This morning’s news that the China leadership has launched a “mini-stimulus” package might confirm what we’ve long feared – China’s economic situation is more perilous than we thought. It looks like a comparatively modest supply-side package of tax cuts, export boosts and railway stimulus, designed to “arouse the energy of the market” according the State Council. But it could be the first of many new programs according to analysts. The state is clearly concerned. That it has been forced to act should be a wake up and smell the coffee moment for markets – the implications of China slowdown could be this year’s game changer in markets.
If there is one equivalent to Goldman's FX "strategist" Tom Stolper in the macroeconomic arena when it comes to perpetually inaccurate, flawed and flat out wrong predictions about the future, it is the IMF. Previously we compiled a brief history of their consistently overoptimistic, (downward) revisionistic forecasts based on their semi-annual reports which can only be summarized as "laughable." And, sure enough, we just learned that the IMF is about to trim its unrealistic optimism some more.
We reported yesterday that Europe, in a surprising escalation of global trade wars, announced it would impose solar-panel duties against China in one week, with the terms rapidly deteriorating over the next three months. It took China less than one day to retaliate. What's worse the retaliation is aimed at Europe's already weakest - the PIIGS - by targeting not hard German machinery exports but something far more prosaic: French, Spanish and Italian wine.
Recent price action amid the heavily shorted solar stocks has seemingly been predicated on hope that late May chatter of negotiated settlements in the industry would occur and everyone could go happily about their business. While hope remains for a settlement - and tariffs have been delayed 2 months, as the WSJ reports - the EU is set to announce drastic anti-dumping levies on Chinese solar panels in a move that could trigger a trade war between two of the world's largest economies:
- *EU SAYS SOLAR-PANEL DUTY TO START AT 11% ON JUNE 6
- *EU SAYS SOLAR-PANEL DUTY TO RISE TO 47.6% IN AUGUST
- *EU'S DE GUCHT SAYS NOT CLOSE TO SOLAR-PANEL PACT WITH CHINA
Sadly this is playing out very similarly to the Great Depression period as tariffs and protectionism replaced domestic focused fiscal and monetary policy and escalated problems rapidly. China rejects the EU's price-dumping allegations, but the problem is not new for Beijing. The U.S. last year imposed punitive tariffs on solar panel imports after finding that China's government was subsidizing companies that were flooding the U.S. market.
Over three months ago in "South Korea Starts Currency War Rumblings; Has Japan In Its Sights" we showed that the one nation with the biggest sensitivity to Japan's currency-destructive and export-promoting Abenomics policy is its close neighbor, South Korea. With nearly 60% of SK's entire GDP deriving from net exports, every percent drop in its trade balance result in a more than 0.5% hit to GDP: more than any nation in the world. And since South Korea and Japan compete for the same export end markets, there would be no bigger loser in a zero trade sum world than Seoul. However now that Abenomics is in its sixth month, and South Korea's max export pain threshold has been reached, the country no longer will stay silent. As the FT reports, "South Korea has warned that G8 leaders need to do more to tackle the “unintended consequences” of Japan’s monetary easing when they gather for a summit later this month amid mounting concerns about the knock-on effects of a weaker yen. In an interview, Hyun Oh-seok, the South Korean finance minister and deputy prime minister, said that international co-ordinated action was needed to mitigate the impact of so-called “Abenomics” on currency markets."
Last week, Bill Gross did not mince his words when he said that he now "sees bubbles everywhere" and that "when that stops there will be repercussions" but for now Benny and the Inkjets, not to mention his band of merry statist men, who take from the poor and give to the wealthy, are playing the music on Max, and so one must dance and dance and dance. And after one legacy bond king, it was the turn of that other, ascendant one - Jeff Gundlach - to share his perspectives Bernanke's amazing bubble machine. His response, to nobody's surprise: "there is a bubble in central banking. We are drowning in central banking and quantitative easing.... And it's not ending until there are some negative consequences."
Getting a second passport is just part of a larger "permanent traveler" strategy. The ideal is to live in one place, have your citizenship in another, your banks and brokers in other jurisdictions, and your business dealings in yet others. That makes it very inconvenient for any one government to control you. You don't want all your eggs in one basket – that just makes it easier for them to grab them all. I understand it may not be easy for most people to structure their affairs that way. That's exactly why most serfs stayed serfs; it was hard and scary to think of anything other than what they were told they should do.
Prior to yesterday, if you were trying to handicap how the unelected leaders of the Eurozone were going to react to a tough situation, you only had to refer to the quote "When it becomes serious, you have to lie" from Mr. Junker to understand their mindset. But so long as someone at the ECB was willing to flood the world with free EURs (with significant backup provided the US Federal Reserve) the market closed its eyes, held its breath and took the leap of faith that all was well. However, post the Cyprus decision, the curtain has been pulled back and wizard revealed with all his faults and warts. It would be hard to over-emphasize how significant the Cyprus situation is. The damage done here is not related to the size of the haircut - currently discussed between 3 and 13% - but rather that the legal language which each and every investor on the planet must rely on in order to maintain confidence in the system has been subordinated to the needs of the powerful elite.
