Royal Bank of Scotland has advised clients to take out protection against the risk of a sovereign default by China. Although not predicting default, risk protection is one of its top trade trades for 2011.
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has the story in The Telegraph article China’s credit bubble on borrowed time as inflation bites
“Many see China’s monetary tightening as a pre-emptive tap on the brakes, a warning shot across the proverbial economic bows. We see it as a potentially more malevolent reactive day of reckoning,” said Tim Ash, the bank’s emerging markets chief.
Officially, inflation was 4.4pc in October, and may reach 5pc in November, but it is to hard find anybody in China who believes it is that low. Vegetables have risen 20pc in a month.
RBS recommends credit default swaps on China’s five-year debt. This is not a forecast that China will default. It is insurance against the “fat tail risk” of a hard landing, with ramifications across Asia.
Diana Choyleva from Lombard Street Research said the money supply rose at a 40pc rate in 2009 and the first half of 2010 as Beijing stoked an epic credit boom to keep uber-growth alive, but the costs of this policy now outweigh the benefits.
The economy is entering the ugly quadrant of cycle – stagflation – where credit-pumping leaks into speculation and price spirals, even as growth slows. Citigroup’s Minggao Shen said it now takes a rise of ¥1.84 in the M2 money supply to generate just one yuan of GDP growth, up from ¥1.30 earlier this decade.
The froth is going into property. Prices are 22 times disposable income in Beijing, and 18 times in Shenzen, compared to eight in Tokyo. The US bubble peaked at 6.4 and has since dropped 4.7. The price-to-rent ratio in China’s eastern cities has risen by over 200pc since 2004
As it happens, Fitch Ratings has just done a study with Oxford Economics on what would happen if China does indeed slow to under 5pc next year, tantamount to a recession for China. The risk is clearly there. Fitch said private credit has grown to 148pc of GDP, compared to a median of 41pc for emerging markets. It said the true scale of loans to local governments and state entities has been disguised.
The result of such a hard landing would be a 20pc fall in global commodity prices, a 100 basis point widening of spreads on emerging market debt, a 25pc fall in Asian bourses, a fall in the growth in emerging Asia by 2.6 percentage points, with a risk that toxic politics could make matters much worse.
If there is a hard-landing in 2011, China’s reserves of $2.6 trillion – or over $3 trillion if counted fully – will not help much. Professor Michael Pettis from Beijing University says the money cannot be used internally in the economy.
While this fund does offer China external protection, Mr Pettis notes wryly that the only other times in the last century when one country accumulated reserves equal to 5pc to 6pc of global GDP was US in the 1920s, and Japan in the 1980s. We know how both episodes ended.
The Telegraph article is a very good read and inquiring minds will want to take a closer look.
I will have more on China, Japan, and Europe in a much longer post coming up shortly. The post will compare monetary and credit growth in the US vs China, with a detailed look at various games of “chicken” central banks play with each other as well as games of chicken various speculators play with the market.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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