger global meltdown.”

The travails of Greece continue to preoccupy the world, but its $249 billion economy is a rounding error compared to China’s $8.2 trillion one. In December 2005, for example, China announced its output had unexpectedly grown by $285 billion. In other words, it had suddenly found an economy bigger than Singapore’s that its statisticians hadn’t known about. Today, simply put, a Chinese crash would make the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers seem like a mere market correction.

The kind of meltdown Chu suggests is possible would end Japan’s revival, slam economies from South Korea to Vietnam, savage stock and commodity prices everywhere, force the Federal Reserve to end its tapering process and prompt emergency national-security briefings in Washington. So feel free to obsess over Turkey and Argentina, but the real “wild card” is the world’s second-biggest economy.”

 

(emphasis added)

As noted above, that certainly sounds quite ominous.

 

Opinions Differ …

Not so fast, says Tom Holland. While agreeing that China will eventually face a credit crisis and quite possibly a severe economic downturn, he points to the fact that the closed capital account and China’s vast foreign reserves make a ‘global contagion’ event of such enormous magnitude unlikely. This particular scare story he avers, is not something to worry about, which he inter alia tries to buttress by comparing China’s situation to Indonesia’s prior to the Asian crisis. Below are a few relevant excerpts from his article:

 

“As a headline, it was certainly eye-catching. “Currency crisis at Chinese banks could trigger global meltdown,” declared a story in the Sunday edition of London’s Daily Telegraph. The article noted nervously that foreign currency borrowing by Chinese companies has almost quadrupled in just four years to more than US$1 trillion.Any substantial appreciation of the US dollar – and many analysts are indeed expecting gains this year – could open up a dangerous cross-currency mismatch, forcing Chinese borrowers to default and inflicting shattering losses on international lenders, the story warned.

[…]

The chance that China will suffer a currency crisis at any time in the foreseeable future is precisely zero. And even if the country were struck by crisis, there would be no danger of a global financial meltdown. It is certainly true that China’s foreign liabilities have grown rapidly in recent years; a quadrupling since 2009 is about right. But, if anything, the Telegraph’s figure of US$1 trillion is rather too modest. According to Beijing’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange, at the end of 2013 China had foreign liabilities of a thumping US$3.85 trillion; roughly 40 per cent of its gross domestic product.

But the lion’s share of those liabilities – some US$2.32 trillion – consists of highly illiquid inward foreign direct investment. That money is staying where it is. On top of that, a further US$374 billion is foreign portfolio investment in China’s stock and bond markets. That’s money that has flowed in under Beijing’s qualified foreign institutional investor program, whose rules impose strict limits on the size and frequency of repatriation payments. However, that still leaves around US$1.15 trillion in short-term foreign liabilities, consisting largely of loans from international banks.

[…]

In 2014, China has no such problems [compared to Indonesia prior to the Asian crisis, ed.] . External debt is small relative to GDP. And with US$3.82 trillion in foreign reserves at the end of last year, Beijing can cover China’s near-term foreign liabilities more than three times over. Sure, the shrinkage of the central bank’s balance sheet were it actually forced to sell assets in order to fund the country’s external liabilities would inflict a painful monetary tightening on China’s domestic economy.

But with Beijing sitting on such a large pot of foreign reserves, such an extreme crisis is hardly likely. And even if it did happen, there would be no “global meltdown”. Despite the opening of recent years, Beijing’s controls on the free flow of capital mean China’s financial sector remains relatively closed, and the exposure of the global financial system to the country is low.

That’s not to say there wouldn’t be casualties from a sudden strengthening of the US dollar against the yuan, or from a marked slowdown in China’s domestic economy. At the end of October last year Hong Kong’s banking system was owed US$300 billion by mainland banks and another US$100 billion by mainland companies. Clearly the local pain would be intense. But a Chinese currency crisis triggering global meltdown? Happily not.”

 

(emphasis added)

Readers may recall that we have also recently mentioned the exposure of Hong Kong’s banks to Mainland China. We believe Mr. Holland is correct in one sense, but we also think he underestimates the contagion potential.

 

Contagion Through Many Different Channels

It is true that China’s closed capital account as well as the government’s tight control over the financial system makes China’s situation fundamentally different from that of countries with open capital accounts from whence foreign investors can at anytime flee in droves if they get cold feet over an overextended bubble.

In fact, we have  pointed out in the past that the great degree of central control over the economy (and especially the banking system) which China’s government enjoys makes it inherently more difficult to time a putative demise of the credit bubble than elsewhere – and such things aren’t easy to time to begin with.

However, a sharp decline in the yuan’s exchange rate may be seen as necessary by China’s leadership if a crisis threatens social stability (and with it the party’s rule) in China. China has already devalued a great deal on one occasion (in 1994), an event that in hindsight seems to have precipitated a chain reaction (first the yen followed the yuan lower, and then the currency pegs in various ‘Asian Tiger’ economies went overboard).

Today, China is a far bigger player in the world economy than in 1994, and we believe that Mr. Holland underestimates how today’s economic and financial interconnectedness may produce contagion effects even in light of the closed capital account and China’s large reserves. We also don’t necessarily regard  the exposure of Hong Kong’s banks as a de facto ‘internal affair’, as the territory is outside of the ambit of China’s capital controls and the yuan. It is not only Hong Kong’s banking system that one must worry about though. Consider what would happen if China were indeed forced to draw down its reserves to serve the $1.5 trillion in short term foreign liabilities, or a sizable chunk thereof. Given that this would inevitably result in a much tighter domestic monetary policy (provided the PBoC doesn’t take inflationary measures independent of its forex reserves), all sorts of malinvestments in China would be revealed as unsustainable. A number of industries would be faced with a major bust, and it is a good bet that commodity imports would plunge.

