China is best known as the world's export driver as the hopes of every exporting nation in the world are pinned on the eventual transition of the economy to domestic consumption and hence greater imports. While China has contributed most to Global GDP growth in the past few years, some argue that this growth is not as 'helpful' as US growth to other countries - since China does not import much other than commodities (and less steel now). However, as UBS' Tao Wang points out today, that claim is not quite as valid now as before the financials crisis. China's imports have far outpaced exports in the past 4 years, and trade surplus has shrunk from 9% of GDP in 2007 to 3.3% in 2011. China's 2011 import data shows two sets of information that should be common knowledge by now: 1) China imports a lot from East and Southeast Asian economies (and is the largest market for almost all major economies in the region); and 2) China imports a huge amount of energy and resources (metals and minerals) benefiting Australia and Brazil significantly. But exports to China have become increasingly important for developed economies such as Japan, Germany, and the EU in general and perhaps more concerning is the fact that large emerging market economies may find it increasingly difficult to 'decouple' from China. These two charts show just how large an impact any slowing in Chinese growth and demand will have on some of the largest and most 'decoupled' growth nations - it is clear the BRICs are increasingly self-reliant (and potentially self destructive).
There are those cynical elements out there, who think that the primary reason why Germany has been unhappy with Greece is that the Germany military-industrial complex has lost a staple buyer of its military products (recall: "Greece Spends Bailout Cash On European Military Purchases" and one wonders just how instrumental the brand spanking new PASOK leader, Venizelos, who was Greek Minister of National Defense, has been in such arrangements in the past). Well, Germany may have just found a way out. Reuters reports:
- GERMAN DEFENCE MIN SAYS TO DELIVER ANOTHER SUBMARINE TO ISRAEL FOR WHICH GERMANY WILL PROVIDE FINANCIAL HELP
Over the past few month we have made it expressly clear that as part of its bailout of European banks, all Greek "bailout" funding in the form of super senior first lien debt funded by the Troika (since the Greek balance sheet now has 7 distinct debt classes), which counts the IMF among its backers, which in turn means you, US taxpayers, will go to European banks and most importantly, that most undercapitalized hedge fund of all, the ECB, LLC. Said funding has now officially commenced. There are those Greeks who may read the following headline from Reuters with delight "Greece receives first tranche of new bailout aid", at least until they get to the following part: "Greece has received the first 7.5 billion euros of aid from its new EU/IMF bailout, with the bulk of the payment going to repay bonds held by the euro zone's central banks, government officials said on Tuesday." So while the Greek may particularly care that not only will they not see much if any of the actual bailout cash, and in fact will soon have to start using their gold to fill the capital shortfall as reported here, we are curious what the response will be from US taxpayers, who are on the hook for about 17% of IMF funding, as the money starts trickling in, however not for some old-fashioned concepts such as stimulating jobs, but simply to indirectly, with Greece as a conduit, bailout Europe's insolvent central banks.
Economic Surprise Indices have been rolling over for a month or two now. The trend of US macro data has also disappointed in a period when it would be expected (empirically) to accelerate. However, taken anecdotally or cherry-picked managers can find plenty of ammunition to support the to-infinity-and-beyond Birinyi forecast (though often it relies on the most manipulated and adjusted government provided time-series). Overnight's concerns on China show just how quickly confidence can be upset but Goldman's Jan Hatzius sees three main factors for why their GDP-tracking estimate is weakening already (more like 2% than 3-3.5% growth) and that we are seeing slightly softer data already. The end of the inventory cycle, the pulling forward of demand thanks to the warm weather aberration, and the already clear impact on consumption from higher gasoline prices will likely shift from an overstated economic trajectory to more muddle-through or worse for Q2 onwards.
Minutes ago, the US Census Bureau released the February Housing Starts data, which printing at 698K was a mild disappointment, as it was below expectations of 700K, and down from a revised 706K. However, as usual, the headline gives only half the story. Here is the reality: in February, only 48.1k homes were started (Not Seasonally Adjusted). This compares to 46.5K in January. However, of this number Single Unit houses, those which are relevant for actual housing demand, and not the 5+ units more relevant for rental purposes, declined from 33.0K to 31.5K. In fact, the 31.5K number was the weakest since December's 31.0K, and then all the way back to February 26.6K. What offset this? The surge in multi-family housing units, as usual, which rose from 12.3K to 16.1K. Recall that lately there has been a shift from owning to renting, and as such builders are focusing on this. All of this is summarized in the SAAR based (Seasonally Adjusted) chart below. It gets worse: looking at actual completions, far more important in this New Normal economy, where everyone is willing to take credit for a hole in the ground as "new housing" what really matters is the rate of completions. And in January, it was a meager 28.6K, a tiny rise from January, and lowest than any number in 2011, except for last February. Sorry - there is no housing bottom. If anything, true housing continues to creep along the bottom as can be seen in the chart below.
As the rumor (and denial) of the potential release of the SPR washed out Crude and Brent prices last week, only to recover within 24 hours, we wonder if this was all the bang for the buck that these kind of pre-announcements will get. With the majority of crude reserves based in the US and product reserves based in Europe and spare capacity falling as OPEC picks up production even as Iran backs off, Morgan Stanley notes that the maximum stocks drawdown of the SPR in month 1 could average 14.4mmb/d (10.4mmb/d of crude and 4.0mmb/d of products) which is enough to mitigate flows passing through the Strait of Hormuz (according to the IEA). However with only 90 days of cover at these rates, it is hardly the 'solution' to even the briefest of geopolitical disruptions. This perhaps explains the price action of previous SPR announcements, which varies by crude benchmark, but holds prices lower for a maximum of two weeks. Most notably, the greatest price drops on the SPR announcement tend to occur in the first 2-3 days at which point the term structure starts to increase once again. Louisiana Light tends to be hit the most followed by Brent and then WTI but the rebound is just as aggressive and we wonder if last week's rumor was merely a strawman to see just what impact was possible (we dropped 2-3% or so) and recovered rapidly compared to the 4-5% drop in June during the Arab Spring release (which was the largest release in the last 20 years).
