China’s factory-gate prices grew at the fastest pace in almost 26 years in September, adding to global inflation risks and putting pressure on local businesses to start passing on higher costs to consumers.
SHANGHAI, Sept 29 (Reuters) – China’s vast Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is in danger of losing momentum as opposition in targeted countries rises and debts mount, paving the way for rival schemes to squeeze Beijing out, a new study showed on Wednesday.
Pictured are travelers walking past a map displaying CCP targets of conquest
An alarming briefing by a top Australian general to his troops leaked by an anonymous source warns of a “high likelihood” of war with Communist China.
(Jamie White) According to the confidential briefing obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday, Australian Defense Force (ADF) adviser Major-General Adam Findlay said last year that China was already engaged in “grey zone” warfare.
Yesterday ZeroHedge discussed why western Corporations are terrified to confront China, even if it means losing on those all-important virtue signaling brownie points which are all that matter in Western society today: as a reminder, the stock of H&M, Nike and Adidas came under fire on Chinese social media on Thursday after Beijing’s propaganda offensive against Swedish fashion brand H&M sparked by the company’s expression of concern about labor conditions in Xinjiang. The sportswear companies were the latest to be caught up in a backlash prompted by a government call to stop foreign brands from tainting China’s name as internet users found statements they had made in the past on Xinjiang.
On Friday, as the Xinjiang spat escalated, China showed just how easy it is for Western companies to literally disappear when outlets belonging to Sweden’s H&M (Hennes & Mauritz AB) – the fashion retailer that found itself at the center of an escalating spat over human rights in Xinjiang – did not to show up on Apple Maps and Baidu Maps searches in China.
Tensions spiked in the South China Sea and near Taiwan over this past weekend and have continued boiling since, after Chinese PLA aircraft made repeat in incursions into Taiwan’s claimed airspace. In response Taiwan’s Air Force scrambled jets in its own ‘show of strength’ deterrence message, and with the US aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt in the region, China’s Defense Ministry subsequently warned Taipei on Thursday that “independence means war”.
A new report in FT that broke overnight now reveals that the Sunday incident was even more alarming for the prospect of direct conflict than previously thought. FT cites unnamed intelligence sources to report that “Chinese military aircraft simulated missile attacks on a nearby US aircraft carrier during an incursion into Taiwan’s air defense zone three days after Joe Biden’s inauguration, according to intelligence from the US and its allies.”
(by Graham Allison) China has now displaced the U.S. to become the largest economy in the world. Measured by the more refined yardstick that both the IMF and CIA now judge to be the single best metric for comparing national economies, the IMF Report shows that China’s economy is one-sixth larger than America’s ($24.2 trillion versus the U.S.’s $20.8 trillion). Why can’t we admit reality? What does this mean?
On Thursday, China for the first time sold dollar-denominated bonds directly to US buyers and with the Chinese 10Y offering a record 2.5% pickup in yield compared to 10Y Treasuries, it’s hardly a surprise that demand was off the charts.
The $6 billion bond offering which took place in Hong Kong, drew record demand, in part due to the attractive yield offered by Chinese paper and in part due to China’s impressive recovery from the coronavirus, with an orderbook more than $27 billion, or roughly $10 billion more than an offering of the same size last November, according to the FT, which added about 15% of the offering went to American investors.
The $6BN USD-denominated bond offering was as follows:
- $1.25BN in 3-year dollar bonds at 0.425%
- $2.25BN 5-year dollar bonds at 0.604%
- $2BN 10-year dollar bonds at 1.226%
- $500MM 30-year dollar bonds at 2.310%
The yield on the 10-year bond was about 0.5% above the equivalent US Treasury, and helped the bond sales receive “a strong reception from US onshore real money investors”, said Samuel Fischer, head of China onshore debt capital markets at Deutsche Bank, which helped arrange the deal. Other arrangers of the bond sale included Standard Chartered, Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan.
What was unique about today’s offering is that unlike previous issuance, “the debt was sold under a mechanism that gave institutional investors in the US the chance to buy in.”
Somewhat surprising is that frictions between Beijing and Washington had no impact “at all” on demand from US buyers, which included an American pension fund, one banker told the FT. In fact, the strategic timing of the bond sale which was arranged by the Chinese government just weeks before Americans head to the polls for the presidential election was meant to show “how tightly the financial systems of the two countries are linked, despite a trade war and tensions over technology and geopolitics.”
“This is the investor community showing confidence in [China’s] recovery,” said another banker on the sale, who added that “US investor participation in Chinese paper is not reduced by any means.”
Analyst responses were broadly enthusiastic about the offering:
Hayden Briscoe, head of fixed income for Asia Pacific at UBS Asset Management, said the bonds would help “set the benchmark” for Chinese corporates such as petrochemical groups Sinopec and Sinochem, which also borrow in dollars. “A lot of their expenses are in US dollars, and they borrow in the dollar market to match funds to that.”
He added that the bonds benefited from strong demand partly due to their scarcity value. “There’s so few of them and they suit sovereign wealth fund type buyers — they tend to just disappear.”
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Monday the trade deal with China is “over,” and he linked the breakdown in part to Washington’s anger over Beijing’s not sounding the alarm earlier about the coronavirus outbreak.
“It’s over,” Navarro told Fox News in an interview when asked about the trade agreement. He said the “turning point” came when the United States learned about the spreading coronavirus only after a Chinese delegation had left Washington following the signing of the Phase 1 deal on Jan. 15.
“It was at a time when they had already sent hundreds of thousands of people to this country to spread that virus, and it was just minutes after wheels up when that plane took off that we began to hear about this pandemic,” Navarro said.
U.S.-China relations have reached their lowest point in years since the coronavirus pandemic that began in China hit the United States hard. President Donald Trump and his administration repeatedly have accused Beijing of not being transparent about the outbreak.
Trump on Thursday renewed his threat to cut ties with China, a day after his top diplomats held talks with Beijing and his trade representative said he did not consider decoupling the U.S. and Chinese economies a viable option.
Navarro has been one of the most outspoken critics of China among Trump’s senior advisers.
In other news, Catherine Austin Fitts provides a big picture update with Greg Hunter …
In the last few weeks, ZeroHedge provided many articles on the evidence of creaking global supply chains fast emerging in China and spreading outwards. Anyone in supply chain management, monitoring the flow of goods and services from China, has to be worried about which regions will be impacted the most (even if the stock market couldn’t care less).
Deutsche Bank’s senior European economist Clemente Delucia and economist Michael Kirker published a note on Thursday titled “The impact of the coronavirus: A supply-chain analysis” identifying the effect of contagion on the rest of the world, mainly focusing on demand and spillover effects into other countries.
The economists constructed a ‘dependency indicator,’ to figure out just how much a country depends on China for the supply of particular imported inputs. It was noted that the more a country depends on China, the more challenging it could be for businesses to find alternative sourcing during a period of supply chain disruptions.
The biggest takeaway from the report is that, surprisingly, the European Union is less directly exposed to a China supply-chain shock than the US, Canada, Japan, and all the major Asian countries (i.e., India, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam).
It was determined that in the first wave of supply chain disruptions that “euro-area countries are somewhat less directly dependent on China for intermediate inputs than other major economies in the rest of the world.”
“The euro-area countries have, in general, a dependence indicator below the benchmark. This suggests that euro-area countries have a below-average direct dependence on Chinese imports of intermediate inputs (Figure 2).”
But since China is highly integrated into the global economy, and a supply chain shock would be felt across the world. The second round of disruptions would result in lower world trade growth that would eventually filter back into the European economy.
The US, Japan, Canada, and all the major Asian countries would feel an immediate supply chain shock from China.
Here’s a chart that maps out lower dependency and higher dependency countries to disruption from China.
To summarize, the European Union might escape disruptions from China supply chain shocks in the first round, but ultimately will be affected as global growth would sag. As for the US and Japan, Canada, and all the major Asian countries, well, the disruption will be almost immediate and severe with limited opportunities for companies to find alternative sourcing.
“First of all, our analysis does not take into account non-linearity in the production process. In other words, it does not capture consequences from a stop in production for particular product. It might indicate that given the dependence is smaller, Europe could find it somewhat easier substitute a Chinese product with another. But there is no guarantee this will be the case.”
