With Shanghai having limited retail exposure to high-yield bonds, and the Chinese corporate bond market has overtaken the United States as the world's biggest and is set to soak up a third of global company debt needs over the next five years, it is no wonder that, as Bloomberg reports, analysts fear "a prelude to a storm." Privately issued notes totaling 6.2 billion yuan ($1 billion) come due next quarter, the most since authorities first allowed such offerings from small- to medium-sized borrowers in 2012. This week a 4th issuer has faced a "payment crisis" and while officials are trying to expand financing for small companies (which account for 70% of China's economy, with debt-to-equity ratios exceeding 200%, this is nothing but more ponzi. As Goldman warns, it appears China's Minsky Moment is drawing near (as the hangover from Q1's credit impulse kicks in).
Which appears more likely - a straight-line extension of the past two years' rise in stocks, or another "impossible" decline to complete the megaphone pattern?
"Excess credit creation is at the heart of much of China’s GDP growth, and why this means that China must choose between a sharp slowdown in GDP growth as credit is constrained, or a continued unsustainable increase in debt. The key point is that we cannot simply put the bad debt behind us once the economy is “reformed” and project growth as if nothing happened. Earlier losses are still unrecognized and hidden in the country’s various balance sheets."
Vested interests are threatened by the losses generated by small financial fires, so these are systemically suppressed. As a result, the fallen deadwood piles ever higher, creating more fuel for the next random lightning strike to ignite. Once the deadwood piles high enough, the random lightning strike ignites a fire so fast-moving and so hot that it cannot be suppressed, and the entire financial system burns to the ground. So go ahead and keep defending the Status Quo as the best system possible, or believe Elites will keep suppressing fires forever because they're so powerful, or whatever excuse, rationalization or justification you prefer. It won't matter, because the firestorm won't respond to words, beliefs, ideological certainties, reassurances or official pronouncements. It will do what fires do, which is burn all available fuel until there's no fuel left to consume.
"We’re in a world where there are very few unambiguously cheap assets...If you ask me to give you the one big bargain out there, I’m not sure there is one." But frustrating as the situation can be for investors hoping for better returns, the bigger question for the global economy is what happens next. How long will this low-return environment last? And what risks are being created that might be realized only if and when the Everything Boom ends?
A look at the investment climate through the currency market and upcoming events and data.
All around Asia, PMIs are tumbling... except for China's government-sponsored Manufacturing PMI. This week saw Aussie Services PMI (linked significantly to China) tumbled to 2014 lows, Japan's PMI drop, and China's own Services PMI disappoint and fade to 2-month lows. So where is all this exuberance coming from in China's manufacturing industry (despite a 8-month in a row drop in employment)? We don't know; but the fact that China coal prices just hit a record low hardly supports the smog-choking industry of China being at 7-month highs... Hard data vs soft surveys? You decide.
For all the theoretical explanations about China's profound commodity rehypothecation problems, the one thing that was missing was an empirical case study framing just how substantial the problem is. After all, it is one thing to say banks expect "X millions in losses", but totally different to see the rehypothecation dominoes falling in practice. Today, courtesy of Bloomberg we got just such an example.
Meet Decheng Mining.
Opinions about the U.S. economy boil down to two views: 1) the recovery is now self-sustaining, meaning that the Federal Reserve can taper and end its unprecedented interventions without hurting growth, or 2) the current uptick in auto sales, new jobs, housing sales, etc. is as good as it gets, and the weak recovery unravels from here. The reality is that nothing has been done to address the structural rot at the heart of the U.S. economy. You keep shoving in the same inputs, and you guarantee the same output: another crash of credit bubbles and all the malinvestments enabled by monetary heroin.
Some basic suggestions for those who are seeking shelter from the coming storms of global financial crisis and recession.
Pundits enjoy pointing to NYSE margin debt as an indication of overall system leverage, and how prone to margin calls and liquidations the investor class may be at any given moment. However, in the new normal, in which sophsiticated investors fund themselves via completely different mechanism - mostly involving repo and other shadow banking conduits - margin debt has become a very much irrelevant indicator of overall leverage.
As the probe into alleged fraud at Qingdao continues to escalate (with liquidity needs growing more and more evident as Chinese money-market rates surge), Bloomberg reports that China’s chief auditor discovered 94.4 billion yuan ($15.2 billion) of loans backed by falsified gold transactions, in "the first official confirmation of what many people have suspected for a long time - that gold is widely used in Chinese commodity financing deals." As much as 1,000 tons of gold may have been used in lending and leasing deals in China and Goldman reports that up to $80 billion false-loans may involve gold. As one analyst noted, this was unlikely to have a significant impact on the underlying demand for gold in China and as we have pointed out before, any unwind of the Gold CFDs would lead to buying back of 'paper' gold hedges and implicitly a rise in prices.
Quietly behind the scenes, amid all the chaos of the Qingdao probe's contagion, copper has rallied modestly in the last seven days. That streak ended last night as the warehousing concerns we noted spreading to the entire sector, combined with a collapse in Chinese copper imports (down 17% in May), and yet another default (China Ting holdings said said two borrowers defaulted on entrusted loans). So it seems that not only are the commodities missing, but so is the money...as the slow motion train wreck gathers pace (no matter what PMIs or minis stimulus do to evade the tightening) as China's money-market rates (at 5 month highs) suggest liquidity demand is very high (and desperate).
But, but, but... Janet Yellen didn't say precious metal valuations were within historical norms? Gold and Silver are surging today (and have done since the FOMC press conference all-clear) with the latter having its best day in months and back at 3-month highs... Intriguingly, just as we warned, gold and silver have been on a significant tear since the Qingdao CCFD probe began (as synthetic hedges are unwound - which dominate pricing in PMs) while copper and iron ore and so on have all fallen (as the reality of no real demand leaks into these commodities).