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China’s Wake-Up Call from Washington by Stephen S. Roach – Project Syndicate

China’s Wake-Up Call from Washington by Stephen S. Roach – Project Syndicate. (source)

Yes, the United States dodged another bullet with a last-minute deal on the debt ceiling. But, with 90 days left to bridge the ideological and partisan divide before another crisis erupts, the fuse on America’s debt bomb is getting shorter and shorter. As a dysfunctional US government peers into the abyss, China – America’s largest foreign creditor – has much at stake.

This illustration is by Paul Lachine and comes from <a href="http://www.newsart.com">NewsArt.com</a>, and is the property of the NewsArt organization and of its artist. Reproducing this image is a violation of copyright law.
Illustration by Paul Lachine

It began so innocently. As recently as 2000, China owned only about $60 billion in US Treasuries, or roughly 2% of the outstanding US debt of $3.3 trillion held by the public. But then both countries upped the ante on America’s fiscal profligacy. US debt exploded to nearly $12 trillion ($16.7 trillion if intragovernmental holdings are included). And China’s share of America’s publicly-held debt overhang increased more than five-fold, to nearly 11% ($1.3 trillion) by July 2013. Along with roughly $700 billion in Chinese holdings of US agency debt (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), China’s total $2 trillion exposure to US government and quasi-government securities is massive by any standard.

China’s seemingly open-ended purchases of US government debt are at the heart of a web of codependency that binds the two economies. China does not buy Treasuries out of benevolence, or because it looks to America as a shining example of wealth and prosperity. It certainly is not attracted by the return and seemingly riskless security of US government paper – both of which are much in play in an era of zero interest rates and mounting concerns about default. Nor is sympathy at work; China does not buy Treasuries because it wants to temper the pain of America’s fiscal brinkmanship.

China buys Treasuries because they suit its currency policy and the export-led growth that it has relied on over the past 33 years. As a surplus saver, China has run large current-account surpluses since 1994, accumulating a massive portfolio of foreign-exchange reserves that now stands at almost $3.7 trillion.

China has recycled about 60% of these reserves back into dollar-denominated US government securities, because it wants to limit any appreciation of the renminbi against the world’s benchmark currency. If China bought fewer dollars, the renminbi’s exchange rate – up 35% against the dollar since mid-2005 – would strengthen more sharply than it already has, jeopardizing competiveness and export-led growth.

This arrangement fits America’s needs like a glove. Given its extraordinary shortfall of domestic saving, the US runs chronic current-account deficits and relies on foreign investors to fill the funding void. US politicians take this for granted as a special privilege bestowed by the dollar’s position as the world’s major reserve currency. When queried about America’s dependence on foreign lenders, they often smugly retort, “Where else would they go?” I have heard that line many times when I have testified before the US Congress.

Of course, America benefits from China’s outward-facing growth model in many other ways, as well. China’s purchases of Treasuries help hold down US interest rates – possibly by as much as one percentage point – which provides broad support to other asset markets, such as equities and real estate, whose valuation depends to some extent on Chinese-subsidized US interest rates. And, of course, hard-pressed middle-class American consumers benefit hugely from low-cost Chinese imports – the Walmart effect – that enable them to stretch their budgets in an era of unrelenting pressure on jobs and real incomes.

For more than 20 years, this mutually beneficial codependency has served both countries well in compensating for their inherent saving imbalances while satisfying their respective growth agendas. But here the past should not be viewed as prologue. A seismic shift is at hand, and America’s recent fiscal follies may well be the tipping point.

China has made a conscious strategic decision to alter its growth strategy. Its 12th Five-Year Plan, enacted in March 2011, lays out a broad framework for a more balanced growth model that relies increasingly on domestic private consumption. These plans are about to be put into action.  An important meeting in November – the Third Plenum of the Central Committee of the 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress – will provide a major test of the new leadership team’s commitment to a detailed agenda of reforms and policies that will be required to achieve this shift.

The debt-ceiling debacle has sent a clear message to China – and comes in conjunction with other warning signs. Post-crisis sluggishness in US aggregate demand – especially consumer demand – is likely to persist, denying Chinese exporters the support they need from their largest foreign market. US-led China bashing – a bipartisan blame game that reached new heights in the 2012 political cycle – remains a real threat. And now the safety and security of US debt are at risk. Economic alarms rarely ring so loudly. The time has come for China to respond with equal clarity.