“Secondly, while our results indicates that the direct impact from supply issues in China could be smaller for the euro area than for other regions in the world, the euro area could be hard-hit by second-round effects. With their higher direct exposure to China, production in other major economies could slow down as a result of disruptions in the supply chain. This not only could cause a shortage in demand for euro-area exports, but it could also impact on the euro-area’s import of intermediate inputs from these other countries (second-round effects). In other words, China has become a relevant player in the world supply chain and production/demand problems in China are spread worldwide through direct and indirect channels.“
News flow this week has indeed suggested the virus is spreading outwards, from East to West, and could get a lot worse ex-China into the weekend.
We believe supply chain disruptions ex-China could become more prevalent in the weeks ahead.
The mistake of the World Health Organization (WHO), governments, and global trade organizations to minimize the economic impact (protect stock markets) of the virus was to allow flights, businesses, and trade to remain open with China. This allowed the virus to start spreading across China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Enjoy a riveting weekly news wrap up with Greg Hunter…
In our ongoing attempts to glean some objective insight into what is actually happening “on the ground” in the notoriously opaque China, whose economy has been hammered by the Coronavirus epidemic, yesterday ZeroHedge showed several “alternative” economic indicators such as real-time measurements of air pollution (a proxy for industrial output), daily coal consumption (a proxy for electricity usage and manufacturing) and traffic congestion levels (a proxy for commerce and mobility), before concluding that China’s economy appears to have ground to a halt.
That conclusion was cemented after looking at some other real-time charts which suggest that there is a very high probability that China’s GDP in Q1 will not only flatline, but crater deep in the red for one simple reason: there is no economic activity taking place whatsoever.
We start with China’s infrastructure and fixed asset investment, which until recently accounted for the bulk of Chinese GDP. As Goldman writes in an overnight report, in the Feb 7-13 week, steel apparent demand is down a whopping 40%, but that’s only because flat steel is down “only” 12% Y/Y as some car plants have ordered their employee to return to work (likely against their will as the epidemic still rages).
However, it is the far more important – for China’s GDP – construction steel sector where apparent demand has literally hit the bottom of the chart, down an unprecedented 88% Y/Y or as Goldman puts it, “construction steel demand is approaching zero.”
But wait, there’s more.
Courtesy of Capital Economics, which has compiled a handy breakdown of real-time China indicators, we can see the full extent of just how pervasive the crash in China’s economy has been, starting with familiar indicator, the average road congestion across 100 Chinese cities, which has collapsed into the New Year and has since failed to rebound.
Parallel to this, daily passenger traffic has also flat lined since the New Year and has yet to post an even modest rebound.
And the biggest shocker: a total collapse in passenger traffic (measured in person-km y/y % change), largely due to the quarantine that has been imposed on hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens.
And while we already noted the plunge in coal consumption in power plants as Chinese electricity use has cratered…
… what is perhaps most striking, is the devastation facing the Chinese real estate sector where property sales across 30 major cities have basically frozen.
Finally, and most ominously perhaps, as the economy craters and internal supply chains fray, prices for everyday staples such as food are soaring as China faces not only economic collapse, but also surging prices for critical goods, such as food as shown in the wholesale food price index chart below…
… which in a nation of 1.4 billion is a catastrophic mix.
As the coronavirus pandemic spreads further without containment, and as the charts above continue to flat line, so will China’s economy, which means that not only is Goldman’s draconian view of what happens to Q1 GDP likely optimistic as China now faces an outright plunge in Q1 GDP…
… but any the expectation for a V-shaped recovery in Q2 and onward will vaporize faster than a vial of ultra-biohazardaous viruses in a Wuhan virology lab.
Ending the limited quarantine and falsely proclaiming China safe for visitors and business travelers will only re-introduce the virus to workplaces and infect foreigners.
(Charles Hugh Smith) China faces an inescapably fatal dilemma: to save its economy from collapse, China’s leadership must end the quarantines soon and declare China “safe for travel and open for business” to the rest of the world.
But since 5+ million people left Wuhan to go home for New Years, dispersing throughout China, the virus has likely spread to small cities, towns and remote villages with few if any coronavirus test kits and few medical facilities to administer the tests multiple times to confirm the diagnosis. (It can take multiple tests to confirm the diagnosis, as the first test can be positive and the second test negative.)
As a result, Chinese authorities cannot possibly know how many people already have the virus in small-town / rural China or how many asymptomatic carriers caught the virus from people who left Wuhan. They also cannot possibly know how many people with symptoms are avoiding the official dragnet by hiding at home.
No data doesn’t mean no virus.
If the virus has already been dispersed throughout China by asymptomatic carriers who left Wuhan without realizing they were infected with the pathogen, then regardless of whatever official assurances may be announced in the coming days/weeks, it won’t be safe for foreigners to travel in China nor will it be safe for Chinese workers to return to factories, markets, etc.
But if China doesn’t “open for business” with unrestricted travel soon, its economy will suffer calamitous declines as fragile mountains of debt and leverage collapse and supply chain disruptions push global corporations to find permanent alternatives elsewhere.
Here’s the fatal dilemma: maintaining the quarantine long enough to truly contain it (which requires extending it to the entire country) will be fatal to China’s economy.
But ending the limited quarantine and falsely proclaiming China safe for visitors and business travelers will only re-introduce the virus to workplaces and infect foreigners who will return home as asymptomatic carriers, spreading the virus in their home nations.
Falsely declaring China safe will endanger everyone credulous enough to believe Chinese officials, and destroy whatever thin shreds of credibility China may yet have in the global economy and community. That will set off chains of causality that will destroy China’s economy just as surely as a three-month nationwide quarantine.
Who will be foolish enough to believe anything Chinese officials proclaim after foreigners who accepted the false assurances of safety return home with the coronavirus?
Anyone planning to receive goods via air freight from China might want to digest this report: Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and its inactivation with biocidal agents Endemic human coronaviruses (HCoV) can persist on inanimate surfaces like metal, glass or plastic for up to 9 days.
Air freight takes 12 to 24 hours, add another few hours for packaging, handling and last-mile delivery and that leaves 6+ days for the virus to spread to anyone who touches goods handled by an symptomatic carrier. Maybe the odds of catching the virus via surfaces are low, but maybe not. No one knows, including anyone rash enough to claim that the risk is negligible.
“Angry People Will No Longer Be Afraid” – 1000s Of Chinese Miltary/Police Quarantined, Dozens Diagnosed After CCP Lies
“They Said We Didn’t Qualify”: Wuhan Hospitals May Have Turned Away 1000s Of Seriously Sick Coronavirus Patients
Bloomberg cited a new report via China Merchants Securities (CMSC) that said new apartment sales crashed 90% in the first week of February over the same period last year. Sales of existing homes in 8 cities plunged 91% over the same period.
“The sector is bracing for a worse impact than the 2003 SARS pandemic,” said Bai Yanjun, an analyst at property-consulting firm China Index Holdings Ltd. “In 2003, the home market was on a cyclical rise. Now, it’s already reeling from an adjustment.”
Long before the coronavirus outbreak, China’s housing market has been on shaky grounds amid declining demand, stricter mortgage requirements, and price discounts.
The latest shock: two-thirds of China’s economy has come to a standstill, could generate enough pessimism to pop the country’s massive housing bubble.
The CPC failed to stimulate the economy last year, with credit impulse not turning up as expected. The virus outbreak has allowed the CPC to scapegoat the slowdown and the inevitable crash.
Real estate transactions have been forbidden in many cities. This means fire sales could be seen once selling restrictions end.
E-House China Enterprise Holdings Ltd.’s research institute said four units per day were being sold in Beijing last week, and this is down from several hundred per day during the same period in the previous year.
China International Capital Corp. analyst Eric Zhang said demand could pick back up in April, assuming the virus outbreak is under control.
The downturn in China’s property market could get a lot worse, and without proper liquidity from the central bank, once selling restrictions end, it could trigger a liquidity gap where housing prices face a deep correction.
But remember, the CPC can now blame the virus for a housing market crash or a downturn in the economy.
Soon the only food that will be affordable in China, is coronabat stew.
With over 400 million people across dozens of Chinese cities living in lock down as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, crippling global supply chains and grinding China’s economy to a halt, it is easy to forget that China has been battling another major viral epidemic for the past two years: namely the African Swing Fever virus, aka “pig ebola” which killed off over half of China’s pig population in the past year, sending pork prices soaring, and unleashing a tidal wave of inflation.
