The US economy is a house of cards. Every aspect of it is fraudulent, and the illusion of recovery is created with fraudulent statistics. American capitalism itself is an illusion. However, Washington has unique subjects. Americans will take endless abuse and blame some outside government for their predicament – Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, China, Russia. Such an insouciant and passive people are ideal targets for looting, and their economy, hollowed-out by looting, is a house of cards.
The gaps between markets (credit, equity, and volatility) and economic (macro- and micro-) reality have seldom been larger. What is just as concerning as this yawning chasm is the similarity of a number of activities to the 'bubble' in credit in 2007 - from record CLO issuance to covenant-lite loans resurgence. As Citi's Matt King notes, the past fortnight’s virtual melt-up in all things high yielding has been accompanied by a growing sense that markets are breaking out of the patterns of the past few years. In the near term, there is no reason in principle why the moves cannot go further; but unless more of the central bank stimulus finds its way through to the economy, this opens up the risk of sudden corrections as markets fall back to earth. How long will it take for that to occur, and for markets to become scared once again? It is hard to tell, and yet, as we have noted numerous times, we have been in this situation before. In 2009, the divergences took 6 months before stocks corrected, in 2011 it took 4 months, and in 2012 it took just 1 month. It's not different this time.
There have been several recent developments that have flown in the face of both neo-liberalism and ordo-liberalism and thrown investors off balance. Discuss.
In the last few days we have seen reports suggesting Brazilian household debt and service payments are weighing on growth, that Southeast Asia’s commercial credit is approaching its pre-1997 financial crisis peak of 75% GDP, and that South Korea’s household debt has reached 164% of disposable income compared with 138% in the US at the start of the housing crisis. Chinese debt rose 15% in excess of GDP last year from 191% to 206%. Its corporate cash flow is around 50% of profitability whilst loan growth is way in excess of the banks’ return on equity meaning the growth is dependent on a continual supply of new capital to the banks. Over the last few years whilst the developed economies have struggled to reduce their debt relative to GDP – (the most successful of the major economies has probably been the US which has taken non-financial sector debt down from a high of 253.15% GDP to 248.18% GDP) – the developing economies have taken advantage of cheap funding to inflate their debt levels dramatically, leaving the global debt position worse than in 2007.. Some of the emerging market debt is relatively small and the necessary rebalancing of the economy should be relatively easy to achieve, but even if it is only a cyclical limit as oppose to the structural limits of the developed economies, it is coinciding at the same time and will add to the global problem. As data on world GDP growth would suggest, it is not just Brazil where the numbers show “the exhaustion of a growth model based on consumption”.
Presented without any comment (see original Titan letter here), and google translated to add Babel fishing insult to an already injurious, or is that hilarious, exchange between a hard core capitalist and a socialist... perfect ignorance, admiration of Obama, trade tariff threats, oh, and don't mention the war.
Yes, it is the holiday season. Yes, you are unlikely to be taking action with your investments. Yes, the morphing of what is into what will be continues uninterrupted.
There were several developments over the weekend that will influence the direction of the the markets in the days ahead, with the usual caution about the impact of the thinness of conditions.
First, the major focus remains the US fiscal cliff. One of the most important ways in which the US fiscal crisis differs from those seen in Iceland, Greece, Portugal, Ireland is that it has not been triggered by a capital strike. Investors have not fled the US. Interest rates have not trended higher. It is not a fiscal crisis. It is a political crisis
If yesterday it was the Middle East's turn to escalate, today it is the Far East, aka Pacific Rim, where China and Japan both remind the world nothing has been fixed in the diplomatic snafu between the two countries over a barren rock in the East China Sea. First, it was China, which on the front page of the biggest daily Xinhua, over the weekend, demanded that Japan immediately stop infringing upon its "territorial sovereignty. To wit: "China asked Japan to immediately stop all acts that harm China's territorial sovereignty, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said late Saturday, after some Japanese landed on the Diaoyu Islands. Hong said the Japanese landed on the Diaoyu Islands Friday evening with the excuse of preventing Taiwanese activists from landing on the islets. "It is a severe infringement upon China's territorial sovereignty, and the Chinese government has lodged solemn representations and strong protests to the Japanese side," Hong said in a statement." Other headlines make it quite clear that it is in China's interest to stir populist anger at Japan instead of seeking an amicable resolution. What, however, was the most important article in today's Pacific Rim press is this one which has nothing to do with Japan, and everything to do with China's expanding zone of influence: "China's top security official on Saturday made a surprise visit to Afghanistan, the first time in 46 years that a Chinese leader set his foot on the soil of this landlocked Asian country."
- Merkel Prepares to Strike Back Against Hollande (Spiegel)
- China to subsidise vehicle buyers in rural areas (Reuters) - what could possibly go wrong
- Bankia’s Writedowns Cast Doubts on Spain’s Bank Estimates (Bloomberg) - unpossible, they never lie
- Shares in Spain's Bankia plunge on bailout plan (AP) - oh so that's what happens when a bank is bailed out.
- SNB’s Jordan Says Capital Controls Among Possible Moves (Bloomberg)
- Greeks Furious Over Harsh Words from IMF and Germany (Spiegel)
- Tehran defiant on nuclear programme (FT)
- Finally they are getting it: Greece needs to go to the brink (Breaking Views) - of course, Citi said it a week ago, but it is the MSM...
- OTC derivatives frontloading raises stability concerns (IFRE)
- Wall Street Titans Outearned by Media Czars (Bloomberg)
As both anecdotal, local and hard evidence of China's slowing (and potential hard landing) arrive day after day, it is clear that China's two main pillars of strength (drivers of growth), construction and exports, are weakening. As Societe Generale's Cross Asset Research group points out, China is entering the danger zone and warns that given China's local government debt burden and large ongoing deficits, a large-scale stimulus plan similar to 2008 is very unlikely, especially given a belief that Beijing has lost some control of monetary policy to the shadow banking system. In a comprehensive presentation, the French bank identifies four critical themes which provide significant stress (and opportunity): China's economic rebalancing efforts, a rapidly aging population and healthcare costs, wage inflation and concomitant automation, and pollution and energy efficiency. Their trade preferences bias to the benefits and costs of these themes being short infrastructure/mining names and long automation/energy efficiency names.
They detail their concerns about the Chinese economic outlook (weakening exports, housing bubble about to burst, local government's debt burden, and large shadow banking system), and show that China has no choice but to transition to a more consumption-driven economy leading to waning growth for infrastructure-related capital goods and greater demand for consumer-related manufacturing. Overall they see a hard-landing becoming more likely.