George Soros Warns "China Resembles US In 2008", Hard Landing "Practically Unavoidable"

China's credit growth in March (and $1 trillion surge in total social financing in Q1) is a "warning sign" according to billionaire George Soros, "because it shows how much work is needed to stop the slowdown." Speaking at an event in new York this evening, Soros commented on "troubling developments" in China, the anti-corruption drive's impact on capital outflows and the real-estate bubble "feeding on itself." His conclusion, rather ominously, was that despite all the naysayers and fiction-peddlers, China "resembles US in 2007-8," before credit markets seized up and spurred a global recession.

As Bloomberg reports, Billionaire investor George Soros said China’s debt-fueled economy resembles the U.S. in 2007-08, before credit markets seized up and spurred a global recession.

China’s March credit growth figures should be viewed as a warning sign, Soros said at an Asia Society event in New York on Wednesday. The broadest measure of new credit in the world’s second-biggest economy was 2.34 trillion yuan ($362 billion) last month, far exceeding the median forecast of 1.4 trillion yuan in a Bloomberg survey and signaling the government is prioritizing growth over reining in debt.

 

[ZH - f one adds up the Total Social Financing injected in the first quarter, one gets a stunning $1 trillion dollars in new credit, or $1,001,000,000,000 to be precise, shoved down China's economic throat. As shown on the chart below, this was an all time high in dollar terms, and puts to rest any naive suggestion that China may be pursuing "debt reform." Quite the contrary, China has once again resorted to the old "growth" model where GDP is to be saved at any cost, even if it means flooding the economy with record amount of debt.

 

With China's debt/GDP already estimate at 350%, how much longer can China sustain this stunning debt (and by definition, deposit) growth continue?]

 

Soros, who built a $24 billion fortune through savvy wagers on markets, has recently been involved in a war of words with the Chinese government. He said at the World Economic Forum in Davos that he’s been betting against Asian currencies because a hard landing in China is “practically unavoidable.” China’s state-run Xinhua news agency rebutted his assertion in an editorial, saying that he has made the same prediction several times in the past.

Soros then went on to note that China’s capital outflow is a growing phenomenon driven by the nation’s anti-corruption campaign, which makes people nervous and spurs them to pull money out, and added that...

China’s decoupling of the yuan from the U.S. dollar can help rebalance the currency.

 

The linking to a basket of currencies is a “very positive, healthy” development for world.

Finally in an ironic twist for a man who has all too often used the press for his own ends...

China’s lack of a free press is “troubling development".

Of course one should bear in mind that Soros is among those who are betting heavily on the eventual devaluation of The Yuan against the USD, and as we noted previously, the cracks are starting to show... As the Chinese corporate bond market begins to break...

 

At least 64 Chinese firms have postponed or scrapped planned note sales this month, six times more than the same period a year earlier.

And as BofA's David Cui explains, if poorly handled, they may cause significant financial instability...

Since 2015, eight SOE bond issuers have run into repayment problems; four since February. We believe that the sharply accelerating pace and the growing chance of genuine defaults are largely behind the recent widening of credit spreads (Bond yield rising, credit spread widening & impact on stocks, Apr 15). In our view, any major SOE bond default would be difficult for the financial system to handle – as it is unexpected, it could lead to panic selling/a credit crunch (2016 Year-Ahead: what may trigger financial instability, Jan 3). At this stage, we expect that most problematic SOE bonds, if not all, will get largely bailed out. But this is a key risk that we need to monitor for the equity market outlook.

Chart 1 shows the dates when the potential defaults were first reported vs. the credit spread of 5Y AA-rated enterprise bonds (more details on the bonds, Table 1). Among the eight, Tianwei, Erzhong, Sinosteel, China Coal Huayun and China Railway Materials are central SOEs; Guangxi Nonferrous, Yun Feng and Dongbei Special Steel are local ones. The media reported that some of these SOEs actively sought defaults in order to lessen their debt burdens – a few even reshuffled their assets in preparation (Caixin, Apr 18). This clearly raises the chance of genuine defaults in the bond market’s mind, in our view.