Well, earlier today, the world got a stark reminder of this when China reported that in January, its CPI jumped by whopping 5.4% Y/Y, the highest print in nine years…
… driven by a surge in pork prices, which reversed a rare drop in December when the slid by 5.6%, rising 8.5% in just ont month, and a record 116% compared to a year ago.
This unprecedented surge in pork CPI meant that China’s food CPI rose a record 20.6% in January, also the highest on record, as China’s population, now ordered to live under self-imposed quarantine, suddenly finds it can no longer afford to buy food.
Needless to say, this is suddenly a major problem for China, whose central bank has in the past two weeks unleashed an unprecedented liquidity tsunami, including the biggest ever reverse repo injection…
… in hopes of stabilizing the stock market. Well, oops, because some of this liquidity now appears to be making its way into the broader economy, and is making already scarce food (aside from bat stew of course) even more un-affordable, and the already depressed and dejected Chinese population even more hungry, and angry.
There was one silver lining in today’s data: after spending half a year in deflation, China’s Production Prices, a proxy for industrial profits and overall price leverage, finally printed in the positive, rising 0.1% Y/Y, and better than the expected 0.0%
So far so good, however, with China’s economy now on indefinite lock down, expect the correlation shown in the chart above to break any moment now, with industrial profits crashing as a result of the coronavirus putting countless Chinese factories on lock down at least until the coronavirus is contained. When that happens is anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain: at the rate food prices are exploding, soon the only food China’s population will be able to afford will be the experimental bats used by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, one of which may or may not have been accidentally sold to the local fish market last December triggering what is now the worst viral pandemic in decades.
Just as concerning, if only for Beijing, is that if the surge in food prices isn’t “contained” very soon the arms of the PBOC will be tied and any hopes that China will reflate its economy – and the world – to offset the economic crunch resulting from the coronavirus, will be weaponized and vaporize right through the HVAC, just like any number of manmade viruses currently being developed in Wuhan, as pretty soon China’s population – starving and quarantined – will have no choice but take matters into its own hands.
Something is seriously starting to break in China’s financial system.
Three days after we described the self-destructive doom loop that is tearing apart China’s smaller banks, where a second bank run took place in just two weeks – an unprecedented event for a country where until earlier this year not a single bank was allowed to fail publicly and has now had no less than five bank high profile nationalizations/bailouts/runs so far this year – the Chinese bond market is bracing itself for an unprecedented shock: a major, Fortune 500 Chinese commodity trader is poised to become the biggest and highest profile state-owned enterprise to default in the dollar bond market in over two decades.
Before a complete fracturing of the US and Chinese economies, there have already been numerous signs of decoupling that are currently taking place behind the scenes.
But before we tell you about the decoupling and the latest evidence we’ve found. You must be asking: Where are we in the trade war? Beginning innings? Imminent trade deal?
The flurry of trade headlines from the US and China over the last 15 or so months have certainly been confusing. The fact is, there’s so much fake trade news that it’s hard to tell exactly the progress between both countries.
But what’s certain is that the trade war is in the beginning innings and nowhere near being resolved. Yes, there’s a Phase 1 deal being floated around, but that’s only for President Trump to save Midwest farmers and to create positive sentiment ahead of the 2020 election to pump the stock market.
In reality, the trade war is a winner take all game, it’s really about empire, and how Washington is attempting to prevent China from becoming the next global superpower. Hence the reason for tariffs, which is an attempt by President Trump, the Pentagon, and US corporate elites to limit China’s ascension.
The decoupling will be slow at first, then rapid. We’re already seeing small to medium-sized Chinese companies being denied IPOs on Nasdaq. President Trump has already banned Haweui access to key US markets. And now, the next evidence that the decoupling is gaining momentum comes from the US Department Of The Interior.
The Department has grounded its entire fleet of 800 drones for fear that Chinese hackers could spy on critical infrastructure, reported The Wall Street Journal.
“Secretary Bernhardt is reviewing the Department of the Interior’s drone program. Until this review is completed, the Secretary has directed that drones manufactured in China or made from Chinese components be grounded unless they are currently being utilized for emergency purposes, such as fighting wildfires, search and rescue, and dealing with natural disasters that may threaten life or property,” the Department told The Verge via an email statement.
US officials worry that the Department is relying too heavily on Chinese drones and has put critical infrastructure at risk of being spied on by the Chinese.
Last month a bipartisan bill was introduced that would limit federal agencies from purchasing Chinese drones.
Several years ago, the Department of Homeland Security warned federal agencies from purchasing Chinese drones, specifically ones made by Shenzhen-based SZ DJI Technology Co., Ltd.
A DJI spokesperson told The Verge in a statement that the latest grounding of their drones by the Department Of The Interior is rather “disappointing.”
“We are aware the Department of Interior has decided to ground its entire drone program and are disappointed to learn of this development…As the leader in commercial drone technology, we have worked with the Department of Interior to create a safe and secure drone solution that meets their rigorous requirements, which was developed over the course of 15 months with DOI officials, independent cybersecurity professionals, and experts at NASA. We will continue to support the Department of Interior and provide assistance as it reviews its drone fleet so the agency can quickly resume the use of drones to help federal workers conduct vital operations,” the DJI spokesperson said.
The Department’s decision to ground Chinese drones is a clear trend of what’s to come in the year ahead: more groundings across a wide array of agencies.
Just wait until the groundings start hitting state and local municipalities and lower-level agencies. It’s going to be a nightmare.
Nevertheless, when the government starts banning certain Chinese products from consumers, you’ll know the great decoupling between the US and China is imminent.
For this to all happen, the Trump administration will need to ramp up Sinophobia propaganda to convince the American people that decoupling is the right move.
A darkening outlook for China’s economy continues to materialize week by week.
New data from commercial property group CBRE warns the country’s office vacancy rate has just surged to the highest since the financial crisis of 2007–2008, first reported by Bloomberg.
CBRE said the vacancy rate for commercial office space in 17 major cities rose to 21.5% in 3Q19, a level not seen since the global economy was melting down in 2008.
Sam Xie, CBRE’s head of research in China, said the recent “spike” in vacancies is one of the worst since the last financial crisis.
Catherine Chen, Cushman & Wakefield’s head of research for Greater China, told Financial Times that soaring commercial office vacancies in China was mainly due to dwindling demand, but not oversupplied conditions.
“Contributing factors included slower expansion of co-working operators and financial services companies, and a general cost-saving strategy adopted by most tenants given ongoing trade tensions and economic growth slowdown,” she added.
Henry Chin, head of research for Asia Pacific at CBRE, told Financial Times that macroeconomic headwinds relating to the trade war between the US and China were also a significant factor in rising office vacancies.
As shown in the Bloomberg chart below, using CBRE data, Shanghai and Shenzhen had the highest office vacancies than any other city, and both had around 20% of office spaces dormant.
And with the global economy in a synchronized slowdown, global growth estimates are now printing at 3%, the slowest pace since the financial crisis. The Chinese economy will likely continue to slow, and could see domestic growth under 6% this year. This suggests that China’s office space vacancies will continue to rise through year-end.Office Vacancies In China Hit Decade High Amid Economic Turmoil
Chinese police searched the house of Zhang Qi, 57, the former mayor of Danzhou, and found a large amount of cash, as well as 13.5 tons of gold in ingots in a secret basement of his home, according to local media.
In addition to the mayoral post, Qi held others including Secretary of the Communist Party.
According to unofficial reports, in addition to the $625 million worth of gold, cash worth 268 billion yuan ($37 billion) was discovered [ZH: seems highs to us].
The video prompted some witty social media responses…
Luxurious real estate with a total area of several thousand square meters, which the former city manager had been reportedly hiding, was the icing on the cake in this massive haul for the Chinese Anti-Corruption Committee.
Qi was investigated by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the party’s internal disciplinary body, and the National Supervisory Commission, the highest anti-corruption agency of China, in September 2019.
According to China’s anti-corruption laws, Qi will be executed.
(Nathan Su) Newly discovered deep ties between the chief investment officer (CIO) of the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) and the Chinese government, along with CalPERS’s China investment holdings, have provoked controversy about the operations of the largest public retirement fund in the United States.
CalPERS manages more than $350 billion for public employees either retired from or currently working for most of the state and local public agencies in California.
