Over the weekend, when citing from an excerpt of the latest Wall Street Week episode, we revealed what to Kyle Bass was the "best investment for the next 3-5 years": the energy space. Bass added he was agnostic as to what subsector of energy one should invest in: whether it is infrastructure, pipelines, producers, upstream, downstream, he believes that there are places in the cap structure of each of these where once can put new capital and generate substantial returns. He also added that "the energy rebound, when it happens, will be comparable to the housing rebound post 2009."
Coming from the guy who correctly predicted the collapse of housing going into 2009, one should take his prediction seriously, even though as Bass himself admitted, he was early to this trade which led to "one of the worst years in the last ten" for his Hayman Capital. Judging by today's very modest reaction in the price of oil to a dramatic escalation in the Middle East, the market will need a far more dramatic reduction in supply before it agrees with Bass' thesis.
But what about the shorter-term for those who don't have a 3-5 year investment horizon? Bass discussed that after a question by Gary Kaminsky asking the Texas hedge fund manager "when you look at opportunities as an investor right now, what's the greatest opportunity?"
"Given our views on credit contraction in Asia, and in China in particular, let's say they are going to go through a banking loss cycle like we went through during the Great Financial Crisis, there's one thing that is going to happen: China is going to have to dramatically devalue its currency."
He is quick to note that this is not a trade for everyone: "it's very tough to invest as a non-professional" very much the way buying CDS on subprme MBS was a trade only for a select few. That said, the trade - which we agree with thoroughly, and have repeatedly said that China has to devalue further, in fact we predicted China's devaluation just three days before it happened - makes a lot of sense. Bass continues:
"China many years ago attached its currency to the dollar: they hitched their wagon to our star very smartly because back then our goal was to depreciate our dollar through inflation. So we issued debt to the rest of the world to depreciate the dollar. And so now the real problem is China has hitched their wagon to our star, and their currency has effectively appreciated about 60% versus the rest of the world since 2005 and it's killing them... China's effective exchange rate moving up versus the rest of the world made their goods and services a little bit more expensive each year and now that labor arbitrage is gone. And if that labor arbitrage is gone, and the banking system has expanded 400% in 7 years without a nonperforming loan cycle, my view is we are going to see a non-performing loan cycle."
We fully agree with this as well: incidentally, China's NPL time, or "neutron" as we call it, bomb, has been extensively covered on this website in the past for the simple reason that while the official print here is about 1.5% of all bank loans are said to be "bad" or non-performing, the real number is likely around 20%, something which virtually guarantees a financial crisis in China at any given moment (more on that in a latter post). This is our summary on China's NPL debacle:
If one very conservatively assumes that loans are about half of the total asset base (realistically 60-70%), and applies an 20% NPL to this number instead of the official 1.5% NPL estimate, the capital shortfall is a staggering $3 trillion. That, as we suggested three weeks ago, may help to explain why round after round of liquidity injections (via RRR cuts, LTROs, and various short- and medium-term financing ops) haven't done much to boost the credit impulse. In short, banks may be quietly soaking up the funds not to lend them out, but to plug a giant, $3 trillion, solvency shortfall.
Incidentally, this is precisely what Bank of America just said overnight:
When debt problem gets too severe, a country can only solve it by devaluation (via the export channel), inflation (to make local currency debt worth less in real terms), writeoff/re-cap or default. We judge that China’s debt situation has probably passed the point of no-return and it will be difficult to grow out of the problem, particularly if the growth continues to be driven by debt-fueled investment in a weak-demand environment. We consider the most likely forms of financial instability that China may experience will be a combination of RMB devaluation, debt write-off and banking sector re-cap and possibly high inflation. Given the sizeable and unstable shadow banking sector in China and the potential of capital flight, we also think the risk of a credit crunch developing in China is high. In our mind, the only uncertainty is timing and potential triggers of such instabilities.
But back to Bass and his best trade idea - he conveniently even puts a time horizon:
"We are not short Chinese equities, but we are very invested in the Chinese currency: we think we are going to see a pretty material devaluation; we think it's going to be in the next 12-18 months."
Finally, judging by the ongoing collapse in the onshore and offshore Yuans overnight, which saw the currency tumble to fresh 5 year lows...
... it may be far sooner, especially when considering what Macquarie Capital’s strategist Thierry Wizman said earlier today: "the big drop overnight reflects policymakers’ willingness to allow currency to account for weak data." He expects the USDCNY to rise ~8% this year.
The full Kyle Bass interview is below, and the part discussing the best investment opportunity begins 10:40 in.