Copper is testing long-term support at 5400, suggesting weak demand from China. Breach would signal a primary down-trend.
The Yuan has enjoyed a respite, consolidating in a narrow line for several weeks. But this is likely to prove temporary, with further advances of the Dollar against the Yuan eroding PBOC foreign exchange reserves.
Shanghai’s Composite Index broke support at 3100, signaling a primary down-trend, but the long tail indicates buying support. Recovery above 3100 would suggest a false signal (or government intervention) while respect of resistance would confirm the down-trend.
While we, as well as the few bearish peers we have, have warned of a pending “credit event” in China for some time now – admittedly incorrectly (China has proved much more resilient than expected) – the more recent red flags are among the most profound we’ve seen in years – in short, we agree with fresh observations made by some of the world’s most famous iron ore bears. Thus, while it is nearly impossible to pinpoint exactly when the credit bubble will definitively pop in China, a number of recent events, in our view, suggest the threat level is currently at red/severe.
WHERE IS CHINA AT TODAY VS. WHERE THE US WAS AT AHEAD OF THE SUBPRIME CRISIS? At the peak of the US subprime bubble (before the failure of Bear Stearns in Mar. ‘08, and subsequently Lehman Brothers in Sep. ’08, troubles in the US credit system emerged as early as Feb. ’07), the asset/liability mismatch was 2% when compared to the total banking system. However, in China, currently, there is a massive duration mismatch in wealth management products (“WMPs”). And, at $4tn in total WMPs outstanding, the asset/liability mismatch in China is now above 10% – China’s entire banking system is ~$34tn, which is a scary scenario. In our view, this is a very important dynamic to track given it foretells where a country is at in the credit cycle.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS WE ARE SEEING? In short, we see a number of signs that point to what could be the beginning of the “popping” of the credit bubble in China. More specifically: (1) interbank rates in China are spiking, meaning banks, increasingly, don’t trust each other – this is how any banking crisis begins (Exhibit 1), (2) China’s Minsheng Bank recently issued a ghost/fraudulent WMP (they raised $436mn in funds for a CDO-like asset that had no assets backing it [yes, you heard that right] – link), (2) Anbang, the Chinese conglomerate who has used WMP issuance as a means to buy a number of assets globally (including the Waldorf Astoria here in the US), is now having issues gaining approval for incremental asset purchases (link), suggesting global investors may be getting weary of the way in which Anbang has “beefed up” its balance sheet, (3) China’s top insurance regulator, Xiang Junbo, chairman of the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, is currently under investigation for “severe” disciplinary violations (link), implying some/many of the “shadow” forms of transacting in China could become a bit harder to maneuver (which would manifest itself in higher rates, which his exactly what we are seeing today), and (4) as would be expected from all of this, as was revealed overnight in China, bank WMP issuance crashed 15% m/m in April to 10,038 from 11,823 in March, a strong indicator that faith in these products is indeed waning.
Exhibit 1: Interbank Rates in China
DOES CHINESE PRESIDENT XI JINPING HAVE ALL OF THIS UNDER CONTROL? In a word, increasingly, it seems the answer is no. What’s the evidence? Well, in March, interbank rates spiked WAY past the upper corridor of 3.45% to ~11% (Exhibit 2), a strong indicator that the PBoC is losing its ability to “maintain order”. And, admittedly, while there are levers the PBoC can pull, FX reserves are at scary low levels (discussed below), suggesting the PBoC is quickly running out of bullets. Furthermore, corporate bond issuance in China was negative in C1Q, which means M2 is going to be VERY hard to grow (when MO is negative); at risk of stating the obvious, without M2 growth in China, economic growth (i.e., GDP) will undoubtedly slow – this is not the current Consensus among market prognosticators who think things are quite rosy right now in China; yet, while global stock markets are soaring, the ChiNext Composite index is down -7.5% YTD vs. the Nasdaq Composite Index being up +12.8% YTD. In our view, given China’s importance to the global commodity backdrop, we see this as a key leading indicator (the folks on the ground in China are betting with their wallets, while global investors continue to place their hopes on: [a.] a reflationary tailwind that we do not believe is ever coming [China is now destocking], and [b.] hope that President Trump will deliver everything he’s promised [which, in this political environment, we see is virtually impossible]).
