Earlier this week, Chinese leader Xi Jinping became the third ruler in the communist country’s history to have his named enshrined in its constitution – and the first to receive this honor while still alive. But as China celebrates its most popular, and most powerful, leader since at least Deng Xiaoping, Kyle Bass, hedge fund manager and noted China bear, told Bloomberg the Communist Party will one day regret standing idly by as Xi consolidated his power.
“Today Xi is celebrated in media reports, but when future historians look back, he will be blamed for recklessly building the Chinese economy on a foundation of sand,” Bass, founder of Hayman Capital Management, said in an email Wednesday.
“Xi desperately seeks credibility, but true developed economies do not impose severe capital controls or move short-term rates hundreds of basis points overnight in attempts to manipulate their own currency.”
Xi, who launched the twice-a-decade National Party Congress last week with a three-hour speech where he laid out his vision for “communism with Chinese characteristics in a new era,” the philosophy that was enshrined in the country’s constitution by a unanimous vote. In a move that seemingly confirms suspicions that Xi plans to break with precedent and seek a third term after his second ends in 22, Xi appointed five new members to the Politburo,
China’s most powerful body, all of whom are too old to be viewed as credible heirs. Typically, Chinese leaders have pointed to a successor or possible successors by the time they begin their second term, ensuring that there’s a clear path of leadership transition.
Of course, Bass and others have been highly critical of the Communist Party’s heavy handed tactics. For example, the PBOC and the Chinese ‘National Team’, which exert powerful influence over the company’s financial market, have successfully tamped down equity market trading volume and volatility in the runup to the Congress, while guiding the yuan higher against the dollar.
However, China’s closed financial system and manipulated markets aren’t the only target of Bass’s criticism. He also pointed to China’s ever-growing pile of debt. Borrowing has swelled to 260 percent of gross domestic product at the end of 2016, Bloomberg Intelligence data show. Earlier this year, the country’s soaring debt burden inspired Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings to downgrade the country’s sovereign credit rating.
In an interview earlier this month, Bass, who has called for a 30% drop in the Chinese yuan, said he expects the government to relax its grasp on the exchange rate after the National Party Congress. He said he believed once Xi consolidates power, he’ll allow natural economic forces to reassert themselves in the country’s banking system.
Since the yuan joined the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights basket a year ago, China has made little progress in making its currency more convertible and accessible. To wit, the yuan remains a secondary currency for settling global payments.
“China remains an emerging backwater when it comes to global currency settlements,” he said Wednesday.
As Bloomberg pointed out, Bass, who made a fortune betting against U.S. subprime mortgages, said in early 2016 that losses in Chinese banks could be four times bigger than those suffered by American lenders during the global financial crisis. He has said that crucial figures, like the share of non-performing loans, have been understated.
“Recklessly growing a banking system in pursuit of global economic growth and respect will cause severe financial instability in the years to come,” he said on Wednesday.
“The dangerous $40 trillion credit experiment with Chinese characteristics will run its course.”
As reported earlier this month, Bass has stuck to his pessimistic views on China (though he has moderated his view a bit, pushing back his expected timeline for signs of instability in the country’s debt market to emerge) while other noted bears reversed their positions as the next big yuan devaluation failed to materialize.
While China bears have underestimated the nation’s unique ability to control its market, the sheer pace and volume of credit creation can’t possibly be sustained forever, Bass said.