Earlier this morning, there have been some completely unfounded speculation of a Chinese coup. And this is all. To get some additional color, we go to Chinese macro expert Andy Lees, who incidentally has have left the churn factory known as UBS, and is now at AML Macro Ideas. Here is his take.
The next country that could follow Greece out of Valhalla and down to meet Poseidon at Hades gates is Portugal. They trod the path once before but look likely to be headed out on a second journey. The country’s private and household debt are approximately 300% of the total GDP of Portugal and their economy is contracting; around 4.00% by some estimates. While the European Commission estimates a debt to GDP ratio of 111% for this year; the actual data tells another story. Further aggravating a future restructuring are the CDS contracts with a net position of $5.2 billion and a gross amount of $67.30 billion which is about twice the amount of the net exposure for Greece.
There are two main news updates dominating early newsflow: the first comes from BHP Billiton, after the world's largest miner raised concerns about the possibility of a sharp slowdown in demand from top metals consumer China. Per Reuters: "There is a slowing trend in China ... moving increasingly away from the growth model that they have had, which may be a little less metals intensive. This is not new, but recognition by big mining companies would have had an effect." Australian iron ore miners, key beneficiaries of China's modern-day industrial revolution, signaled on Tuesday demand growth was finally slowing in response to Beijing's moves to cool its economy. BHP Billiton said it was seeing signs of "flattening" iron ore demand from China, though for now it was pushing ahead with ambitious plans to expand production." That this comes just on the tail of JP Morgan warning of a hard landing in China is curious, and one wonder if the Federal Reserve Bank of JP Morgan is not fully intent on telegraphing that the next big center of QE will be the PBOC. The other news is that the perpetual crude "upside capacity" strawman Saudi Arabia 'has pledged to take action to lower the high price of oil, which has risen to around $125 a barrel, with laden supertankers set to arrive in the US in the coming weeks. ... Saudi Arabia said yesterday it will work "individually" and with the other petrol-rich Gulf states to return prices to "fair" levels. The country indicated earlier this year that $100 a barrel was the ideal oil price." There is one problem with this as expected Saudi attempt to help Obama's reelection campaign: as pointed out yesterday, it is very unlikely that Saudi Arabia has any realistic ability to do much if anything to push the price of crude lower, especially if and when the middle east hostilities flare up.
Heading into the North American open, EU stocks are seen lower across the board as market participants reacted to cautious comments from Moody’s rating agency on Spain, which noted that Spain’s fiscal outlook remains challenging despite easier targets. Still, the ratings agency further commented that easier targets do not affect Spain’s A3 government bond rating with a negative outlook. Separately to this, a BHP Billiton executive said that Chinese demand for iron ore is flattening, while according to China's state-backed auto association, China's vehicles sales this year will probably miss their growth forecasts. As a result, basic materials sector has been the worst performing sector today, while auto related stocks such as Daimler and VW also posted significant losses. The ONS reported that inflation in the UK fell to 3.4% in February, down from 3.6% in January. However, higher alcohol prices stopped the rate declining further. Going forward, the latter half of the session sees the release of the latest US housing data, as well as the weekly API report.
Jewelers in India are protesting the tax hike on gold imports and plan to keep their shops closed for two more days. This is India’s first nationwide strike in seven years and shows how important the gold industry is in India. The excise duty hike is expected to lead to less demand however Indian demand may again prove to be robust despite tax increases. PDR Gold Trust, the world's largest gold-backed ETF, said its gold holdings remained unchanged at 1,293.268 metric tonnes for the 5th straight session on Monday, despite the drop in prices last week. Gold will have a “sharp” rally as the U.S. boosts monetary stimulus because of a faltering economy in the coming months, Societe Generale said in a report that was picked up by Bloomberg. Data on U.S. gross domestic product in the first and second quarters will “surprise dramatically to the downside,” the bank said today in a report. Meanwhile, ANZ has said that central bank gold buying may lead to a nominal gold record price in 2012 and prices to average $1,744/oz from $1,571/oz in 2011.
- BHP Billiton sees China iron ore demand flattening (Reuters)
- Australia Passes 30% Tax on Iron-Ore, Coal Mining Profits (Bloomberg)
- State Capitalism in China Will Fade: Zhang (Bloomberg)
- Venizelos quits to start election campaign (FT)
- Fed’s Dudley Says U.S. Isn’t ‘Out of the Woods’ (Bloomberg)
- China Is Leading Foreign Investor in Germany (WSJ)
- Fed undecided on more easing: Dudley (Reuters)
- Martin Wolf: What is the real rate of interest telling us? (FT)
While it has no chance of passage, the GOP 2013 budget, details of which have been leaked by the WSJ, proposes slashing corporate and individual tax rates, collapsing the current six tax bracket system into just two tiers (10% and 25%), lowering top corporate tax rate to 25% and scrapping the anachronism that is the AMT, or Alternative Minimum Tax. Finally, the proposed plan would nearly eliminate U.S. taxes on American corporations' earnings from overseas operations: something which companies with foreign cash would be rather happy to hear. Needless to say, Democrats will promptly dead end this budget in the Senate: "The proposal, to be offered by Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), who has become the Republicans' leading figure on budget issues, has little chance of becoming law soon. While likely to be welcomed by House GOP rank-and-file members, it would be rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate."