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).
- 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)
Today VOX has released an engaging report titled "Central banks and gold puzzles" which looks quite simply at holdings of gold by central banks over the past 50 years. It breaks down the two buckets into countries that broadly fall into the Developed World category, and countries that make up the up and comers known as BRICs. The charts serve to merely confirm the latest "decoupling" in the world - that regarding views on gold by the insolvent developed world, and the economic powerhouses that make up true intrinsic global growth.
European stock futures have trended higher today in relatively light volumes as the market awaits key interest rate decisions (BoE & ECB) and with the deadline for the Greek debt swap deal looming. The latest talk this morning has been that the participation in the PSI deal has been well received and coupled with speculation of a Chinese RRR cut overnight and stops tripped in the E-mini S&P and Eurostoxx futures earlier this morning, contributed to a large portion of the move higher. As a consequence, the USD index has weakened (-0.5%) which has lifted the EUR/USD pair back firmly though the 1.3200 level to the upside and Brent/WTI crude futures are seen higher ahead of the NYMEX pit open. Looking ahead we await the ECB press conference as well as the latest jobs data from the US due at 1330GMT.
- Investors help Athens over bailout hurdle (FT)
- Greece Moves Closer to Swap (WSJ)
- U.S. Warns Apple, Publishers (WSJ)
- China offers other Brics renminbi loans (FT)
- Court Challenges EU on Bank Downsizings (WSJ)
- QE blamed for surge in pensions shortfall (FT)
- Tang: Open to adjusting dollar trading band (WSJ)
- U.S. Report to Warn on Cyberattack Threat From China (WSJ)
Today we observed how as the US is considering releasing crude from its Political, pardon Strategic Petroleum Reserve, China was doing just the opposite. Now, in a further step confirming that China is acting as a much more rational capitalist power, and is rapidly encroaching on the "reserve" status of the sacrosanct USD, the FT writes that China intends to extend renminbi loans to other BRIC nations in "another step toward the internationalisation of its currency." To those following the stealthy Chinese incursion into currency markets as a dollar alternative, this is not news: already we know that China and Japan have bypassed the dollar entirely and now engage in direct bilateral trade using JPY and CNY (even as most other nations in Asia have developed bilateral agreements to transact in a non dollar basis). This is merely the latest incremental step which will see China become the dominant player in the currency arena, and further puts to doubt the fate of the US Dollar as the default currency. Of course, the market will not acknowledge any of this until the developing (i.e., non-insolvent world) is transacting entirely with US intermediation. And at that point, the US will be merely another Zimbabwe case study, where it can print all the money it wants to fund its deficit, and the only ones who care will be wheelbarrow manufacturers.
The new Crony Crapitalist Utopia...
Much has been made of today's Reuters story how "Iran turns to barter for food as sanctions cripple imports" in which we learn that "Iran is turning to barter - offering gold bullion in overseas vaults or tankerloads of oil - in return for food", and whose purpose no doubt is to demonstrate just how crippled the Iranian economy is as a result of the ongoing US embargo. Incidentally this story is 100% the opposite of the Debka-spun groundless disinformation from a few weeks ago that India was preparing to pay for Iran's oil in gold (they got the asset right, but the flow of funds direction hopelessly wrong). While there is certainly truth to the fact that the US is actively seeking to destabilize the local government, we wonder why? After all as the opportunity cost for the existing regime to do something drastic gets ever lower as the popular resentment rises, leaving the local administration with few options but to engage either the US or Israel. Unless of course, this is the ultimate goal. Yet going back to the Reuters story, it would be quite dramatic, if only it was not the case that Iran has been laying the groundwork for a barter economy for many months now, something which various other analysts perceive as the basis for the destruction of the petrodollar system. Perhaps regular readers will recall that back in July, we wrote an article titled "China And Iran To Bypass Dollar, Plan Oil Barter System." Specifically, we wrote that "according to the FT, China has decided to commence a barter system in which Iranian oil is exchanged directly for Chinese exports. The net result: not only a slap for the US Dollar, but implicitly for all fiat intermediaries, as Iran and China are about to prove that when it comes to exchanging hard resources for critical Chinese goods and services, the world's so called reserve currency is completely irrelevant." Seen in this light the fact that Iran is actually proceeding with a barter system, something that had been in the works for quite a while, actually puts the Reuters story in a totally different light: instead of one predicting the imminent demise of the Iranian economy, the conclusion is inverted, and underscores the culmination of what may have been an extended barter preparation period, has finally gone from beta to (pardon the pun) gold, and Iran is now successfully engaging in global trade without the use of the historical reserve currency.
It’s clear that the BRICS cannot be the engine room of global economic growth. Meanwhile, Europe is a complete basket case, and the euro is looking increasingly as though it will be consigned to the dustbin of history. Across the pond, the US is trying to put a brave face on its jobless recovery whilst kicking a $15 trillion debt bomb down the road. Anyone who steps back and looks at the big picture has -got- to recognize the absurdity of this situation. Now… here’s the good news: you and I have a huge advantage. Citi, Deutsche Bank, Unicredit, etc. are sitting on incalculable losses, unrealistic obligations, and worthless paper that will destroy their organizations. They’ve been accumulating these for years and have no way of avoiding the endgame. We do. We, on the other hand, are little guys. If you and I want to cut our exposure to these silly pieces of paper that governments pass off as currency, we can do that easily. We can easily do that by buying gold or productive land overseas. Bank of America, on the other hand, has to hold Tim Geithner’s dirty laundry.