Rebalancing is China’s only option. Several internal factors – excess resource consumption, environmental degradation, and mounting income inequalities – are calling the old model into question, while a broad constellation of US-centric external forces also attests to the urgent need for realignment.

With rebalancing will come a decline in China’s surplus saving, much slower accumulation of foreign-exchange reserves, and a concomitant reduction in its seemingly voracious demand for dollar-denominated assets. Curtailing purchases of US Treasuries is a perfectly logical outgrowth of this process. Long dependent on China to finesse its fiscal problems, America may now have to pay a much steeper price to secure external capital.

Recently, Chinese commentators have provocatively referred to the inevitability of a “de-Americanized world.” For China, this is not a power race. It should be seen as more of a conscious strategy to do what is right for China as it confronts its own daunting growth and development imperatives in the coming years.

The US will find it equally urgent to come to grips with a very different China. Codependency was never a sustainable strategy for either side. China just happens to have understood this first. The days of its open-ended buying of Treasuries will soon come to an end.

 

China’s Dagong Downgrades US To A- From A | Zero Hedge

China’s Dagong Downgrades US To A- From A | Zero Hedge. (source)

Since all US rating agencies (Fitch is majority French-owned) have been terrified into submission and will never again touch the rating of the US following the DOJ’s witch hunt of S&P, any US rating changes on the margin will come from abroad. Like China’s Dagong rating agency, which several hours ago just downgraded the US from A to A-, maintaining its negative outlook. The agency said that while a default has been averted by a last minute agreement in Congress, the fundamental situation of debt growth outpacing fiscal income and GDP remains unchanged. “Hence the government is still approaching the verge of default crisis, a situation that cannot be substantially alleviated in the foreseeable future.”

Among the other Dagong zingers:

  • The partial U.S. federal government shutdown apparently highlights the deterioration of the government’s solvency, pushing the sovereign debts into a crisis status.
  • Since the outbreak of the U.S. debt crisis in 2008, the deviation between the federal government’s sources of debt repayments and the country’s real wealth creation capacity has been constantly broadened. The huge amount of government debts that lack the basis of repayment always stands on the brink of default, and this situation is difficult to change in the long term. The federal government debt stock increased by 60.7% between 2008 and 2012 when the nominal GDP increased by only 8.5% while the fiscal income decreased by 2.9%, which indicates that fiscal income is losing its means as the primary source of debt repayments.
  • Liquidity has been continuously injected into international financial markets from the U.S., which indirectly plays a key role in combating against the risk of government default. This implicit debt default behavior infringes upon the benefits of creditors.
  • The debt ceiling has been extended continually, increasing the total amount of the federal government debts. In order to avoid the sovereign debt default, it becomes an inevitable choice for the U.S. government to repay its old debts through raising new debts. The fact that the debts grow faster than the fiscal incomes will further impair the federal government’s solvency.
  • The Democrats and the Republicans of U.S. do not have a consistent strategy target to solving the sovereign debt problem.

To be sure a Chinese rating agency is just that, Chinese, and its opinions are rooted in nationalistic pride as much as S&P and Moody’s AAA take on the housing bubble in 2005-2007 were rooted in mathematical logic, but the implications of this latest shot across the bow by the country which last weekend said the time has come to strip the dollar of its reserve currency status, are clear. And, at its core, Dagong is correct: because all the US really has done is kick the can for another three months, something the domestic rating agencies would also admit if they were not terrified of expressing the truth.

The logic in the full Dagong release below is self-evident:

Dagong Downgrades the U.S. Sovereign Credit Ratings to A-

On October 16, 2013 EST, the U.S. Congress approves the resolution to end the partial government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. By such means the U.S. Federal Government can avoid the default crisis for the moment. However the fundamental situation that the debt growth rate significantly outpaces that of fiscal income and GDP remains unchanged. For a long time the U.S. government maintains its solvency by repaying its old debts through raising new debts, which constantly aggravates the vulnerability of the federal government’s solvency. Hence the government is still approaching the verge of default crisis, a situation that cannot be substantially alleviated in the foreseeable future. In light of these facts, Dagong Global Credit Rating Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “Dagong”) decides to downgrade the local and foreign currency credit ratings of the U. S., which has already been on the negative watch list, to A- from A, maintaining a negative outlook. The rationale that supports the conclusion is as follows:

1. The partial U.S. federal government shutdown apparently highlights the deterioration of the government’s solvency, pushing the sovereign debts into a crisis status. The U.S. federal government announced its shutdown on Oct. 1, 2013, a radical event that reflects the liquidity shortage aroused by depleting stock of debts without the increase of new debts, directly resulting in the federal government lack of the funds for its normal function. The partial U.S. government shutdown is an inevitable outcome of its long-term failure to pay its excessive debts. During the fiscal years from 2008 to 2012, the ratio of the federal government’s stock of debts to fiscal income increased from 4.0 to 6.6. Under such circumstances, the federal government that can hardly sustain its own expenses, not mentioning collecting reliable income to cover its huge amount of debts. Substantial decrease of the U.S. government’s solvency is proven by this shutdown incident, which pushes the federal government into a crisis position of debt cliff and default.

