On June 5th, I wrote an essay called Has the Chinese Economy Really Recovered? The Signs are Mixed.
Here’s an update.
One China commentator argues that the West is misreading the meaning China’s commodity buying spree:
Andy Xie, a Sino-bear and commentator for Caijing, said Western analysts are in for a rude shock if they think that China’s surging demand for raw materials implies genuine recovery.
Commodity speculators have been using cheap credit to play the arbitrage spread between futures and spot on the oil markets. They have even found ways to trade lumber to iron ore by sheer scale of leverage. “They’ve made everything open to speculation,” he said.
Mr Xie thinks the spring recovery is an inventory spike, to be followed a double-dip downturn into next year as stimulus wears off.
In any event, that buying spree may be ending:
A key state planning official has signalled a halt to government buying of copper, aluminium and other high-value metals because prices have risen too high.
“We don’t anticipate that the country will continue to build its reserves,” said Yu Dongming, the head of the metallurgical department of the National Development and Reform Commission…
Zhang Bin, an economist with the Government’s most influential advisers, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, warned that Beijing was leaning against Chinese speculative buying of a range of commodities including Australia’s most lucrative exports, coal and iron ore.
“The commission is acting to reduce pressure on commodities prices and discourage over-production in heavy industry, including guiding steel production and reducing the building of excess capacity,” Dr Zhang told the Herald.
“Too much increase in inventories of commodities is not a good thing because the economy is still not that strong and cannot consume this level of imports of iron ore and coal.”
In other news, the Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore notes:
Half of the 5.8 trillion yuan (£522bn) of stimulus loans issued by Chinese banks have flowed into the country’s stock and property markets, inflating new bubbles, according to senior Communist officials
While the Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard argues:
China’s banks are an accident waiting to happen…
Fitch Ratings has been warning for some time that China’s lenders are wading into dangerous waters, but its latest report is even grimmer than bears had suspected.
“With much of the world immersed in crisis, China appears to be one of the few countries where the financial system continues to function largely without a glitch, but Fitch is growing increasingly wary,” it said.
“Future losses on stimulus could turn out to be larger than expected, and it is unclear what share the central and/or local governments ultimately will be willing or able to bear.”
Note the phrase “able to bear”. Fitch’s “macro-prudential risk” indicator for China threatens to jump from category 1 (safe) to category 3 (Iceland, et al). This is a surprise to me but Michael Pettis from Beijing University says China’s public debt may be as high as 50pc-70pc of GDP when “correctly counted”.
The regime is so hellbent on meeting its growth target of 8pc that it has given banks an implicit guarantee for what Fitch calls a “massive lending spree”
Finally, in the most bearish essay I’ve ever read on China, Terence Doherty argues:
The Chinese banks have avoided writing down bad debt. I should have assumed this would happen, since it is hard to see how it could be avoided, given the nature of the Chinese culture. This is NOT a good idea. It is like pretending that defaults and bad debt simply don’t exist, and this is very bad for the financial sector in the long run.
This is exactly what the Japanese banks have done, and it is partly because of this that their stock markets have imploded over the last 20 years, and their economy has been stagnant for many years…
You have the exact same lethal combination in 1989 Japan as you do now in China: dual bubbles in real estate and stocks (one has imploded), and a decided reluctance to face facts and write down bad debt and defaults.