The fund holds tens of millions of shares in equities of Chinese companies. Among other things, these companies develop advanced weapons for China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and, according to one expert, are involved in unethical business practices and human rights abuses, including the concentration camps holding Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
According to a 2017 report by People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), CalPERS’s current CIO, Yu “Ben” Meng, as of 2015 was a participant in the Chinese government’s prestigious headhunting program called the Thousand Talents Plan (TTP).
We are told China’s economy is hurting, the “trade wars” are working and bringing China to it’s knees. From where I sit nothing could be further from the truth.
Currently China holds well north of $1 TRILLION in U.S. Treasuries – debt – that you and I, the tax payers of this country, send interest payments to month after month for them to continue holding our debt. It’s like the mortgage on your house, student loan or car note you have but instead of you getting anything for the debt payment you get to know the warmongers are going to purchase more bombs, weapons of all kinds and create more destruction. China, on the other hand, takes the payment and is building out the Belt and Road Initiative around the world. So, while we are working like slaves to pay our taxes, China is using our labor (taxes) paid to them to build a better global economic and financial system that does not include you and I. Pretty cool, aye?
While this is happening on one side of China’s national ledger sheet, on the other side something completely different is happening.
China reentered the gold market seven months ago, in December 2018 and has added a little less than 74 tons to their official gold holdings of approximately 1,935+ tons of gold. Please keep in mind this does not count the known 80-100 tons per annum that is flowing in from Russia. While this is not a large volume of gold in the grand scheme, this has been going on since 2016 so we are now talking about upwards of 240 – 300 additional tons. This changes their “official” gold holdings from approximately 1,935 tons to somewhere north of 2,175+. It could be as high as 2,235 or more tons of gold.
With more and more central banks continuing to add to their gold hoards did China see the pipeline tightening? China made their exit from the market in October 2016, the same month the yuan / renminbi was added to the IMF basket of currencies accounting for the SDR global trade note. Then fourteen months later decided to jump back in and have been adding to their horde ever since.
Last year, central banks bought 651.5 tons, 74% up on the previous year, the World Gold Council said in January. Official sector purchases could reach 700 tons this year, assuming the China trend continues and Russia at least matches 2018 volumes of about 275 tons, Citigroup Inc. said in April. Buying from central banks in the first five months of this year is 73% higher than a year earlier, with Turkey and Kazakhstan joining China and Russia as the four biggest buyers, according to data released on Monday by the WGC. Source
If 2018 saw national / central banks acquiring more than they have since 1968 and this they are outpacing last year by 73% will this be the biggest year for gold national / central bank acquisitions in history? If not history it would have to be much earlier than 1968 since that record has already been breached.
With the global economic changes that are occurring we have been calling for some type of gold trade settlement for a number of years. We believe that Russia and China are on the cusp on making this change. We have no proof this going to happen this year or next, but all the signs are pointing in that direction. We believe, especially if China continues acquiring more “official” gold on the open market, there will be a gold trade settlement note announced before 2025. Possibly much sooner if the warmongers in Washington DC continue with the war drums over Iran. If President Trump listens to the war-pigs in the Pentagon this will not fare well for the U.S. economy and gold will be much in demand at all levels – from retail to government and everything in between.
One trading day after we reported that China was “Hit By “Significant Banking Stress” as SHIBOR (Shanghi Interbank Offered Rate) tumbled to recession levels, and less than a week after we warned that China’s interbank market was freezing up in the aftermath of the Baoshang Bank collapse and subsequent seizure, which led to a surge in interbank repo rates and a spike in Negotiable Certificates of Deposit (NCD) rates…
… China’s banking stress has taken a turn for the worse, and on Monday, China’s overnight repurchase rate dropped to its lowest level in nearly 10 years, after the central bank’s repeated liquidity injections to ease credit concerns in small-to-medium banks: The rate fell as much as 11 basis points to 0.9861% on Monday, before being fixed at exactly 1.000%.
Seeking to ease funding strains after the Baoshang collapse and to unfreeze the financial channels in the banking sector, the PBOC has been injecting cash into the financial system to soothe credit risk concerns in smaller banks following the seizure of Baoshang Bank, which sent shockwaves through China’s markets.
Also helping drive the rate lower is China’s move to allow brokerages to issue more debt, said ANZ Bank’s Zhaopeng Xing, quoted by Bloomberg. As a result, at least five brokerages had their short-term debt quotas increased by the People’s Bank of China in recent days, according to filings.
The improved access to shorter-term debt will cut costs for brokerages compared with alternative funding sources such as bond issuance. The flipside, of course, is that the lower overnight funding rates drop, the greater the investor skepticism that China’s massive, $40 trillion financial system is doing ok, especially since the last time overnight funding rates were this low, the near-collapse of the global financial system was still fresh and the S&P was trading in the triple-digits.
Commenting on the ongoing collapse in SHIBOR, Commodore Research wrote overnight that “low SHIBOR lending rates are supposed to be supportive and accommodative in nature — but rates are now at the lowest level seen this decade and are very likely an indication that China is facing significant banking stress at the moment. It is extremely rare for the overnight SHIBOR lending rate to be set as low as 1.00%. This previously had not all been seen this decade, and the last time it occurred was during the financial crisis in 2008 – 2009.”
Meanwhile, as the world’s biggest financial time bomb ticks ever louder, traders and analysts are blissfully oblivious, focusing instead on central banks admitting that the recession is imminent and trying to spin how a world war with Iran would be bullish for stocks.
- Diesel demand in China fell 14% and 19% in March and April respectively, reaching levels not seen in a decade, according to data compiled by Wells Fargo.
- “We believe the accelerating decline is most likely tied to economic factors and the effects of the tariff ‘war’ with the U.S.,” Wells Fargo energy analyst Roger Read said in a note Monday. “If one wants to worry, that is where to focus most closely in our view.”
- China said in April its economy grew by 6.4% in the first quarter of 2019. However, global investors and economists have been skeptical of China’s official economic figures for years as they believe they overstate how much China’s economy is growing.
China’s true pace of economic growth is always hard to decipher, but the country’s lagging diesel demand could be a sign that the world’s second-largest economy is in a much more dire state than official numbers indicate.
Diesel demand in China fell 14% and 19% in March and April, respectively, reaching levels not seen in a decade, according to data compiled by Wells Fargo. Monthly demand has also been falling every month since December 2017, the data shows.
Source: Wells Fargo Securities, Bloomberg
“We believe the accelerating decline is most likely tied to economic factors and the effects of the tariff ‘war’ with the U.S. (lifted demand earlier in 2019 to ‘beat’ the tariffs, but now falling),” Wells Fargo energy analyst Roger Read said in a note Monday. “If one wants to worry, that is where to focus most closely in our view.”
China said in April its economy grew by 6.4% in the first quarter of 2019. However, global investors and economists have been skeptical of China’s official economic figures for years as they believe they are overstated.
This skepticism has led analysts to use other ways to measure economic growth in China, including demand for diesel fuel and electricity. Diesel is largely used to fuel trucks that transport goods. Declining diesel demand is seen as signal of slowing economic growth as it could indicate fewer trucks are being used, hence fewer goods are being bought and sold.
China’s massive drop in diesel demand comes as it wages a trade war against the U.S.
Both countries have slapped tariffs on billions of dollars worth of their goods. Earlier this month, both countries hiked tariffs across their goods, leading to a ripple effect throughout financial markets.
Crude prices, for example, posted their worst weekly performance of 2019 last week and are down more than 7% this month. The S&P 500 is down more than 4% in May while the Shanghai Composite has lost 5.5%.
Neither side is showing signs of backing down, either. President Donald Trump said Monday the U.S. was not ready to make a deal with China. Meanwhile, a commentary in Chinese state-run newspaper Xinhua indicated China would not give into U.S. demands to change its state-run economy.
These tensions could shave off between 0.3% and 0.4% from China’s economic growth, according to UBS analyst Anna Ho. The analyst also said in a note: “Open economies, like Singapore, Korea and Malaysia are more sensitive to global trade and higher export exposure, and could see a reduced chance of growth recovery in 2H19.”
In another sign of tension between the two countries and perhaps declining economic activity, Chinese tourism to the U.S. fell for the first time in 15 years last year, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office.
The deepening trade war between the US and China has roiled complex global supply chains and America’s Heartland. The latest breakdown in negotiations comes at a time when soybean exports to China have crashed, and huge stockpiles are building, have resulted in many farmers teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Mounting financial stress in the Midwest has allowed a public health crisis, where suicide rates among farmers have hit record highs, according to one trade organization’s interview with the South China Morning Post.
