GLOBAL ECONOMICS AND POLITICS
Leo Haviland provides clients with original, provocative, cutting-edge fundamental supply/demand and technical research on major financial marketplaces and trends. He also offers independent consulting and risk management advice.
Haviland’s expertise is macro. He focuses on the intertwining of equity, debt, currency, and commodity arenas, including the political players, regulatory approaches, social factors, and rhetoric that affect them. In a changing and dynamic global economy, Haviland’s mission remains constant – to give timely, value-added marketplace insights and foresights.
Leo Haviland has three decades of experience in the Wall Street trading environment. He has worked for Goldman Sachs, Sempra Energy Trading, and other institutions. In his research and sales career in stock, interest rate, foreign exchange, and commodity battlefields, he has dealt with numerous and diverse financial institutions and individuals. Haviland is a graduate of the University of Chicago (Phi Beta Kappa) and the Cornell Law School.
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“Our million hearts beat as one,
Brave the enemy’s fire, March on!” “March of the Volunteers”, China’s national anthem
OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION
Although China’s era of miraculous economic growth has marched into history, the nation nevertheless achieved enviable real GDP increases in recent years. Benchmark predictions by numerous economic wizards regarding China’s economy remain rather sunny, especially in comparison with those for most other countries. In fact, most observers are fairly complacent about China’s current situation and future prospects. Faith in adequate global growth intertwines with belief that China’s expansion will continue to be substantial.
As the world has become more globalized and intertwined, China’s substantial economic expansion not only has boosted China’s international economic (financial, commercial, business) and political presence and power. It also has helped to ensure domestic political stability and protected the central role and authority of the Communist Party. The country’s leadership and other elites obviously desire and battle to protect such impressive accomplishments.
However, China has a significant debt problem, and one that probably will worsen. Most China watchers nevertheless ignore or downplay this, with analysis and concerns banished to obscure articles, back pages, and fine print. China’s strong economy in the past five years probably derived substantially from a substantial expansion of its overall national debt. Will China’s government (and other areas of the economy) need to borrow more and more and go greater in debt in order to sustain “appropriate” GDP growth? Probably.
Yet the Chinese debt explosion, with totals at or moving toward high levels relative to GDP (particularly in the government and corporate sectors), endangers prospects for continued robust Chinese economic growth. Creditor (lending) confidence probably is not unlimited, especially in regard to segments of China’s corporate, banking, and local government arenas.
Moreover, very elevated debt is not just a Chinese phenomenon, but a worldwide one. The International Monetary Fund’s “Fiscal Monitor” (April 2018; Chapter 1) stated: “Global debt [public and nonfinancial private debt] is at historic highs, reaching the record peak of US$164trillion in 2016, equivalent to 225 percent of global GDP [current levels probably are higher]. The world is now 12 percent of GDP deeper in debt than the previous peak in 2009, with China as a driving force.” See also the Institute of International Finance’s perspective on the expanding global debt as a percentage of world GDP trend (July 2018). Public debt has played an important part in the leap in global indebtedness. China obviously is not an island isolated from other nations. So if international economic conditions weaken, perhaps partly encouraged by prior or prospective interest rate increases, it probably will become somewhat harder for many entities, both public and private, to raise cash.
China’s glorious economic growth, and the related boom in its exports, has interconnected with increasing openness in international trade. Enthusiastic challenges to the free trade (globalization; multilateral) order and ideology, especially by the current American leadership (President Trump; “Make America Great Again!”), has raised concerns about trade wars and currency conflicts. The American Administration’s noisy criticism of China’s allegedly colossal (and supposedly unfair) trade surplus (at least in relation to the United States) and its willingness to impose tariffs on Chinese products has encouraged a rapid noteworthy depreciation in the Chinese renminbi relative to the US dollar in recent months.
Currency depreciation, not merely the running of large government deficits or tolerating (encouraging) jumps in corporate and household borrowing (and spending), is another strategy aimed at creating or sustaining adequate economic growth. Perhaps China’s currency depreciation relative to the US is to some extent a competitive plan designed to maintain its economic growth rate by ensuring continued substantial entry of its exports into the American marketplace. And the dollar/renminbi cross rate fascinates most marketplace observers in an environment excited by trade and currency war talk.
America of course is an important commercial counterparty for China. But it does not come close to capturing a majority of China’s overseas economic transactions. A review of China’s currency patterns and levels from a broad real effective exchange rate (“EER”) vantage point therefore offers superior enlightenment regarding the overall Chinese currency situation, and thereby its overall economic one.
The high level in China’s EER likely has tended to reduce exports and thus GDP growth to some extent from what they (all else equal) otherwise would have been. This consequently has tended to encourage China’s debt expansion as a means of achieving “sufficient” (official targets for) economic growth. Even allowing for the recent renminbi depreciation versus the US dollar, China’s EER remains rather lofty from the historical perspective. From China’s policy standpoint, its EER probably should depreciate even more than it has since its 2015 pinnacles in order to achieve desired economic growth and to handle its growing debt troubles.
Not only do China’s debt predicament and the renminbi’s feebleness relative to the US dollar (and the need for the renminbi to slump further on an EER basis) warn of underlying weakness in and the probability of slower growth than generally forecast for the Chinese economy. The sharp fall in calendar 2018 in the Shanghai Composite Index (and other emerging stock marketplaces) and declines in key commodity benchmarks also signal subsiding (slowing) Chinese GDP growth. The gradual rise in US interest rates (ongoing Federal Reserve tightening; underline climbs in the Federal Funds rate and the 10 year US Treasury note), given the links across global marketplaces, also probably is starting to curtail economic growth around the globe. In any case, given China’s major role in the international economy, a slowdown in its output relative to levels anticipated (hoped for) by economic pundits and financial pilgrims likely will injure expansion elsewhere.