Exhibit 2: Overnight Reverse Repo Rate
CHINA’S FOREIGN EXCHANGE (“FX”) RESERVES ARE DANGEROUSLY CLOSE TO LOW LEVELS THAT WILL LIKELY CAUSE AN INFLECTION LOWER IN THE CURRENCY. Based on a fine-tuning of its formula to calculate “reserve-adequacy” over the years, the International Monetary Funds’ (“IMF”) approach can be best summed up as follows: Minimum FX Reserves = 10% of Exports + 30% of Short-term FX Debt + 10% of M2 + 15% of Other Liabilities. Thus, for China, the equation is as follows: 10% * $2.2tn + 30% * $680bn + 10% * (RMB 139.3tn ÷ 6.6) + 15% * $1.0tn = $2.7tn of required minimum reserves. Furthermore, when considering China’s FX reserve balance was roughly $4tn just 2 years ago, we find it concerning that experts now peg China’s unofficial FX reserve balance somewhere in the $1.6-$1.7tn range. Why does this differ from China’s $3.0tn in reported FX reserves as of Feb. 2017? Well, according to our contacts, when adjusting for China’s investment in its own sovereign wealth fund (i.e., the CIC) of roughly $600bn, as well as bank injections from: (a) China Development Bank (“CDB”) of roughly $975bn, (b) The Export-Import Bank of China (“EXIM”) of roughly $30bn, (c) the Agricultural Development Bank of China (“ADBC”) of roughly $10bn, as well as capital commitments from, (d) the BRICs Bank of roughly $50bn, (e) the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (“AIIB”) of $50bn, (f) open short RMB forwards by agent banks of $300bn, (g) the China Africa Fund of roughly $50bn, and (h) Oil-Currency Swaps with Russia of roughly $50bn, the actual FX reserve balance in China is closer to $1.69tn (Exhibit 3).
Stated differently, based on the IMFs formula, sharply contrasting the Consensus view that China has years of reserves to burn through, China is already below the critical level of minimum reserve adequacy. However, using expert estimates that $1.0tn-$1.5tn in reserves is the “critical level”, and also considering that China is burning $25bn-$75bn in reserves each month, the point at which the country will no longer be able to support the renminbi via FX reserves appears to be a 2017 event. At that point, there would be considerable devaluation in China’s currency, sending a deflationary shock through the world’s commodity markets; in short, we feel this would be bad for the steel/iron ore stocks we cover, yet is being completely un-discounted in stocks today (no one ever expects this event to occur).
The early 2007 analogy is a good one. This is coming at some point in the next few years. I remain on guard but skeptical at this point given China does have other levers it can pull to keep the credit running and is indeed pulling them in fiscal policy. As well, the problem can always be made worse before it’s made better. Authorities are, after all, bringing this on.
It’s a fascinating question. Could China endure a “sudden stop” in credit if counter-party risk exploded, much like happened to Wall St in 2008? The usual analysis reckons that China’s publicly owned banks can always be ordered to lend more but what if they lose faith in each other? It’s probably true that Chinese authorities could still force feed credit into the economy but, equally, it’s difficult to see how an interbank crash in confidence would not slow the injection, at minimum via choked off-balance sheet vehicles like WMPs.
There is no doubt, at least, about what happens when it does arrive:
the final washout of commodity prices;
Australian house price crash;
multiple sovereign downgrades, and
an Aussie dollar at 40 cents or below.
It’s the great reset event for Australia’s bloated living standards. That is why we say to you get your money offshore today. We can help you do that when the MB Fund launches in the next month with 70% international allocation.
Comment from Colin:
I share Macrobusiness’ skepticism over the timing of a possible Chinese crash, especially because they have in the past shown a preparedness to kick the can down the road rather than address thorny issues – making their problems worse in the long run. But I do see China’s stability as a long-term threat to the global financial system which could precipitate a major down-turn on global stock markets.