However, once that happens, one must immediately begin to worry about Australia’s banks, which have financed a giant housing bubble  on the back of the country’s commodities boom and in turn rely greatly on short term foreign funding. So there would immediately be a crisis in both Hong Kong’s and Australia’s banking systems, and it does not take a great leap of the imagination to see how contagion could spread further from them. Naturally many other raw materials exporting countries would also be hit hard, we mainly picked Australia as an example because its banks are so reliant on short term foreign funding, so they would presumably be among the first in line.

Lastly, here is a recent chart of NPLs in China’s official banking system (listed banks only, i.e. the biggest ones):

 


 

Statistic_id235732_non-performing-loan-npl-ratio-of-chinas-listed-banks-2012NPLs at China’s biggest banks – this looks good! In fact, it looks too good – click to enlarge.

 


 

As can be seen, NPLs at the major banks have declined to a negligible percentage (compare this with crisis-stricken Spain’s near 13% or so NPL ratio, which is understated to boot). However, there are plenty of credible rumors that China’s banks are keeping loans that would normally be regarded as dubious alive by all sorts of tricks. Not only that, they are definitely backing a great many of the ‘shadow banking’ businesses, which have developed in China mainly in order to circumvent  restrictions on banking activities.

In view of everything that is known about credit growth in China, we would regard this extremely low NPL ratio as a contrary indicator even if it were credible.

 

Conclusion:

No-one knows for sure how big a problem China’s economy will eventually face due to the massive credit and money supply growth that has occurred in recent years and no-one know when exactly it will happen either. There have been many dire predictions over the years, but so far none have come true. And yet, it is clear that there is a looming problem of considerable magnitude that won’t simply go away painlessly. The greatest credit excesses have been built up after 2008, which suggests that there can be no comfort in the knowledge that ‘nothing has happened yet’. Given China’s importance to the global economy, it seems impossible for this not to have grave consequences for the rest of the world, in spite of China’s peculiar attributes in terms of government control over the economy and the closed capital account.

 


 

ShanghaiShanghai’s A-share index (which is heavily weighed toward banks) continues to wallow near its lows of the past several years – click to enlarge.

 


 

Addendum:

The BIS is currently ‘warning regulators and governments’ about excessive borrowing and shifts in borrowing patterns by emerging market-based companies.

Why, thanks boys for this timely intercession! What would we do without you?

 

 

Charts by: SCMP and Forbes / Pricewaterhouse-Coopers, BigCharts

Argentina’s great decline – Counting the Cost – Al Jazeera English

Argentina’s great decline – Counting the Cost – Al Jazeera English.

It has gone from being one of the world’s wealthiest nations to a serial defaulter, but can it get back on track?

 Last updated: 08 Feb 2014 04:56
Argentina was once the world’s seventh richest country. But economic mismanagement by successive governments has left the country looking down the barrel of another default.

Since the 1980s, Buenos Aires has defaulted three times on its debts – most famously, perhaps, in 2001 when it refused to pay the creditors of its $95bn debt. Since then it has essentially been shut out of international markets.

To service its debt, Argentina started using central bank reserves. But the peso has been devalued by almost 20 percent, leading to spiralling inflation as a toxic cocktail of uncertainty and speculation drives prices through the roof. And Argentinians are feeling the pinch:

“We are in bad shape,” says mother of six Cynthia Cabrera. “With what my husband makes loading trucks at the vegetable market, we can’t survive. I have to ask the grocer to give us credit. We live day to day. Here we either eat at midday or at night; I can’t afford two meals now.”

So, what will it take for the government to get the country’s economy back on track? And can it come soon enough?

A double-edged economic sword

When a central bank raises interest rates, it increases the value of its currency, curbing inflation, cooling the economy and attracting investors seeking higher returns.

Lowering interest rates, on the other hand, devalues a currency, making it less attractive to investors, but easier for businesses and consumers to borrow money and spur economic growth.

Some forces, however, are beyond the control of central bankers, especially those presiding over emerging economies vulnerable to sudden shifts in foreign investment. Political unrest or disappointing economic news at home or in key trading partners can trigger a flight of capital from emerging markets.

For six years, the Federal Reserve’s low interest rate policies have pushed investors into emerging markets such as Turkey, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa where they could earn more for their money.

Many have profited handsomely from fast-growing industries feeding China’s insatiable demand for raw materials, but a slowdown in China’s manufacturing combined with Fed stimulus unwinding has spooked emerging markets investors. In recent weeks, they have cashed in their chips for dollars, leaving a glut of devalued local currencies and while that makes exports more attractive, it also raises the frightening spectre of runaway inflation.

Counting the Cost examines this double-edged economic sword.

Europe’s lost generation?

Unemployment is the millstone of this financial crisis, and particularly so amongst 15 to 24 years old. About one-in-four young people in the European Union are unemployed. In the US it is only slightly better at 16 percent.

In the UK alone, youth unemployment cost almost $8bn in 2012, and according to consultancy firm McKinsey, 27 percent of employers have left ‘entry level’ jobs unfilled because they could not find anyone with the necessary skills.

So, how can youth unemployment be tackled? And has it created a lost generation?

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