Author Archives: Bone Fish

US Federal Reserve Bank’s Net Worth Turns Negative, They’re Insolvent, A Zombie Bank, That’s All Folks

While the Fed has been engaging in quantitative tightening for over a year now in an attempt to shrink its asset holdings, it still has over $4.1 trillion in bonds on its balance sheet, and as a result of the spike in yields since last summer, their massive portfolio has suffered substantial paper losses which according to the Fed’s latest quarterly financial report, hit a record $66.453 billion in the third quarter, raising questions about their strategy at a politically charged moment for the central bank, whose “independence” has been put increasingly into question as a result of relentless badgering by Donald Trump.

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What immediately caught the attention of financial analysts is that the gaping Q3 loss of over $66 billion, dwarfed the Fed’s $39.1 billion in capital, leaving the US central bank with a negative net worth…

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… which would suggest insolvency for any ordinary company, but since the Fed gets to print its own money, it is of course anything but an ordinary company as Bloomberg quips.

It’s not just the fact that the US central bank prints the world’s reserve currency, but that it also does not mark its holdings to market. As a result, Fed officials usually play down the significance of the theoretical losses and say they won’t affect the ability of what they call “a unique non-profit entity’’ to carry out monetary policy or remit profits to the Treasury Department. Indeed, confirming this the Fed handed over $51.6 billion to the Treasury in the first nine months of the year.

The risk, however, is that should the Fed’s finances continue to deteriorate if only on paper, it could impair its standing with Congress and the public when it is already under attack from President Donald Trump as being a bigger problem than trade foe China.

Commenting on the Fed’s paper losses, former Fed Governor Kevin Warsh told Bloomberg that “a central bank with a negative net worth matters not in theory. But in practice, it runs the risk of chipping away at Fed credibility, its most powerful asset.’’

Additionally, the growing unrealized losses provide fuel to critics of the Fed’s QE and the monetary operating framework underpinning them, just as central bankers begin discussing the future of its balance sheet. And, as Bloomberg cautions, the metaphoric red ink also could make it politically more difficult for the Fed to resume QE if the economy turns down.

“We’re seeing the downside risk of unconventional monetary policy,’’ said Andy Barr, the outgoing chairman of the monetary policy and trade subcommittee of the House Financial Services panel. “The burden should be on them to tell us why this does not compromise their credibility and why the public and Congress should not be concerned about their solvency.’’

Of course, the culprit for the record loss is not so much the holdings, as the impact on bond prices as a result of rising rates which spiked in the summer as a result of the Fed’s own overoptimism on the economy, and which closed the third quarter at 3.10% on the 10Y Treasury. Indeed, with rates rising slower in the second quarter, the loss for Q3 was a more modest $19.6 billion.

And with yields tumbling in the fourth quarter as a result of the current growth and markets scare, it is likely that the Fed could book a major “profit” for the fourth quarter as the 10Y yield is now trading just barely above the 2.86% where it was on June 30.

Meanwhile, the Fed continues to shrink its bond holdings by a maximum of $50 billion per month, an amount that was hit on October 1, not by selling them, which could force it to recognize but by opting not to reinvest some of the proceeds of securities as they mature.

The Fed is expected to continue shrinking its balance sheet at rate of $50BN / month until the end of 2020 (as shown below) unless of course market stress forces the Fed to halt QT well in advance of its tentative conclusion.

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In any case, the Fed will certainly never return to its far leaner balance sheet from before the crisis, which means that it will continue to indefinitely pay banks interest on the excess reserves they park at the Fed, with many of the recipient banks being foreign entities.

Barr, a Kentucky Republican, has accurately criticized that as a subsidy for the banks, one which will amount to tens of billions in annual “earnings” from the Fed, the higher the IOER rate goes up. He is not alone: so too has California Democrat Maxine Waters, who will take over as chair of the House Financial Services Committee in January following her party’s victory in the November congressional elections.

* * *

Going back to the Fed’s unique treatment of losses on its income statement and its under capitalization, in an Aug. 13 note, Fed officials Brian Bonis, Lauren Fiesthumel and Jamie Noonan defended the central bank’s decision not to follow GAAP in valuing its portfolio. Not only is the central bank a unique creation of Congress, it intends to hold its bonds to maturity, they wrote.