The Fed is expected to hike interest rates next week. 10-year Treasury yields broke resistance at 2.5 percent, signaling an advance to the 2013/2014 high of 3.0 percent. Breakout above 3.0 percent is still a way off but would complete a large double bottom signaling the end of the 30-year secular bull market in bonds. Rising interest rates are bearish for gold.
The Dollar Index rally continues to meet resistance, with tall shadows on the last four weekly candles signaling selling pressure. Rising interest rates could strengthen the advance, with bearish consequences for gold, but Chinese sell-off of foreign reserves (to support the Yuan) is working against this.
Spot Gold is testing support at $1200/ounce. Recovery above $1250 would indicate that the recent down-trend has ended. But breach of support is more likely and would warn of another test of long-term support at $1050/ounce.
10-Year Treasury Yields are testing support at 2.30%. Expect this to hold. Breach of the rising trendline would warn of a correction but this seems unlikely with the Fed intent on normalizing interest rates. Breakout above 2.50% would offer a target of 3.0%.
The Dollar Index rally remains muted since finding support at 100. Rising long-term yields would fuel the advance, with bearish consequences for gold.
China’s Yuan is consolidating. Resistance on USDCNY at 7 Yuan is likely to be tested soon.
The PBOC has been burning through its foreign reserves to slow the rate of depreciation against the Dollar, to create a soft landing. A sharp fall would destabilize global financial markets and fuel capital flight from China.
Spot Gold broke through resistance at $1250, signaling an advance to $1300.
….China’s stimulus is finite and demand for raw materials will collapse without it.
Australian Atul Lele, the Bahamas-based chief investment officer of private wealth manager Deltec, says all monetary and fiscal stimulus has a natural conclusion – “it just ends” – and traditional indicators of commodity prices such as global growth and liquidity conditions have been outrun by prices already.
“Right now, commodity prices are consistent with 8 per cent global industrial production. If we saw that, ex of the financial crisis recovery, it would be the strongest rate of global industrial production growth since 1981, at least. Now I’m bullish global growth and more bullish than most people, but it’s not going to happen and even if it does happen, all you’ve done is justify current commodity prices. So why would you buy a resource stock now?”
Our forex data feed shows a current USDCNY exchange rate of 7.4775, which matches Barcharts.com and Google Finance, but Bloomberg and NetDania show a far lower rate of 6.8681. We have asked our data suppliers to investigate the disparity. Please do not act on the rates quoted without verifying with your bank/forex dealer.
Interest rates are climbing steeply as the market anticipates more inflationary policies under a Trump presidency. 10-Year Treasury yields broke through 2.0 percent and are testing resistance at 2.50. Penetration of the descending trendline would warn that the long-term primary down-trend is weakening, signaling a test of 3.0 percent. Breakout above 3.0 is still some way off but would signal the end of the almost 30-year secular down-trend in Treasury and bond yields.
The Chinese Yuan has fallen sharply in response to rising interest rates, with the Dollar headed for a test of resistance at 7.0 Yuan (USDCNY).
Gold responded to rising interest rate expectations with a test of primary support at $1200. Narrow consolidation is a bearish sign, as is reversal of 13-week Momentum below zero. Breach of primary support would signal a primary down-trend with an immediate target of $1050/ounce.
In the long-term, higher inflation and a weakening Yuan could both fuel demand for gold as a store of value. But the medium-term outlook is bearish.
10-Year Treasury yields are retracing to test the recent support level at 1.60 percent but the trend remains upward.
The Chinese Yuan is easing against the US Dollar, with USDCNY in a gradual up-trend as the PBOC manages the decline in order to conserve foreign reserves. This is likely to alleviate immediate selling pressure on the Yuan, both from capital flight and borrowers covering on Dollar-denominated loans.
Spot gold respected support at $1300/ounce. Breakout above the falling wedge (and resistance at $1350) would signal another advance.
Rising interest rates and low inflation are bearish for gold but uncertainty over US elections, Europe/Brexit, and the path of the Chinese economy contribute to bullish sentiment.
Gold stocks serve as a useful counter-balance to growth stocks in a portfolio. If there are positive outcomes and a return to economic stability, growth stocks will do well and gold is likely to underperform. If there is instability and growth stocks do poorly, gold stocks are likely to outperform.