No country has better exemplified the global automobile recession than China. Sales for the world’s largest auto market continue to deteriorate, with the latest report confirming that passenger vehicle sales in China tanked yet again – this time dropping 16.6% year-over-year to 1.54 million units, following a 12% decline in March and an 18.5% slide in February. In addition, April SUV sales fell 14.7% to 642,220 units.
Those curious who is more impacted by the sudden re-escalation in trade hostilities between the US and China can get a quick answer by looking at the market reaction to Sunday’s unexpected news: while the S&P is down barely 1%, overnight Chinese stocks plunged nearly 6%, their biggest drop in over three years, indicating just how much more sensitive to every twist and turn in trade relations Chinese stocks are.
Of course, one can counter just how smaller – and far less relevant – the Chinese stock market is in comparison to the S&P500, which is also the basis for the vast majority of household net worth for Americans, and global investors (whereas in China, it is the local housing that is far more critical and accounts for roughly 70% of household net worth).
But it’s not just the stock market that shows why China should tread very lightly in its ongoing negotiations with Trump, or why the US president has decided suddenly to re-escalate. Below we lay out [ ] charts showing just why the US indeed continues to have the upper hand in negotiations with China, starting with the relative importance of the US and European economies to China rather than vice versa.
As the first chart below from Deutsche Bank shows, the US and Europe are “much more important for China than China is for US and Europe” as China remains the nation with the highest beta, or the highest relative impact, from a 1% move in either direction for either the US or the Euro area.
Second, whereas the US is now actively contemplating the launch of MMT, and exploding the US twin deficit by issuing virtually unlimited amounts of debt – which it ostensibly can do as long as the US Dollar is the world’s reserve currency – China is already near its leverage peak. In fact, as shown in the chart below, both China’s willingness and ability to lever up is now quite limited according to Deutsche Bank’s Torsten Slok.
Last, and certainly not least, is what we said back in January represented a “tectonic shift” in China’s economy, when we observed that this year, for the first time in history, China’s current account deficit will turn negative meaning that China will henceforth need financing from the rest of the world, and specifically the US. Which is why, as we said five months ago, it is not Beijing that has leverage over the US, but rather the US whose ability – and desire – to allocate capital to China could mean all the difference for China’s economic growth, or lack thereof.
Finally, and tangentially, assuming trade talks collapse and Trump follows through on his threat of hiking taxes on Chinese imports, it would, as Torsten Slok shows in his latest chart, push US tariffs – which are already higher than most advanced economies – higher than many emerging market countries making the US one of the leading protectionist countries in the work.
That alone would cripple China’s economy, and is perhaps the main reason why Trump decided to once again flex his muscles, if so far only on twitter.
Back in 2017, ZeroHedge explained why the “fate of the world economy is in the hands of China’s housing bubble.” The answer was simple: for the Chinese population, and growing middle class to keep spending vibrant and borrowing elevated, it had to feel comfortable and confident that its wealth would keep rising. However, unlike the US where the stock market is the ultimate barometer of the confidence boosting “wealth effect”, in China it has always been about housing as three quarters of Chinese household assets are parked in real estate, compared to only 28% in the US, with the remainder invested in financial assets.
Beijing knows this, of course, which is why China periodically and consistently reflates its housing bubble any time it feels the broader economy is slowing, hoping that any subsequent popping of the bubble, which happened in late 2011 and again in 2014, will be a controlled, “smooth landing” process. For now, Beijing has been successful in maintaining price stability at least according to official data, allowing the air out of the “Tier 1” home price bubble which peaked in early 2016, while preserving modest home price appreciation in secondary markets.
How long China will be able to avoid a sharp price decline remains to be seen, but in the meantime another problem faces China’s housing market: in addition to being the primary source of household net worth – and therefore stable and growing consumption – it has also been a key driver behind China’s economic growth, with infrastructure spending and capital investment long among the biggest components of the country’s goalseeked GDP. One result has been China’s infamous ghost cities, built only for the sake of Keynesian spending to hit a predetermined GDP number that would make Beijing happy.
Meanwhile, in the process of reflating the latest housing bubble, another dangerous byproduct of this artificial housing “market” has emerged: tens of millions of apartments and houses standing empty across the country. As we reported recently, according to recent research, roughly 22% of China’s urban housing stock is unoccupied, according to Professor Gan Li, who runs the main nationwide study. That amounts to more than 50 million empty homes.
The reason for the massive empty inventory glut: to keep supply low and prices artificially elevated by taking out as much inventory off the market as possible. This, however, works both ways, and while it helps boost prices on the way up as the economy grow and speculators flood the housing market with easy money, the moment the trend flips the spike in supply as empty units are offloaded will lead to a panic liquidation of homes, resulting in what may be the biggest housing market crash ever observed, and putting the US home bubble of 2006 to shame.
Indeed, as Bloomberg noted, the “nightmare scenario” for Chinese authorities is that owners of unoccupied dwellings rush to sell when cracks start appearing in the property market, causing a self-reinforcing downward price spiral.
Which is why preserving the narrative (or rather myth) of constantly rising prices is so critical for China: any cracks in the facade of the price appreciation story could have a dire consequence first for the housing market, and then, the broader economy whose growth is already the slowest in modern Chinese history, as any scramble to liquidate inventory could promptly result in a bidless market as the tens of millions of empty units are suddenly exposed for both buyers and sellers to see.
* * *
While the key role of China’s housing market in the country’s economy, and thus the world’s, has long been known, a recent troubling development is that despite what Beijing deems stable home prices, the foundations behind the housing market are starting to crack. As the WSJ recently reported, in early December, a group of homeowners stormed the sales office of their Shanghai complex, “Central Washington”, whose developer, Shanghai Zhaoping Real Estate Development, was advertising new apartments at a fraction of the prices of the ones sold earlier in the year. One apartment owner said the new prices suggested the value of the apartment she bought from the developer in March had dropped by about 17.5%.
“There are people who bought multiple homes who are now trying to sell one to pay off the mortgage on another,” said Ran Yunjie, a property agent. One of his clients bought an apartment last year for about $230,000. To find a buyer now, the client would have to drop the price by 60%, according to Ran.
Meanwhile, in a truly concerning demonstration of what will happen when the bubble finally bursts, in October we reported that angry homeowners who paid full price for units at the Xinzhou Mansion residential project in Shangrao attacked the Country Garden sales office in eastern Jiangxi province last week, after finding out it had offered discounts to new buyers of up to 30%.
Country Garden cut the selling price at one of its residential developments by 1/3. Those who paid full price smashed the sales office. Similar incidents had happened before, and will again. It’s impossible to remove “the guarantee of principal”（刚性兑付）in China. pic.twitter.com/UxHFODYxmc
— Hao Hong 洪灝, CFA (@HAOHONG_CFA) October 6, 2018
“Property accounts for roughly 70 per cent of urban Chinese families’ total assets – a home is both wealth and status. People don’t want prices to increase too fast, but they don’t want them to fall too quickly either,” said Shao Yu, chief economist at Oriental Securities. “People are so used to rising prices that it never occurred to them that they can fall too. We shouldn’t add to this illusion,” Shao added, echoing Ben Bernanke circa 2005.
The bottom line is that just like true price discovery for US capital markets is prohibited (and sees Fed intervention any time there is an even modest, 10-20% drop in asset prices) or else the risk of an all out panic is all too real, in China true price discovery is also not permitted, however when it comes to the country’s all important, and wealth effect boosting, real estate.
Which is a problem, because whereas China suddenly appears to be suffering from all the conventional signs of deflation in the auto retail sector, where as we noted previously, neither lower prices nor easier loans have managed to put a dent the ongoing demand plunge…
… the same ominous price cuts – which are clearly meant to boost flagging demand – are starting to emerge in China’s housing sector.
Case in point, according to China’s Paper, Hui Ka Yan, the Chairman of Evergrande, China’s biggest property developer, and China’s second richest person announced it must ramp up home sales and to do that it would sell all its properties at a 10% discount after its home sales tumbled in January amid a cooling market.
The fact that Evergrande has had financial difficulties for the past year is not new. In November, Evergrande, which carries the industry’s largest debt pile of any Chinese housing developer, was caught in a vicious funding squeeze and raised eyebrows with a $1.8BN, 5-year bond deal, which it had to pay a whopping 13.75% coupon, prompting analysts to say the move “carried a whiff of desperation.” The fact that chairman Hui Ka Yan, China’s second-richest person, bought $1bn of it himself, added to a sense that outside investors were shunning the company.