Under GAAP, an institution is required to report trading securities and those available for sale at fair or market value, rather than at face value. The Fed reports its balance-sheet holdings at face value.

The Fed is far less cautious with the treatment of its “profits”, which it regularly hands over to the Treasury: the interest income on its bonds was $80.2 billion in 2017. The central bank turns a profit on its portfolio because it doesn’t pay interest on one of its biggest liabilities – $1.7 trillion in currency outstanding.

The Fed’s unique financial treatments also extends to Congress, which while limiting to $6.8 billion the amount of profits that the Fed can retain to boost its capital has also repeatedly “raided” the Fed’s capital to pay for various government programs, including $19 billion in 2015 for spending on highways.

Still, a negative net worth is sure to raise eyebrows especially after Janet Yellen said in December 2015 that “capital is something that I believe enhances the credibility and confidence in the central bank.”

* * *

Furthermore, as Bloomberg adds, if it had to the Fed could easily operate with negative net worth – as it is doing now – like other central banks in Chile, the Czech Republic and elsewhere have done, according to Nathan Sheets, chief economist at PGIM Fixed Income. That said, questionable Fed finances pose communications and mostly political problems for Fed policymakers.

As for long-time Fed critic and former Fed governor, Kevin Warsh, he zeroed in on the potential impact on quantitative easing.

“QE works predominantly through its signaling to financial markets,’’ he said. “If Fed credibility is diminished for any reason — by misunderstanding the state of the economy, under-estimating the power of QE’s unwind or carrying a persistent negative net worth — QE efficacy is diminished.’’

The biggest irony, of course, is that the more “successful” the Fed is in raising rates – and pushing bond prices lower – the greater the un-booked losses on its bond holdings will become; should they become great enough to invite constant Congressional oversight, the casualty may be none other than the equity market, which owes all of its gains since 2009 to the Federal Reserve.

While a central bank can operate with negative net worth, such a condition could have political consequences, Tobias Adrian, financial markets chief at the IMF said. “An institution with negative equity is not confidence-instilling,’’ he told a Washington conference on Nov. 15. “The perception might be quite destabilizing at some point.”

That point will likely come some time during the next two years as the acrimonious relationship between Trump and Fed Chair Jerome Powell devolves further, at which point the culprit by design, for what would be the biggest market crash in history will be not the Fed – which in the past decade blew the biggest asset bubble in history – but President Trump himself.

Source: ZeroHedge

 

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USA Inc., Reports Biggest Ever Budget Deficit For November

Two months after the US Treasury reported the widest annual deficit in six years for fiscal 2018, moments ago the US posted the biggest November budget deficit on record as total government spending came in twice as much as revenue.

November outlays surged 18.4% to $411 billion last month from $347 billion a year ago, while receipts actually declined 1% to $206 billion from $208 billion in 2017, the Treasury Department said in a monthly report on Thursday. The biggest spending categories were Social Security ($84BN), Medicare ($77BN), National Defense ($62BN), Income security ($46BN) and Health ($42BN). Net interest on the US debt of nearly $22 trillion came in at a hefty $33BN. Meanwhile, Individual Income Taxes and Social Security Taxes both generated $93BN in income each.

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The result was a November deficit of $205 billion, a 48% increase from the $139 billion shortfall a year earlier, and the biggest November deficit on record.

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For the first two months of the fiscal year which began Oct. 1, the deficit widened to $305.4 billion, up 50% compared with $201.8 billion the same period a year earlier.

On a LTM basis, the US deficit has more than doubled from the $405BN it hit in February 2016 to $883BN as of the 12 months ended November. It was the second highest LTM number since early 2013.

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In Fiscal 2018, the first full year of Donald Trump’s presidency in which he enacted a tax-cut package and enacted a $1+ trillion stimulus, the U.S. ran the largest deficit in six years. The various spending programs and tax cuts have added to the growing federal deficit, which is expected to hit $1 trillion some time in fiscal 2019, one year sooner than disclosed in the CBO’s most recent forecast ; in April the agency didn’t expect the deficit to reach $1 trillion until 2020.