What is happening at the moment reminds me of 2008 in every way. We have seen tremendous inflationary pressures in the emerging world, which has now finally resulted in serious slowdowns in many nations. The China credit bubble, mal-investment house of cards that I first warned about in mid 2009 has started to unravel in earnest and this can be seen in industrial commodity prices such as copper. Europe is…well we all know about Europe. So in this type of environment the optimists will always invent a story that finds a silver lining. That’s fine, everyone is entitled to an opinion and clearly I have my own biases but I think the similarity to 2008 is what is important. Back then the spin was decoupling. Despite the blowup of the U.S. housing markets and it’s financial institutions, the spin back then was that the BRICs would keep growing and support the global economy. Of course, this is not the way it turned out and those economies plunged as well, just with a lag. Well here in late 2011 we find ourselves in a similar situation; however, this time we are led to believe that the U.S. economy is the Atlas that will hold up the world with its strong corporate balance sheets and moderate growth. A bigger bunch of nonsense hasn’t been heard since 2008.
The overnight agreement by 17 European countries to tighten euro-area budget controls and expand bailout funds fails to address key aspects of the crisis and may fall at the first hurdle, analysts and investors say. The summary of various Wall Street expert opinions is compiled and presented below from Bloomberg. It is not pretty.
Just in time for the Chinese 50 bps RRR cut, we get a note from Albert Edwards reminding us just why this desperate and sudden move from China comes: "We have identified a China hard landing as one of the biggest investment shocks next year." Not only that, but the SocGen strategist takes a long overdue swipe at the world's most ridiculous concept, Jim O'Neill's BRIC debacle: "Despite recent poor performance investors still seem to favour EM and the BRICs. My good friend and former colleague Peter Tasker came up with an alternative for the widely (over) used BRIC acronym - Bloody Ridiculous Investment Concept." It appears that the PBOC was well aware of this re-definition when it decided to announce to the world that it has started easning once again last night.
This is Jim O'Neill in about the most pessimistic light that his genetic makeup, not to mention GSAM employment contract, will allow him: "For a couple of days this week, it actually felt as though Europe’s post-war project was nearing the end of the road and, as a result, emotions have been running high. For those that never believed it was a good idea, some have been expressing a mood of jubilance. For many involved in its creation, this has not been a good week. I got more caught up in the middle of this than usual as a result of a newspaper interview, where the headline distorted what I had actually said, claiming that we were predicting a break up. While this was not a fair reflection, I did say that some major issues were now on the table and needed to be recognized. The EMU, as created, has not really worked and needs to change. It is quite clear that many countries should not have been allowed to join. It is also clear that the Growth and Stability Pact has not worked. Policymakers need to be more open in at least acknowledging this, and then doing something about it. If all of this wasn’t enough of a challenge, Italy’s issues have become front and centre. Italy is no Greece. Indeed, although the BRICs can create another Italy in 2012, Italy is close to 4 times the combined size of Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Its total debt is close to 25 pct of the Euro Area GDP. Quite simply, Italy cannot be allowed to stay in the position it found itself this week....while I can see the case for an EMU without some others, and despite all of Italy’s complications, I can’t see an EMU without Italy. At the same time, I can’t see Italy sustaining life with 6-7 pct 10-year bond yields. So something has to give. Let’s see what Italy brings over the weekend, and how Frankfurt, Berlin, Brussels and the rest of us all react."
Three of the smartest strategists at Goldman, Huw Pill, Francesco Garzarelli, and Peter Oppenheimer, have released what one could tentatively call a white paper on the "next steps" for Europe. Far from being the traditional permabullish sellside drivel, this is a must read note, as it cleanly lays out the risks for the Eurozone from this point. The note focuses on three key aces: 1) fiscal consolidation and the ongoing role of the ECB in the future of a Eurozone which still has no fiscal cohesion (which makes sense: just like in the US, the Fed is aggressively putting the ball in Congress' court, as neither the monetary nor fiscal apparatus has any interest in being blamed for ongoing economic deterioration, so in Europe the ECB wants a federal union, complete with Eurobond issuance powers, so it is not in the cross hairs: alas, European politicians realize this is career suicide and the question remains: when push comes to shove, and saving the Euro requires career harakiri from politicians, will they step up to the plate?); 2) Italy, of course, as the country under the spotlight now and going forward; and 3) what the above two mean for BTPs and thus the European (and Global) equity markets. The sense we get from the Goldman trio is that while the company which has just spawned Europe's latest central banking head, while cautiously neutral is pushing for a downside case: after all what better way to unlock the Heidelberger Druckmaschinen true potential, than with a full blown crisis...