China’s leadership probably is more fearful of inadequate economic growth than it publicly confesses. Why else has the country in the past few years further centralized political leadership and emphasized Communist Party control, embarked in well-publicized anti-corruption drives, and engaged in assorted territorial squabbles with its Asian neighbors? Such political programs suggest that real economic growth not only has slowed down (and perhaps to lower levels than official statistics indicate), but also probably eventually will ebb further than many high priests predict. A sharp deterioration in China’s GDP levels and prospects probably entails heightened internal political risks.
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China at a Crossroads- Economic and Political Danger Signs (8-5-18)
“Seek truth from facts.” Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping
China’s era of miraculous economic growth has marched into history. Yet China’s real GDP output in the past few years, and even 2015, has been robust in comparison to that of most other nations. The majority of international financial wizards faithfully proclaim that Chinese GDP likely will remain strong, at over six percent for the next several years.
China’s GDP strength over the past three or four years nevertheless derived significantly from its widespread national willingness to boost debt (leverage) levels substantially. This significant debt expansion coincides with the current unwillingness or inability of the nation’s political and economic leadership to do much to subdue the debt issue. China’s continued debt building (perhaps assisted by other factors) perhaps will achieve its praiseworthy growth levels, at least for a while.
And trend shifts during first quarter 2016 in various stock (both advanced and emerging), interest rate, currency, and commodity marketplaces (particularly dramatic rallies in the S+P 500 and the petroleum complex) inspire optimism regarding global growth prospects. Despite potential for small rate increases by the widely-admired Federal Reserve, monetary policy in America and elsewhere likely will remain highly accommodative, thereby assisting expansion in developed nations and China.
However, review the patterns in China’s stock, central government 10 year note, and currency marketplaces. Those domains, when interpreted together and alongside a broad array of other key global financial marketplaces, not just the S+P 500 and oil, on balance nowadays suggest Chinese growth over the next few years probably will be less than most gurus expect. In today’s interconnected economic world, slower than anticipated Chinese economic expansion probably will be reflected by more sluggish growth elsewhere than generally forecast.
Politics and economics entangle in both advanced and emerging/developing nations. China’s political elite (notably its Communist party chiefs) seeks to ensure its own power and overall national political, economic, and social stability. Insufficient GDP growth and related widespread popular fears regarding income levels and economic inequality probably endangers these goals.
What do the political rhetoric and actions over the past few years (including recently) by China’s leaders reflect? Quite significantly, they portray increasing concern about their nation’s current and prospective economic situation, particularly its growth level and outlook.
To deflect and dilute growing popular concern about a weakening economic situation (slowdown; feebler growth than desired), and to maintain their political power and influence, China’s political leaders have acted vigorously on both the external and internal fronts. In the foreign sphere, they increasingly quarrel with other nations; on the internal landscape, efforts to control political and other social activities and dialogue have increased. These policies from China’s authorities tend to confirm the trends of slowing Chinese (and global) growth.
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China- Behind the Great Wall (6-7-16)
The China economic miracle of recent years has astounded global gurus. Economic policy makers and watchers inside and outside of China forecast its likely continuation. In the intertwined global economy, such sunny predictions about China also aim at boosting confidence regarding international economic growth prospects. Admittedly some Chinese indicators show display reasons for such optimism. And the Financial Times recently remarked “almost everyone agrees that there is little sign that the global economic crisis is about to have a Chinese third act to follow the US and eurozone, which starred in Acts One and Two.” (7/24/13, p6).
Unfortunately, the so-called “real”, “underlying”, and “overall” China economic scene nevertheless is relatively opaque and challenging to understand. Telling any story about the nation’s economy, whether bullish or bearish, requires caution, and audiences should listen to these viewpoints with some skepticism. Many Chinese statistical indicators arguably are difficult to assemble comprehensively as well as to interpret (whether by the Chinese government or outside experts). How accurate is official Chinese economic information? Political considerations perhaps influence the substance of some Chinese data reports.
Moreover, several other signs from or related to China suggest that China’s real GDP growth has tapered faster than many believe. Besides, it may taper a fair amount beneath generally predicted levels of over 7.5 percent. Like the United States and many other nations since the emergence of the worldwide economic disaster, China embarked upon and sustained highly accommodative monetary campaigns and huge deficit spending adventures. Might GDP expansion diminish if these policies (and related credit creation and leverage) are slowed or reversed? Even though China’s overall government debt as a percentage of GDP is less than that of the United States, much of Europe, and Japan, why should China entirely escape the debt challenges and related unpleasant consequences endured by these nations? In contrast to most conventional wisdom, China nowadays probably faces some significant systemic financial (economic) problems.
China’s embrace of debt and credit in recent years is a widespread cultural phenomenon.
If things were going wonderfully within the Chinese economic (and political) system, why would the nation’s leaders underscore territorial quarrels with other nations? Recall the recent squabbles with Japan over tiny islands (Daioyu) controlled by Japan.
What’s the bottom line? China apparently has generated a fair amount of its economic growth from easy money and massive deficit spending (credit, debt, and leverage). It consequently faces a significant challenge of maintaining its high GDP growth rates while tapering accommodative monetary and fiscal deficit policies. In addition, China confronts a modest yet apparently growing systemic problem (risk) tied into these accommodative monetary and fiscal programs and the related lending, leverage, and bad debt issues. Perhaps Chinese control over its economy (especially given that economy’s close connection with the global one) is much less than many claim. Looking forward, Chinese growth probably will taper more than most believe. In any event, one should not have blind faith in the continuation (repetition) of the recent extraordinary Chinese growth story.
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Another Marketplace Tapering Tale- the China Story (9-9-13)