 



Based on our assessment, the dynamics among the key stakeholders are as follows: some SOEs want to default; many local governments may lack the financial resources to save their SOEs from defaulting; the central government has the resources (after all, it can print), but needs to balance short-term financial stability with moral hazard concerns; the bond underwriters, many of them banks that lend to the same SOEs, need to balance financial interests against the risk of reputation damage and potential lawsuits; bond holders may go on a buying strike to force bail-outs.

At this stage, we expect the central government and the bond underwriters to largely come up with the money to prevent any significant default of SOE bonds. It appears to us that, leading up to the 19th Party’s Congress in late 2017 (when a new group of leaders will be officially announced), a top priority of the central government is to prevent a financial crisis. For banks, the cost of bail-outs could be hidden for quite some time, so the incentive for them to suppress defaults is strong, in our view. Actually, there was at least one case in which a listed bank used its WMP under management to cover a defaulting bond ((Shadow banking default, pace accelerated sharply since mid-2015, Apr 7).

If our expectation is right, the bond market could calm down as soon as it sees signs that bail-outs are the likely scenario. This would kick the can down the road, using liquidity to paper over a solvency issue.

If, against our current expectation, the government/underwriters keep in mind:

Implicit guarantee & contagion risk: SOEs default on loans all the time, but banks don’t “panic” unless there is a deposit run. However, the same stability cannot be maintained as easily in the shadow-banking sector. The shadow-banking sector is largely a market where greed, fear and herd mentality reign supreme. For years, bond buyers believed that bonds issued by any government-related entity, including SOEs and LGFVs, were bullet-proof. If this perceived “implicit” guarantee is broken, at a minimum, credit spreads would widen sharply and, at the worst, panic selling could develop, generating a negative spiral. Moreover, contagion risk could be high: if this “promise” is broken, will the market still believe in perceived government guarantees elsewhere, including those on RMB, the A-share market or housing prices?

 

Expensive valuation: before the latest widening, credit spreads for AAA and AA+ rated LGFV bonds and enterprise bonds (largely SOEs’) were very narrow, at between 50-100pbs. As a result, the risk of holding on to these bonds is asymmetrical, unless one believes that the government will lower the risk-free rate significantly going forward (Bond yield rising, credit spread widening & impact on stocks, April 18). As a result, the market is biased toward selling at the moment, by our assessment.

 

Leverage: the more transparent part of bond leverage is via repos and structured funds, which appear manageable at this stage (Bond market: leverage & potential defaults, 23 Oct 2015). However, a risk is that there could be significant amount of hidden leverage. Anecdotally, some banks provide loans to WMPs under their management to buy bonds, so the WMPs can achieve the “promised” returns to WMP buyers (currently, around 4% p.a.)

 

A lack of transparency: the most important buyers of bonds in China include WMPs managed by banks, brokers and fund subsidiaries, banks themselves, money market funds and bond mutual funds, and insurers. While risk responsibility is clear-cut for most bond buyers, it is not so for the WMPs. Legally speaking, WMP buyers own the downside risk. However, the way that WMPs are sold in China has led many buyers to believe that these products are essentially term deposits. As a result, if financial institutions decide to pass on some of the default losses to these buyers, they may stop buying en masse, essentially generating a “bank” run in the shadow-banking sector (Risk of bank-run WMPs is rising, Feb 28). By the way, if the financial institutions, including banks, allow some SOE bonds to default, they will most likely pass on at least some of the losses. If they have to bear the losses themselves, they’d be much better off bailing out the bonds in stealth before the defaults, both financially and politically.

Even without a panic, if the bond market becomes more cautious as a result of SOE bond defaults, there could be negative implications on credit flow, credit cost, economic growth, commodity demand, the RMB and the stock market.

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