Recent news about Federal plans to "help" manage private retirement accounts renewed our interest in the topic of capital controls. One example of capital control is to limit the amount of money that can be transferred out of the country; another is limiting the amount of cash that can be withdrawn from accounts; a third is the government mandates private capital must be invested in government bonds. Though presented as "helping" households, the real purpose of the power grab would be to enable the Federal government to borrow the nation's retirement accounts at near-zero rates of return. As things fall apart, Central States pursue all sorts of politically expedient measures to protect the State's power and the wealth of the political and financial Elites. Precedent won't matter; survival of the State and its Elites will trump every other consideration. All this raises an interesting question: what would America look like at $5000 an ounce gold?
While the rest of the developed (read trade deficit) world's foray into the currency wars was completely predictable and expected, there was one country that had so far kept very silent on the topic of Japan's attempts to crush its currency: its main export competitor, South Korea. Recall that for this Asian nation exports are everything, and as Yonhap reminds us, "exports of goods and services amounted to 538.5 trillion won (US$506 billion) in the January-September period, or 57.3 percent of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP), according to the data by the Bank of Korea. The reading was higher than 56.2 percent tallied for all of 2011 and the highest since the central bank began compiling related data in 1970, and South Korea's exports accounted for 13.2 percent of its GDP." The reason for South Korea's relative silence is that, as we showed yesterday, in the global race to debase launched with the end of the Bretton Woods, it was the undisputed leader, outdoing even the US. Moments ago South Korea may have just had enough and broke the seal on its code of silence. As Reuters reports, "South Korea said that while the Group of 20 nations at their meeting last weekend did not single out Japan for monetary and fiscal measures that have weakened the yen, the group did not exactly endorse Japan's quantitative easing policy, which in fact stirred controversy."
Keep your eyes on the prize. The important part of the G20 statement had nothing to do with currency wars.
While the G-20 and the G-7 haggle among each other, all (with perhaps the exception of France) desperate to make it seem that Japan's recent currency manipulation is not really manipulation, and that the plunge in the Yen was an indirect, "unexpected" consequence of BOJ monetary policy (when in reality as Richard Koo explained it is merely a ploy to avoid the spotlight falling on each and every other G-7/20 member, all of which are engaged in the same type of currency wars which eventually will all morph into trade wars), Europe's energy powerhouse Norway quietly entered into the war. From Bloomberg: "Norges Bank is ready to cut interest rates further to counter krone gains that interfere with the inflation target, Governor Oeystein Olsen said. “If it gets too strong over time, leading to inflation that’s too low, we will act,” Olsen said yesterday in an interview at his office in Oslo.
Paul Krugman is all for currency wars, but not trade wars: "...First of all, what people think they know about past currency wars isn’t actually true... And in reality the stuff that’s now being called “currency wars” is almost surely a net plus for the world economy..." There is a serious intellectual error here, typical of much of the recent discussion of this issue. A currency war is by definition a low-level form of a trade war because currencies are internationally traded commodities. The intent (and there is much circumstantial evidence to suggest that Japan at least is acting with mercantilist intent, but that is another story for another day) is not relevant — currency depreciation is currency depreciation and still has the same effects on creditors and trade partners, whatever the claimed intent. The risks of disorder and disruption are still very real today.
Curious why nobody at the G-7 or G-20 had the gall to outright accuse Japan of currency manipulation? Simple: because everyone else in the G-7 and G-20 has been doing precisely what Japan only recently started doing a few months ago. As such, it would be outright "glass house" hypocrisy if there was a formal Japanese condemnation by the group of overlevered nations, which moments ago released its draft communique not naming the island nation outright as was widely expected. Of course, that the G-20 did not accuse Japan of engaging in what everyone clearly knows is currency war, does not mean that everyone else is not doing this. To the contrary: they are, and the lack of a stern rebuke of Japan simply means the currency wars will now intensify, devolving into the same protectionism and trade wars as the first Great Depression was so familiar with, which to borrow a parallel from history again, will end with the kind of war that ultimately ended the first Great Depression.
How do you hedge when shots are pips? The next world war will be computerized. The global economy is on the brink and battle lines are forming with one objective, restoring economic balance. Properly engineered devaluation measures would accomplish precisely that. This is a new age of currency wars. In the past countries would directly manipulate the value of their currency with trade wars and the like. But today’s currency war is a result of unconventional monetary policy by central banks, which indirectly impacts the value of a countries currency.