In many ways, Evergrande had no choice: after the property market boomed for the past three years, helping to power the economy through Xi Jinping’s crucial political transition year of 2017, in 2018 the market slowed sharply, after local governments shifted focus to controlling frothy prices and China Development Bank, the policy lender, phased out a $1 trillion subsidy program for homebuyers in smaller cities, where Evergrande’s projects are concentrated, the FT reported.
Even the official China News Service, usually a cheerleader for the economy, acknowledged recently that the property market “was a bit chilly”. Nomura chief China economist Ting Lu put it more starkly, forecasting a “frigid winter”.
The bigger problem for Evergrande, which had $208 billion in total liabilities at the end of June 2018 — the most of any Chinese developer — including $43bn maturing in 2019, is that should China’s housing market suffer a steep downturn, it will likely be the company to suffer the most, if for no other reason than its massive leverage which stood at a net debt to equity ratio of 400%.
Commenting on the bond sale, a high-yield debt underwriter at a western bank in Hong Kong told the FT that “Evergrande is very levered, so, yes, they do need cash,” said “That said, they are not a name we see as having a near-term liquidity crisis. That cannot be said about other smaller players.”
That was in November; and while there are no signs that the funding situation at Evergrande has deteriorated sharply since then – especially since the company is widely seen as systematically important and Beijing would never let it fail (although the same was said about Kaisa, another Chinese property developer that did default not too long ago), it now appears that the company has decided to start liquidating properties in an unexpected scramble to either gain market share, or to obtain much needed funding.
In any case, the fact that China’ largest property developer is now slashing prices across the board by as much as 10%, means that a deflationary hurricane is about to blow across what most see as the most important sector in China’s economy, and worse, should other property developers follow in slashing prices launching a race to the bottom, nobody knows how far prices could truly fall should a liquidation domino effect ensue.
What is most troubling however, is that as recently as November, the property slowdown was seen to be in large part due to efforts by city governments to restrain runaway price increases, which has included draconian interventions such as price controls and sales bans.
However, now that Evergrande is rushing to slash prices, it appears that runaway home prices are no longer a concern for Beijing, and in fact, a far greater concern is how Beijing may intervene to prevent what could soon be a price plunge spiral; many have already speculated that Beijing will have no choice but to bar Evergrande’s sales. If it doesn’t, or if homeowners have already figured out that their home prices are floating in the sky on a bubbly foundation that has now burst, the knock on effect could be devastating as instead of an asset, China’s most popular and aspirational “wealth effect” product could turn into a liability overnight.
If that happens, no amount of intervention by Beijing could stop the avalanche of selling that would ensue, not to mention the deflationary shockwave that a hard landing – i.e. crash – in China’s housing market would launch across the entire world…
Shock video shows staffers suffering cruel punishment
Workers from a Chinese beauty products company have been forced to crawl on the street after failing to reach their annual targets.
The staff were on all fours as they made their way through busy traffic in the Chinese city of Tengzhou, according to local reports.
Pedestrians of the city in eastern China were shocked by the scene as they stopped to watch as the employees moving forward on their hands and knees, videos show.
Warren Buffett has famously told Berkshire Hathaway investors: “You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.”
Buffett’s market wisdom can be applied to the Chinese property market.
Now, the tide is going out and the boom days are over, the industry is rapidly slowing as credit growth is the slowest on record – pointing to a weakening in the economy in coming months.
As for “swimming naked when the tide goes out,” well, it seems like one real estate firm, in southwest China used topless models covered in body paint as a last-ditch effort to unload a new property development before the market implodes.
Nanning Weirun Investment Company, a real estate developer in Nanning, capital of the southwestern Guangxi Zhuang, hired a bunch of models to advertise its condominiums by using their bare skin as a canvas, said Asia Times.
Floor plans of the condos were painted on the back of each model, and their breasts were painted with logos and other advertising slogans.
While it is unclear if the topless models helped to spur sales, Asia Times indicated that the stunt attracted many people to the showroom last Friday.
Hundreds of Sina Weibo users, China’s Twitter, criticized the promotion and called it disgusting, as others thought it was an interesting method, in the attempt to generate sales in a slowing market.
An employee at Nanning Weirun told the website Btime.com that the bodypainting promotion was a one-off event to drive sales.
The strategy is one of the more unconventional approaches being taken by desperate developers to attract new buyers as GDP growth, and the housing market are expected to fall in the first half of 2019.
Was the marketing stunt worth it for the developer?
Probably not, as the city planning authority suspended the firm’s marketing permit on Monday.
Video: Revealing the naked truth of China’s real estate slowdown
Back in 2017, we explained why the “fate of the world economy is in the hands of China’s housing bubble.” The answer was simple: for the Chinese population, and growing middle class, to keep spending vibrant and borrowing elevated, it had to feel comfortable and confident that its wealth would keep rising. However, unlike the US where the stock market is the ultimate barometer of the confidence boosting “wealth effect”, in China it has always been about housing as three quarters of Chinese household assets are parked in real estate, compared to only 28% in the US, with the remainder invested financial assets.
Beijing knows this, of course, which is why China periodically and consistently reflates its housing bubble, hoping that the popping of the bubble, which happened in late 2011 and again in 2014, will be a controlled, “smooth landing” process. For now, Beijing has been successful in maintaining price stability at least according to official data, allowing the air out of the “Tier 1” home price bubble which peaked in early 2016, while preserving modest home price appreciation in secondary markets.
How long China will be able to avoid a sharp price decline remains to be seen, but in the meantime another problem faces China’s housing market: in addition to being the primary source of household net worth – and therefore stable and growing consumption – it has also been a key driver behind China’s economic growth, with infrastructure spending and capital investment long among the biggest components of the country’s goal seeked GDP. One result has been China’s infamous ghost cities, built only for the sake of Keynesian spending to hit a predetermined GDP number that would make Beijing happy.
Meanwhile, in the process of reflating the latest housing bubble, another dire byproduct of this artificial housing “market” has emerged: tens of millions of apartments and houses standing empty across the country.
According to Bloomberg, soon-to-be-published research will show that roughly 22% of China’s urban housing stock is unoccupied, according to Professor Gan Li, who runs the main nationwide study. That amounts to more than 50 million empty homes.
The reason for the massive empty inventory glut: to keep supply low and prices artificially elevated by taking out as much inventory off the market as possible. This, however, works both ways, and while it helps boost prices on the way up as the economy grow and speculators flood the housing market with easy money, the moment the trend flips the spike in supply as empty units are offloaded will lead to a panic liquidation of homes, resulting in what may be the biggest housing market crash ever observed, and putting the US home bubble of 2006 to shame.
Indeed, as Bloomberg notes, the “nightmare scenario” for Chinese authorities is that owners of unoccupied dwellings rush to sell when cracks start appearing in the property market, causing a self-reinforcing downward price spiral.
Worse, the latest data, from a survey in 2017, also suggests Beijing’s efforts to curb property speculation – which alongside shadow banking and the persistent threat of sudden bank runs (like the one discussed last week) is considered by Beijing a key threat to financial and social stability – have failed.
“There’s no other single country with such a high vacancy rate,” said Gan, of Chengdu’s Southwestern University of Finance and Economics. “Should any crack emerge in the property market, the homes to be offloaded will hit China like a flood.”
How did the Chinese researcher obtain this troubling number? To find the percentage of vacant housing, thousands of researchers spread out across 363 Chinese counties last year as part of the China Household Finance Survey, which Gan runs at the university.
Gan said that the vacancy rate, which excludes homes yet to be sold by developers, was little changed from a 2013 reading of 22.4%. And while that study showed 49 million vacant homes, Gan puts the number now at “definitely more than 50 million units.“
Meanwhile, Beijing – which is fully aware of these stats, and is also aware that even a modest price decline could be magnified instantly as millions of “for sale” units hit the market at the same time – is worried. That’s why Chinese authorities have imposed buying restrictions and limited credit availability, only to see money flooding into other areas. Rampant price gains also mean millions of people are shut out from the market, exacerbating inequality.
In fact, China’s president Xi famously said in October last year that “houses are built to be inhabited, not for speculation”, and yet a quarter of China’s housing is just that: empty, and only serves to amplify speculation.