Then again, over the long run none of this matters…

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Spirits lost in a material world

Source: ZeroHedge

“Canary In The Coal Mine”: House Flipping Returns Crash To Six-Year Low

Real-estate speculation has long been a characteristic of booming housing markets, and in this current cycle of artificially suppressed rates, investors have been furiously flipping homes which peaked in the first few months of 2018. The number of companies flipping houses also hit a decade high, as HGTV programming and house flipping seminars across the country suckered in the broad base of the American people. 

Now the house flipping industry has gone bust, and many investors are left holding the bag. Flipping dropped for the third consecutive quarter, due to mortgage rate increases, according to Attom Data Solutions. At the same time, the average return on investment crashed to a six-year low.

“A total of 45,901 single-family homes and condos were flipped in 3Q18, signaling a 12% drop from a year ago to a 3.5-year low from the first quarter of 2015. Houses flipped sold for an average of $63,000 more than what the home flipper purchased them for, down from the all-time high of $68,000 achieved in the first quarter and from $65,000 a year ago,” said Attom Data Solutions.

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The gross flipping profit in 3Q18 was about 42.6% ROI, the lowest level seen since the first quarter of 2012. Despite the recent market plateau, some flippers are finding it unprofitable in the current market environment.

With home price appreciation stalling, many flippers have started to notice margin compression and to make matters worse, President Trump’s tariffs have made the cost of materials just that more expensive.

The amount of flipped homes purchased with financing held steady at 38.8% in the third quarter, down from 39.2% a year ago and 40.7% the previous quarter.

“Home flipping acts as a canary in the coal mine for a cooling housing market because the high velocity of transactions provides home flippers with some of the best and most real-time data on how the market is trending,” Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at Attom, said in a press release.

We’ve now seen three consecutive quarters with year-over-year decreases in home flips. The last time that happened was in 2014 following the mortgage rate jump in the second half of 2013, but it’s still far from the 11 consecutive quarters with year-over-year decreases in home flips extending from 2Q 2006 through 4Q 2008 and leading up to the last housing crash,” he said.

Total houses flipped in the third quarter represented 5% of all single-family homes and condos sold in that quarter – the lowest reading in more than two years. The flipping rate declined from 5.1% a year ago and 5.2% from the previous quarter.

It also seems the popularity of “how to flip a house” in Google Search across the US peaked in 2017 and has since stalled.

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Source: ZeroHedge

Australia Warned To Prepare For “Severe Housing Collapse” And “Banking Crisis”

Just weeks after ZeroHedge noted that Australia’s household debt to income ratio has ballooned to shocking levels over the past three decades as Sydney is ranked as one of the most overvalued cities in the world, Australia’s regulators have been warned to prepare “contingency plans for a severe collapse in the housing market” that could lead to a “crisis situation” in one or more financial institutions.

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Australia has transitioned from the lowest household debt-to-income ratio to the highest in the world, in just three decades.

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And now Australia’s News.com.au reports that The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) latest in-depth assessment of Australia maintains that while the “current trajectory” of house price declines “would suggest a soft landing… some risk of a hard landing remains.”

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Wage stagnation and elevated home prices have turned into the perfect storm that will bring forward a housing crisis.

The Paris-based global forum recommends the Aussie Reserve Bank begin raising the cash rate from its record low as soon as possible to prevent “imbalances accumulating further”.

The RBA last cut the cash rate to 1.5 per cent in August 2016, following an earlier cut to 1.75 per cent in May. There has not been an official cash rate increase since November 2010.

Australia’s housing market is a source of vulnerabilities due to elevated prices and related household debt. A direct hit to the financial sector from a wave of mortgage defaults is unlikely,” the report says.

“However, if house prices collapse consumer spending could suffer, via negative impact on wealth, including from exposures to bank shares, which would encourage deleveraging. Together with reduced housing-related expenditures, this would put pressure on the whole economy.”

Additionally, News.com reports that while describing the housing market slowdown as “welcome” after a period where prices were overvalued by 5 to 15 per cent and noting current evidence pointed to a soft landing, the OECD said its research in the past “has found soft landings are rare”.

The OECD report recommends contingency plans in the form of “a loss-absorbing regime in the case of financial-institution insolvency”, including controversial “bail-in provisions”.

“… the possibility of financial-institution crisis should not be discounted entirely.”

Finally, the OECD notes, unlike in the US or EU, the law does not include provisions that would automatically convert some unsecured senior bonds and deposits from other banks into equity in the event of a crisis

 “The absence of explicit bail-in provisions could slow down the speed of resolution and risk encouraging financial institutions to gamble for resuscitation.”

Notably, OECD’s ominous warnings come after RBA deputy governor Guy Debelle raised alarms (after Q3 GDP dramatically undershot expectations at just 2.8%) by suggesting the next move in rates could be down, not up, and floated the possibility of controversial money printing policies known as quantitative easing in the event of a crisis.

As John Rubino recently noted, for the past few years, homeowners just about everywhere have been able to finesse life’s problems by thinking “at least my house is going up.”… But now that’s ending, and a reverse wealth effect is kicking in. Homeowners are seeing their home equity – aka their net worth – stop growing and in some cases drop by shocking amounts. In Australia it’s $1,000 a week, which is enough to darken the mood of pretty much anyone not in the 1%. A consumer with a dark mood is an unenthusiastic shopper because new debt accelerates the decline in net worth.

As home prices fall, so therefore does “discretionary” spending. Australians will continue to eat and to air condition their bedrooms, but they’ll cut way back on vacations, new cars, etc. And the debt-based part of the economy will suffer. This will cause stock prices to fall, knocking another leg out from under the average citizen’s net worth and making them even less likely to splurge. And so on.

Credit-bubble capitalism depends on mood, which makes it fragile. That fragility is about to be on full display pretty much everywhere.

Source: ZeroHedge

Credit “Death Spiral” Accelerates As Loan ETF Sees Record Outflow, Primary Market Freezes

One week after even the IMF joined the chorus of warnings sounding the alarm over the unconstrained, unregulated growth of leveraged loans, and which as of November included the Fed, BIS, JPMorgan, Guggenheim, Jeff Gundlach, Howard Marks and countless others, we reported that investors had finally also joined the bandwagon and are now fleeing an ETF tracking an index of low-grade debt as credit spreads blow out and cracks appeared across virtually all credit products.

Specifically, we noted that not only had the $6.4 billion Invesco BKLN Senior Loan ETF seen seven straight days of outflows to close out November, with investors pulling $129 million in one day alone and reducing the fund’s assets by 2% to the lowest level in more than two years, but over 800 million has been pulled in last current month, the biggest monthly outflow ever as investors are packing it in.

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Fast forward to today, when another major loan ETF, the Blackstone $2.9BN leverage-loan ETF, SRLN, just suffered its largest ever one-day outflow since its 2013 inception.

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Year to date, the shares of this ETF backed by the risky debt have dropped 2.6%, hitting their lowest level since February 2016; the ETF’s underlying benchmark, the S&P/LSTA Leveraged Loan Index, has also been hit recently and is down 2.3% YTD, effectively wiping out all the cash interest carry generated YTD and then some.

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BLKN and SRLN aren’t alone: investors have pulled over $4 billion from leveraged loan funds in the three weeks ended Dec. 5, the largest cash bleed in almost four years for such a period, according to Lipper data.

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“The price action in the ETF hasn’t warranted investors to justify keeping it on to collect the monthly coupon it pays,” said Mohit Bajaj, director of exchange-traded funds at WallachBeth Capital. “The risk/reward hasn’t been there compared to short-term treasury products like JPST,” he added, referring to the $4.2 billion JPMorgan Ultra-Short Income ETF, which hasn’t seen a daily outflow since April 9.

Analysts have pointed to widening credit spreads and the fact that loan ETFs have floating-rate underlying instruments, assets that become less attractive than fixed-rate ones should the Fed skip its March rate hike, which after Powell’s latest dovish turn and today’s weak payrolls may – or may not – happen.

The ongoing loan ETF puke comes at a time when both US investment grade and junk bond spreads have blown out, while yields spiked to a 30-month high this month. In November, investment grade bonds suffered their worst year in terms of total returns since 2008 and December isn’t looking much better. Meanwhile in high yield, junk bonds yields just had their biggest one-day jump since April.

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According to a note from Citi strategists Michael Anderson and Philip Dobrinov, leveraged loans in the U.S. may no longer be the “star performer” amid a potential pause in rate hikes by the Fed, while the recent redemption scramble has caused ETFs to offload better quality loans to raise cash, according to the Citi duo. That’s despite leveraged loan issuance being at its highest since 2008 largely as a result of insatiable CLO demand.

If investors are, indeed, unloading to raise cash, Anderson and Dobrinov write “this is a bearish sign, particularly if outflows persist and managers eventually turn to deep discount paper for cash. Furthermore, as we get closer to the end of the Fed’s hiking cycle, we expect further outflows as traditional fixed-rate credit products become more in vogue.”

Incidentally the behavior described by Citi’s strategists, in which ETF administrators first sell high quality paper then shift to deep discount holdings, was one of the catalysts that hedge fund manager Adam Schwartz listed three weeks ago as a necessary condition for credit ETFs to enter a “death spiral.” And with virtually everyone – including the Fed, BIS and IMF – all warning that the next crisis will begin in the leverage loan sector, the question to ask is “has it begun“?

One answer comes from the primary market, and it hardly reassuring.

As we discussed last week, while the leveraged-loan party isn’t quite over, jitters around the world have made lenders and investors less willing to give loans to heavily indebted companies, with numerous loan offerings getting pulled and lenders are demanding – and getting – sweeter terms.

As Bloomberg reports, on Tuesday JPMorgan had to slash the price on a $210 million loan to 93 cents on the dollar from par to sweeten investor demand and help finance a private jet takeover.  Specifically, JPMorgan offloaded loans financing the takeover of XOJET at 93 cents on the dollar, one of the steepest discounts seen in the leveraged loan market this year. And with the market on the verge of freezing, the size of the deal was cut by $70 million from the originally targeted amount.

In Europe, the market appears to have already locked up, as three loans were scrapped over the last two weeks, victims of the Brexit tensions gripping the UK. To wit, movie theater chain Vue International withdrew a 833 million pound-equivalent ($1.07 billion) loan sale. While the deal was meant to mostly refinance existing debt, around 100 million pounds was underwritten to finance the company’s acquisition of German group CineStar.

Last week more deals were pulled when diversified manufacturer Jason Inc. became at least the fourth issuer to scrap a U.S. leveraged loan. Additionally, Perimeter Solutions also pulled its repricing attempt, Ta Chen International scrapped a $250MM term loan set to finance the company’s purchase of a rolling mill, and Algoma Steel withdrew its $300m exit financing. Global University System in November also dropped its dollar repricing.

Fears of a slowing global economic growth even as rates continue to rise, combined with anxiety over trade talks between the U.S. and China, reluctance to take risk before year end and the recent rout in credit products, have all led to a widespread fear across markets; investors are also concerned about higher interest rates weighing on corporate profits. These fears are spreading across credit markets, from investment-grade debt to junk bonds.

“No one thinks this is the big one,” said Richard Farley, chair of the leveraged finance group at Kramer Levin told Bloomberg. “But on the fear to greed continuum we have definitely moved closer to fear.”

The fear has resulted in the S&P/LSTA leverage loan price index tumbling to a two year low.

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The sharp shift in sentiment has been remarkable: for most of 2018, investors couldn’t get enough of floating-rate products like leveraged loans based on the assumption that they will fare better in a rising-rate environment. As a result of blistering demand, companies were able to sell new debt with virtually no covenant protections and higher leverage, triggering warnings about deteriorating standards from regulators and bond graders in recent months (see above).

And, in the aftermath of Chair Powell infamous Oct 3 speech which sent risk assets tumbling and tightened financial conditions, leveraged loan price indexes in Europe and the U.S. have dropped to their lowest level in over two years, while nearly all of the loans outstanding are now trading below their face value. According to JPM, the percentage of loans trading above face value has dropped to just 3.9%, a 29-month low, down from 65.4% in early October. This suggests that virtually all leverage loan investors are now underwater on a total return basis.

* * *

With the leveraged loan market freezing up – and potentially entering a death spiral – the recent weakness has raised concerns that other debt sales currently in the works may be sold at discounts that are so deep underwriters may have to book a loss, if they can be sold at all. This is precisely what happened in late 2007 and early 2008 when underwriters found themselves with pipelines of debt sales that sudden got blocked, and were forced to take massive haircuts to keep the credit flowing.

Still, optimists remain: “The downdraft in loans has been very orderly thus far,” said Chris Mawn, head of the corporate loan business at investment manager CarVal Investors. “We anticipate most managers will keep buying in this market trying to be opportunistic and those who don’t have to sell will just hold.”

Of course, speaking of flashbacks to 2007/2008 it was just this kind of investor optimism that died last…

Source: ZeroHedge

Chinese Firms Dumped $1 Billion Of US Real Estate Last Quarter

After being one of the most steadfast buyers of American real estate for years, large Chinese firms continued dumping high-profile US real estate in the third quarter, the Wall Street Journal reports, selling more than $1 billion of property as Beijing forced insurers, conglomerates, and other big investors into debt-reduction programs.

Chinese investors dumped $1.05 billion worth of prime US real estate in the third quarter while purchasing only $231 million of property, according to data firm Real Capital Analytics. This marks the second consecutive quarter where investors were net sellers of US commercial real estate, and the first time investors sold more US property than they bought since the 2008 crash.

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In the last decade, Chinese investors plowed tens of billions of dollars into US real estate, with a concentration in major metro areas like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. The Journal notes that Chinese buyers “never represented more than a fraction of the buying power in any U.S. market,” however they made headlines for paying massive premiums. 

Now, the party has unexpectedly ended.

Rising corporate debt levels and concerns over currency stability has forced the Chinese government to tighten capital outflows and clamp down on overseas acquisitions. 

As ZeroHedge discussed last month, total Chinese Credit Creation unexpectedly collapsed, resulting in shock waves of weakness across the domestic and global economy. Amid speculation that Beijing is engineering a “slow landing” through a significant slowdown in credit issuance, investors – hungry for liquidity – are unloading US properties at a rapid clip. In global markets, this will likely create a deflationary chill and lead to a further slowdown in 2019.

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Trade tensions between Beijing and the Trump administration have not helped the situation, as more Chinese firms sold properties amid worries the trade war could deepen in the coming quarters, and potentially lead to more aggressive blow back at Chinese investors. 

“This has to do more with a change in how capital is permitted to behave rather than Chinese investors saying ‘I don’t like the U.S.’,” said Jim Costello, senior vice president at Real Capital Analytics.

“Ping An Insurance Group Co. of China and partners in August sold a 13-story Boston office building for $450 million, the largest sale by a Chinese investor during the third quarter, Real Capital Analytics said. Its U.S. partner Tishman Speyer said it was the one that drove the decision to sell the building.

China’s retreat showed signs of continuing in the fourth quarter. Dalian Wanda Group sold a glitzy development site in Beverly Hills, Calif., last month for more than $420 million. The Chinese conglomerate purchased the eight-acre parcel in 2014 for $420 million and had planned to develop luxury condominiums and a boutique hotel on the site, but feuds with a local union and contractors stalled progress.

Anbang recently engaged Bank of America Corp. to help it sell a portfolio of luxury hotels that it acquired two years ago for $5.5 billion, though the Waldorf isn’t part of that sale, according to a person familiar with the matter,” said the Journal.

“Anbang is reviewing the company’s U.S. real estate portfolio after seeing price recovering in local property market due to strong recovery of the U.S. economy,” said Shen Gang, a spokesman for Anbang.

Still, some strategists believe that Chinese selling may slow in the months ahead.

“I do not think it will be a tidal wave of sales,” said Jerome Sanzo, managing director and head of U.S. Real Estate Finance for Industrial & Commercial Bank of China. “Some of them are not able to move forward for various reasons and will take gains now while waiting for future changes.”

In a highly leveraged economy such as China’s, growth is a lagged result of changes in the supply of credit. And with credit creation waning in China, it is less of a mystery why local corporations are rushing to “liquify” as fast as possible: the Chinese credit squeeze is well underway. Prepare for a global slowdown in 2019, one which has already hit the US housing market hard.

Source: ZeroHedge