2. Since the outbreak of the U.S. debt crisis in 2008, the deviation between the federal government’s sources of debt repayments and the country’s real wealth creation capacity has been constantly broadened. The huge amount of government debts that lack the basis of repayment always stands on the brink of default, and this situation is difficult to change in the long term. The federal government debt stock increased by 60.7% between 2008 and 2012 when the nominal GDP increased by only 8.5% while the fiscal income decreased by 2.9%,which indicates that fiscal income is losing its means as the primary source of debt repayments. Because of the fact that the federal government now depends highly on borrowing new debts to repay its old ones, vulnerability of its debt chain is accumulated so that technically debt default may occur at any time. For the fundamentals of government debt repayment condition will not be essentially improved, the federal government’s debt cliff will persist in the long term.

3. Liquidity has been continuously injected into international financial markets from the U.S., which indirectly plays a key role in combating against the risk of government default. This implicit debt default behavior infringes upon the benefits of creditors. In order to avoid the debt default caused by the lack of debt repayment sources such as fiscal incomes, the U.S. government has been taking advantage of the international currency dominance of the U.S. dollar to monetize its debts and has been taking quantitative easing monetary policy to maintain its government solvency since 2008. The devaluation of the stock of debts hereby directly damages the creditors’ interests. Dagong estimates that the depreciation of the U.S. dollar caused a loss of USD628.5bn on foreign creditors over the years of 2008 to 2012.

4. The debt ceiling has been extended continually, increasing the total amount of the federal government debts. In order to avoid the sovereign debt default, it becomes an inevitable choice for the U.S. government to repay its old debts through raising new debts. The fact that the debts grow faster than the fiscal incomes will further impair the federal government’s solvency. Ever since Obama’s inauguration in 2009, the U.S. Congress has extended the debt ceiling for five times, reaching a total volume of USD5.1tn. This further raise of the debt ceiling shows the government’s incapability of improving its solvency by improving the basic economic and fiscal elements.

5. The Democrats and the Republicans of U.S. do not have a consistent strategy target to solving the sovereign debt problem. As the issue of paying sovereign debts falls into a tool that the parties make use of to realize their own interests, the political environment is unfavorable for eliminating the risk of its sovereign debt default in the long term. The recurrence of the bi-partisan conflict over debt ceiling once again reveals the U.S. superstructure’s incapacity to solve national debt crisis. A debt crisis evolves into a political crisis, which in turn exacerbates the debt crisis. Such political
environment over debt repayment renders the dim and pale prospect of the U.S. federal government’s solvency.

 

 

12 Very Ominous Warnings About What A U.S. Debt Default Would Mean For The Global Economy

12 Very Ominous Warnings About What A U.S. Debt Default Would Mean For The Global Economy.

A U.S. debt default that lasts for more than a couple of days could potentially cause a financial crash unlike anything that the world has ever seen before.  If the U.S. government purposely wanted to damage the global financial system, the best way that they could do that would be to default on U.S. debt obligations.  A U.S. debt default would cause stocks to crash, would cause bonds to crash, would cause interest rates to soar wildly out of control, would cause a massive credit crunch, and would cause a derivatives panic that would be absolutely unprecedented.  And that would just be for starters.  But don’t just take my word for it.  These are the things that top financial experts all over the planet are saying will happen if there is an extended U.S. debt default.

Because they are so close together, the “government shutdown” and the “debt ceiling deadline” are being confused by many Americans.

As I wrote about the other day, the “partial government shutdown” that we are experiencing right now is pretty much a non-event.  Yeah, some national parks are shut down and some federal workers will have their checks delayed, but it is not the end of the world.  In fact, only about 17 percent of the federal government is actually shut down at the moment.  This “shutdown” could continue for many more weeks and it would not affect the global economy too much….

 

BP sues US government over contract ban – Americas – Al Jazeera English

BP sues US government over contract ban – Americas – Al Jazeera English.

 

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