While holiday homes and the empty dwellings of migrants seeking work elsewhere account for some of the deserted properties, Gan found that investment purchases have been the biggest factor keeping the vacancy rate high. That’s despite curbs across the country meant to discourage buying of multiple dwellings.
There is another economic cost to this speculative frenzy: the drop in supply puts upward pressure on prices and crowds young buyers out of the market, according to Kaiji Chen, who co-authored a Fed paper called “The Great Housing Boom of China.”
And, as Americans so fondly recall, the result of chasing unaffordable homes for the purpose of price speculation has resulted in yet another unprecedented debt bubble: according to Caixin, outstanding personal home mortgages in China have exploded seven fold from 3 trillion yuan ($430 billion) in 2008 to 22.9 trillion yuan in 2017, according to PBOC data
By the end of September, the value of outstanding home mortgages had surged another 18% Y/Y to a record 24.9 trillion yuan, resulting in a trend that as Caixin notes, has turned many people into what are called “mortgage slaves.”
It has also resulted in yet another housing bubble: home mortgage debt now makes up more than half of total household debt in China. As of the third quarter, it accounted for 53% of the 46.2 trillion yuan in outstanding household debt.
For now, few are losing sleep over what will be the next massive housing bubble to burst. An example of a vacant home is a villa on the outskirts of Shanghai that 27-year-old Natalie Feng’s parents bought for her. The two-story residence was meant to be a weekend escape for the family of three. In reality, it’s empty most of the time, and Feng says it’s too much trouble to rent it out.
“For every weekend we spend there, we need to drive for an hour first, and clean up for half a day,” Feng said. She joked that she sometimes wishes her parents hadn’t bought it for her in the first place. That’s because any apartment she buys now would count as a second home, which means she’d have to make a bigger down payment.
* * *
What is troubling is that despite relatively stable home prices, the foundations behind the housing market are cracking. As the WSJ recently reported, in early December, a group of homeowners stormed the sales office of their Shanghai complex, “Central Washington”, whose developer, Shanghai Zhaoping Real Estate Development, was advertising new apartments at a fraction of the prices of the ones sold earlier in the year. One apartment owner said the new prices suggested the value of the apartment she bought from the developer in March had dropped by about 17.5%.
“There are people who bought multiple homes who are now trying to sell one to pay off the mortgage on another,” said Ran Yunjie, a property agent. One of his clients bought an apartment last year for about $230,000. To find a buyer now, the client would have to drop the price by 60%, according to Ran.
Meanwhile, in a truly concerning demonstration of what will happen when the bubble finally bursts, last month we reported that angry homeowners who paid full price for units at the Xinzhou Mansion residential project in Shangrao attacked the Country Garden sales office in eastern Jiangxi province last week, after finding out it had offered discounts to new buyers of up to 30%.
“Property accounts for roughly 70 per cent of urban Chinese families’ total assets – a home is both wealth and status. People don’t want prices to increase too fast, but they don’t want them to fall too quickly either,” said Shao Yu, chief economist at Oriental Securities. “People are so used to rising prices that it never occurred to them that they can fall too. We shouldn’t add to this illusion,” Shao added, echoing Ben Bernanke circa 2005.
But the biggest surprise once the music finally stops may be that – as a fascinating WSJ report revealed one year ago – China’s housing downturn is likely far, far worse than meets the eye, as under Beijing’s direction more than 200 cities across China for the last three years have been buying surplus apartments from property developers and moving in families from condemned city blocks and nearby villages. China’s Housing Ministry, which is behind the purchases, said it plans to continue the program through 2020. The strategy, supported by central-government bank lending, has rescued housing developers and lifted the property market.
In other words, while China already has a record 50 million empty apartments, the real number – when excluding the government’s own stealthy purchases of excess inventory – is likely significantly higher. It is this, and not China’s stock market, that has long been the biggest time bomb for Beijing, and if Trump and Peter Navarro truly want to crush China in their ongoing trade war, they should focus on destabilizing the housing market: the Chinese stock market was, and remains just a distraction.
- China has more than 50 million vacant apartments
- Mortgage loans have grown 8-fold in the past decade
- Prices are kept steady thanks to constant government purchases of surplus inventory
- Home prices are already cracking, with some homebuilders forced to cut prices by 30%.
- Homebuyers revolt, forming angry militias and storm homesellers’ offices when prices dip
For now, China has been able to maintain the illusion of stability to preserve social order. However, should the housing slowdown accelerate significantly and tens of millions in empty units suddenly hit the market, then the “working class insurrection” that China has been preparing for since 2014…
… will become an overnight reality, with dire consequences for the entire world.
…When you plant your trees in another man’s orchard, don’t be surprised when you pay for your own apples…
President Trump has instructed U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to execute Round Two of tariffs on Chinese imports. The first round applied to $50 billion in products. The current round applies a 10% tariff to $200 billion (effective Sept. 24, 2018), until January 1st, 2019, when the tariff increases to 25%.
The list of products is particularly focused, and happily we note it includes almost all Chinese processed food imports.
Chinese food processing is sketchy, and China has refused to comply with most international food safety programs. However, President Trump spared smart watches from Apple and Fitbit and other consumer products such as bicycle helmets and baby car seats.
In a statement announcing the Round-Two tariffs, President Trump warned China if they take retaliatory action against U.S. farmers or industries, “we will immediately pursue phase three, which is tariffs on approximately $267 billion of additional imports.” That would hit Apple and all consumer good imports. Here’s the announcement and the list of products:
Washington, DC – As part of the United States’ continuing response to China’s theft of American intellectual property and forced transfer of American technology, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) today released a list of approximately $200 billion worth of Chinese imports that will be subject to additional tariffs.
In accordance with the direction of President Trump, the additional tariffs will be effective starting September 24, 2018, and initially will be in the amount of 10 percent. Starting January 1, 2019, the level of the additional tariffs will increase to 25 percent.
The list contains 5,745 full or partial lines of the original 6,031 tariff lines that were on a proposed list of Chinese imports announced on July 10, 2018.
[…] In March 2018, USTR released the findings of its exhaustive Section 301 investigation that found China’s acts, policies and practices related to technology transfer, intellectual property and innovation are unreasonable and discriminatory and burden or restrict U.S. commerce.
Specifically, the Section 301 investigation revealed:
- China uses joint venture requirements, foreign investment restrictions, and administrative review and licensing processes to require or pressure technology transfer from U.S. companies.
- China deprives U.S. companies of the ability to set market-based terms in licensing and other technology-related negotiations.
- China directs and unfairly facilitates the systematic investment in, and acquisition of, U.S. companies and assets to generate large-scale technology transfer.
- China conducts and supports cyber intrusions into U.S. commercial computer networks to gain unauthorized access to commercially valuable business information.
- After separate notice and comment proceedings, in June and August USTR released two lists of Chinese imports, with a combined annual trade value of approximately $50 billion, with the goal of obtaining the elimination of China’s harmful acts, policies and practices.
Unfortunately, China has been unwilling to change its policies involving the unfair acquisition of U.S. technology and intellectual property. Instead, China responded to the United States’ tariff action by taking further steps to harm U.S. workers and businesses. In these circumstances, the President has directed the U.S. Trade Representative to increase the level of trade covered by the additional duties in order to obtain elimination of China’s unfair policies. The Administration will continue to encourage China to allow for fair trade with the United States.
A formal notice of the $200 billion tariff action will be published shortly in the Federal Register. (read more)
A PDF list of the Round #2 impacted products is Available HERE.
As expected, Beijing did not waste much time responding to Trump’s latest tariffs, and moments ago China issued a statement disclosing what its planned retaliation would look like.
Beijing wants to shore up growth without inundating the economy with cheap credit.
But, as WSJ’s Walter Russell Mead pointed out previously, it’s not easy…
Chinese leaders know that their country suffers from massive over-investment in construction and manufacturing, that its real-estate market is a bubble that makes the Dutch tulip frenzy look restrained, that both conventional debt and debt in the shadow-banking system are too large and growing too rapidly.
But even as the Communist Party centralizes power and clamps down on dissent, it dithers when it comes to the costly and difficult work of shifting China’s economic development onto a sustainable track.
Chinese authorities have tried to tackle some of these problems, but often retreat when reforms start to bite and powerful interests push back.
To see how hard that will be, The Wall Street Journal’s Nathaniel Taplin takes a look at China’s roads and railways.
