It has been a while since Albert Edwards updated the world on his macro and market thoughts. He finally does so today with a tour de force on the crash in the emerging markets, which for him exposes the "idiocy of one of the key investment themes since the 2008 Great Recession – namely that with developed economies burdened with excessive debt and in the throes of multi-year deleveraging, investing in emerging markets would not only produce superior returns but was also less risky. Regular readers will know we have long railed against this idea, having dubbed the BRIC story a Bloody Ridiculous Investment Concept."
He links what is happening now to his "call at the end of last year that the EMs were heading for a balance of payments crisis and would see a currency debacle similar to 1997 was met with total indifference. We still find the same disregard to our call for a renminbi devaluation."
Continuing the litany of vindication, Edwards next observes that the "global economy and markets have been far, far more vulnerable to a resumption of the 2008 crisis than the happy-clappy consensus would have us believe. At the moment, investors think that problems are isolated to a few EM countries that have allowed their current account deficits to get out of hand. I see this as the beginning of a process where the most wobbly domino falls and topples the whole precarious, rotten, risk-loving edifice that our policymakers have built."
Naturally no crash prediction will be complete without some fond reminiscences on the most historic crash of all: 1987.
The fabulously entertaining Zero Hedge website keeps running the charts showing that the evolution of bond yields and equity markets this year resembles closely what happened in 1987 (see below). Now we should all take these comparisons with a pinch of salt, but what if…
I remember the 1987 crash well. I was working at Bank America Investment Management as an economist/strategist at the time. Of course, the immediate trigger for the equity crash was the fear of US recession caused by the fear that the US would have to hike rates sharply to defend the dollar. Those fears were triggered by Germany raising rates at a time when the G6 had recently agreed to stabilise the US dollar at the February 1987 Louvre Accord, after two years of sanctioned dollar weakness. Investors got into a tizzy about recession, jumping many steps ahead of the game. But, in the wake of a run-up in US bond yields that year, equities were richly priced and so very vulnerable to recession fears, however unfounded. And then the machines took over. That couldn’t possibly happen again, or could it?
Therein lies one of the key lessons I learnt in my 30 years in the markets. It is not just to try to predict what will happen, but to second-guess what the markets fear might happen. Indeed a recession did not ensue and the 1987 crash turned into a tremendous buying opportunity.
And while Albert delves much deeper into the EM story, one extensively discussed here, it is the "next shoe" that concern Edwards the most. Namely China.
But another shoe will surely drop soon. China has gone off the radar in the last month, as the data have firmed, but it is set to return centre stage. Our China economist Wei Yao, thinks “this sudden turn-around is similar to that during Q4 2012, when the multi-quarter deceleration trend reversed shortly after the policy stance shifted to “cautious” easing. But that growth pick-up did not last for more than one quarter.” A continued slowdown in credit growth will strangle the current buoyancy of house price inflation (see charts below), with property sales growth having already peaked. Wei expects the Chinese data to relapse in Q4.
He then links to recent observations by CLSA's Russell Napier and ties it all together:
“Many people are writing about a Chinese credit crunch and banking crisis. I disagree. The authorities will have a choice as to whether to accept such a crunch or devalue and launch a new credit cycle to keep the balls in the air once again. Devaluation is the preferred option…..So the (recent) spike in SHIBOR was not a tremor indicating the earthquake of a banking crisis, but a tremor of a forthcoming RMB devaluation.” That will be the biggest domino of all to fall. And, as with the 1987 crash, markets will react to the fear of the devaluation and the deflation it will bring to the west, rather than the event itself. This is one domino it will pay not to be resting under as it comes crashing to the ground.
In conclusion, here is Edwards' own conclusion:
The emerging markets "story" has once again been exposed as a pyramid of piffle. The EM edifice has come crashing down as their underlying balance of payments weaknesses have been exposed first by the yen’s slide and then by the threat of Fed tightening. China has flipflopped from berating Bernanke for too much QE in 2010 to warning about the negative impact of tapering on emerging markets! It is a mystery to me why anyone, apart from the activists that seem to inhabit western central banks, thinks QE could be the solution to the problems of the global economy. But in temporarily papering over the cracks, they have allowed those cracks to become immeasurably deep crevasses. At the risk of being called a crackpot again, I repeat my forecasts of 450 for the S&P, sub-1% US 10y yields and gold above $10,000.
Maybe there is a reason why Bernanke is getting out while the getting's good...