If there’s one thing China hates, it’s a nefarious “manipulator” spreading innuendo, and fear in an already nervous market.
When these evildoers are Chinese citizens, the problem is easily solved. Beijing simply arrests them and beats a confession out them or else simply locks them away in the bowels of the Politburo for the remainder of their days. This is what we saw late last summer when Xi moved to crackdown on what the government claimed were multiple bad actors creating volatility and exacerbating the stock market rout.
However, when the “manipulators” aren’t Chinese citizens and don’t reside within the country’s borders, officials have fewer options. Now that a bevy of well known fund managers have the yuan in their crosshairs, China is using the only tool is has to combat foreign “speculators” intent on spreading “information that does not conform to the facts”: the captive press.
China is particularly keen on using the Party’s various media mouthpieces to counter perceived threats to the country and to calm the masses whose nerves are increasingly frayed amid the equity market collapse and the decelerating economy.
Last month for instance, a hilariously absurd “op-ed” appeared in People’s Daily carrying the title “Declaring war on China’s currency? Ha ha.” In it, Beijing calls George Soros - who said at Davos that he’s betting against Asian currencies and that China is experiencing a hard landing - a “financial crocodile” whose “war on the renminbi cannot possibly succeed.”
Of course Soros isn’t the only one waging “war” on the yuan. Kyle Bass is also betting against the currency.
China’s banking system, Bass told CNBC on Wednesday, is a $34 trillion ticking time bomb, and when it explodes, Beijing will need to plug the holes. $3.3 trillion in FX reserves will be woefully inadequate, he contends.
“Very few people have looked at what the cause of the problem is,” Bass begins. “They’ve let their banking system grow 1000% in 10 years. It’s now $34.5 trillion.”
Bass then goes on to note that special mention loans (which we’ve discussed on any number of occasions) are around 3% of total assets. “If they lose 3%, that’s a trillion dollars,” Bass exclaims. Ultimately, Bass's argument is that when China is forced to rescue the banking system by expanding the PBoC's balance sheet, the yuan will for all intents and purposes collapse. This is of course exacerbated by persistent capital flight.
Below, find some other soundbites from the interview. Notably, towards the end, Bass says that if China is right and speculation around a much larger devaluation is indeed unfounded, then it’s curious why China seems to care so much about what “one fund manager in Texas thinks.”
From Kyle Bass:
“The IMF says they need $2.7 trillion in FX reserves to operate the economy. They’ll hit that number in the next five months. Those who think they can burn it to zero and they have a few years ahead of them, they really only have a few months ahead of them.”
“When they lose money in their banks they’re going to have to recap their banks. They’ll have to expand the PBoC balance sheet by trillions and trillions of dollars.”
“No one’s focused on the banking system. Focus will swing to it this year.”
“A Chinese devaluation of 10% is a pipe dream. It will be 30-40% by the end.”
“If some fund manager in Texas is saying that your currency is dramatically overvalued, you shouldn’t care on a $10 trillion economy with $34 trillion in your banks. I have, call it a billion - it’s so small it should be irrelevant and yet somehow it’s really relevant.”
“If 4% of the population takes out their $50,000 quota, the FX reserves are gone. We lose ourselves in the numbers. $3.3 trillion is a big number, but the reserves to bank assets number is one of the worst in the world.”
Kyle Bass is devoting much of his hedge fund's capital to shorting the Chinese currency. He explains why:https://t.co/pLMkaNfdgC— David Faber (@davidfaber) February 3, 2016
Lest you should be inclined to believe Bass, we close with yet another amusing "Op-Ed" from Chinese media, this time courtesy of Xinhua, who will patiently explain why the "doom predictors" always get it wrong on China.
* * *
The first month of 2016 witnessed the Chinese stock market in panic selling mode and the RMB depreciating unexpectedly against the greenback. China's GDP growth in 2015 also hit a 25-year low.
There seems to be a new surge of predictions about the "coming collapse of the Chinese economy and the end of the Chinese model". However, looking back at China's development journey from the late 1970s up to today, many pessimistic predictions, especially forecasting the "China breakdown", have been proved wrong.
In 1996, Lester Brown, an American agricultural economist predicted that China would not be able to feed its large and fast-growing population and economic reforms would lead to malnutrition and hunger.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, many Chinese pessimists predicted that economic reform without political reform would lead to a total collapse of China. In the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98 and the World Financial Crisis of 2007-08, many Chinese pessimists predicted that the Chinese model would not be able to sustain those drastic external shocks.
All those predictions were wrong. Since 2012, China has changed its economic development strategy from export and foreign direct investment driven to endogenous growth which emphasizes internal structural change, innovation and industrial upgrading to escape the so-called middle income trap.
In doing so, China has to eliminate excess industrial production capacity of steel, coal and other environmentally polluting products, and to promote high-end manufacturing, services, urbanization and rural modernization.
Economic slowdown is an inevitable outcome of the new development strategy, but given the tough external economic environment and surging domestic factor costs, China's growth of 6.9% in 2015 was still the best among the world's 10 largest economies except India. In particular, while the Russian and Brazilian economies are contracting sharply, and while many other developed economies are still struggling to move out of their own crisis, China continues to be a potent engine of growth for the global economy.
So why do doom predictors always get it wrong when it comes to China?
Firstly, some pessimists always look at China's short term challenges and ignore its long term development capability and potential. Short term challenges and difficulties are temporal, they can be overcome if the government and the people have a strong will for success.
Secondly, some pessimists do not understand that the Chinese government is far better than they thought, and that political stability is the basic foundation of China's success.
Thirdly, doom predictors of China underestimate the ability and determination of the Chinese people who are not only hard working and intelligent, but also resilient to all kinds of challenges and shocks.
China today is different from its past. The economy is well above 10 trillion US dollars, second only to the US, twice as large as Japan, and four times as large as India. A 6.9% growth is more than one-quarter of India's annual GDP, and bigger than a medium-sized economy in the world.
China's richest city, Shenzhen, erected from a small fishing village in 1980, now has a population of over 10 million people. Its per capita GDP is higher than that of Taiwan and is still growing at nearly 8% per year. China's biggest city by population, Chongqing, has over 30 million people. The city's GDP expanded by 11% in 2015 and the government's plan is to achieve 10% growth in 2016.
The Chinese economic fundamentals are sound and robust: unemployment rate is low, people's incomes are growing faster than GDP, income inequality is narrowing and energy intensity is declining.
If those pessimists were in China, they would see that all the Chinese regions are still ambitious in making their 13th Five Year Plan, which is to sustain China's economic growth at a much higher rate than many other economies in the world. The policy objective is to build an all-round well-off society and to eliminate absolute poverty by 2020.