China is the 800-pound gorilla of global infrastructure. Its building prowess has permeated popular culture, as in the disaster movie “2012” where China constructs giant ships to help humankind escape rising seas.
Recently, however, China’s infrastructure build has all but ground to a halt.
The central government last year started to crack down on unregulated, opaque – so-called ‘shadow-bank’ borrowing – alarmed at its vast scale, and potential for corruption.
For five straight months, the shadow banking system has contracted under this pressure, sucking the malinvestment lifeblood out of economic growth and construction booms as Chinese local governments, which account for the bulk of such investment, set up as so-called local-government financing vehicles (off balance sheet), or LGFVs, and have seen an unprecedented net $19 billion outflow in recent months.
As WSJ’s Talpin notes, these days Beijing prefers that local governments borrow on-the-books, through the now legal municipal bond market. The problem is that lower-rated and smaller cities are mostly shut out, even though they do most actual capital spending. As a result, investment has kept slowing even though China’s net muni bond issuance in July was three times higher than it was in March. Infrastructure investment excluding power and heat was up just 5.7% in the first seven months of 2018 compared with a year earlier, down from 19% growth in 2017.
Eventually, all the cash big cities and provinces are raising through muni bonds will start filtering down. Meanwhile, the investment drought will likely worsen, raising pressure on Beijing to ease credit conditions further – making the incipient rally in the yuan hard to sustain.
That also means China’s debt-to-GDP ratio, which fell marginally in 2017, could start rising again next year.
Simply put, as with water and wine, China’s leaders haven’t figured out how to crack down on local governments’ dubious infrastructure spending during good times without severely damaging growth – or how to loosen the reins during bad times without creating lots more bad debt.
Unless they can square that circle, it bodes ill for the nation’s long-term prospects.
When you plant your tree in another man’s orchard, you might end up paying for your own apples; it’s a risk you take…
….and President Trump knows how to use that leverage better than anyone could possibly fathom; because in this metaphor Beijing relies upon the U.S. for both the seeds and the harvest. President Trump drops the $200b M.O.A.T (Mother of All Tariffs):
White House – On Friday, I announced plans for tariffs on $50 billion worth of imports from China. These tariffs are being imposed to encourage China to change the unfair practices identified in the Section 301 action with respect to technology and innovation. They also serve as an initial step toward bringing balance to our trade relationship with China.
However and unfortunately, China has determined that it will raise tariffs on $50 billion worth of United States exports. China apparently has no intention of changing its unfair practices related to the acquisition of American intellectual property and technology. Rather than altering those practices, it is now threatening United States companies, workers, and farmers who have done nothing wrong.
This latest action by China clearly indicates its determination to keep the United States at a permanent and unfair disadvantage, which is reflected in our massive $376 billion trade imbalance in goods. This is unacceptable. Further action must be taken to encourage China to change its unfair practices, open its market to United States goods, and accept a more balanced trade relationship with the United States.
Therefore, today, I directed the United States Trade Representative to identify $200 billion worth of Chinese goods for additional tariffs at a rate of 10 percent. After the legal process is complete, these tariffs will go into effect if China refuses to change its practices, and also if it insists on going forward with the new tariffs that it has recently announced. If China increases its tariffs yet again, we will meet that action by pursuing additional tariffs on another $200 billion of goods. The trade relationship between the United States and China must be much more equitable.
I have an excellent relationship with President Xi, and we will continue working together on many issues. But the United States will no longer be taken advantage of on trade by China and other countries in the world.
We will continue using all available tools to create a better and fairer trading system for all Americans.
Historic Chinese geopolitical policy, vis-a-vis their totalitarian control over political sentiment (action) and diplomacy through silence, is evident in the strategic use of the space between carefully chosen words, not just the words themselves.
Each time China takes aggressive action (red dragon) China projects a panda face through silence and non-response to opinion of that action;…. and the action continues. The red dragon has a tendency to say one necessary thing publicly, while manipulating another necessary thing privately. The Art of War.
President Trump is the first U.S. President to understand how the red dragon hides behind the panda mask.
It is specifically because he understands that Panda is a mask that President Trump messages warmth toward the Chinese people, and pours vociferous praise upon Xi Jinping, while simultaneously confronting the geopolitical doctrine of the Xi regime.
In essence Trump is mirroring the behavior of China while confronting their economic duplicity.
President Trump will not back down from his position; the U.S. holds all of the leverage and the issue must be addressed. President Trump has waiting three decades for this moment. This President and his team are entirely prepared for this.
We are finally confronting the geopolitical Red Dragon, China!
The Olive branch and arrows denote the power of peace and war. The symbol in any figure’s right hand has more significance than one in its left hand. Also important is the direction faced by the symbols central figure. The emphasis on the eagles stare signifies the preferred disposition. An eagle holding an arrow also symbolizes the war for freedom, and its use is commonly referred to the liberation fight of righteous people from abusive influence. The eagle on the original seal created for the Office of the President showed the gaze upon the arrows.
The Eagle and the Arrow – An Aesop’s Fable
An Eagle was soaring through the air. Suddenly it heard the whizz of an Arrow, and felt the dart pierce its breast. Slowly it fluttered down to earth. Its lifeblood pouring out. Looking at the Arrow with which it had been shot, the Eagle realized that the deadly shaft had been feathered with one of its own plumes.
Moral: We often give our enemies the means for our own destruction.
… all in deep contrast with what the past American Presidential Administration were focused on (video)
“We are looking at all options.”
In an interview about the trade sanctions that President Trump is throwing at China and at Corporate America – whose supply chains go through China in search of cheap labor and other cost savings – Ambassador Cui Tiankai defended the perennial innocence of China, as is to be expected, and trotted out the standard Chinese fig leafs and state-scripted rhetoric that confirmed in essence that Trump’s decision is on the right track.
Speaking on Bloomberg TV, he also trotted out all kinds of more or less vague and veiled threats – such as, “We will take all measures necessary,” or “We’ll see what we’re doing next” – perhaps having forgotten that China and Hong Kong combined export three times as much to the US as the other way around, and the pain of a trade war would be magnified by three on the Chinese side.
When asked about the possibility of China’s cutting back on purchases of US Treasuries – the ultimate threat, it seems, these days as Congress is piling on record deficits leading to a ballooning mounting of debt that requires a constant flow of new buyers – Ambassador Cui Tiankai said:
“We are looking at all options. That’s why we believe any unilateral and protectionist move would hurt everybody, including the United States itself. It would certainly hurt the daily life of American middle-class people, and the American companies, and the financial markets.”
So let’s dig into this threat.
China held $1.17 trillion in Treasuries as of January. That’s about 5.5% of the $21 trillion in total Treasury debt. So it’s not like they have a monopoly on it. These holdings have varied over the years and are down nearly $100 billion from November 2015:
So over the years, the Chinese haven’t been adding Treasuries anyway. Instead, they’ve been shedding some. At the moment, they’re replacing securities that are maturing and nothing more. So they could decide not to replace any maturing Treasuries or they could decide to sell Treasuries. How much impact would that have?
If China dumped its Treasury holdings, in theory, new buyers would have to emerge to buy them, and these new buyers would have to be induced by higher yields. Hence long-term Treasury yields would have to rise.
The vast majority of Treasury debt is held by pension funds of the US government and of state and local governments, and by Americans, either directly or via bond funds, or via stocks in companies like Apple and Microsoft, whose “offshore” cash is invested in all kinds of US securities, including large amounts of US Treasuries, and shareholders of those companies own those securities.
Then there’s the Fed. It holds $2.42 trillion in US Treasuries, or $1.64 trillion more than before the Financial Crisis as a result of QE. If push comes to shove, the Fed could easily mop up a trillion of Treasuries, as it has done before.
In addition, everyone is now fretting about an “inverted yield curve,” which is the phenomenon when long-term yields, such as the 10-year yield, fall below short-term yields, such as the three-month yield or the two-year yield.The last time this happened was before the Financial Crisis.
The Fed’s rate hikes, which started in December 2015, have pushed up short-term yields. For example, the three-month yield went from 0% in late 2015 to 1.74% today. But the 10-year yield, at around 2.2% in December 2015, then declined to a historic low. It has since risen, but only to 2.82% today. In other words, since December 2015, it has gained 62 basis points, while the three-month yield has gained 174 basis points.
What the Fed wants to accomplish with its rate hikes is push up long-term rates. But markets have been fighting the Fed so far. So a sort of a monetary shock, administered from China’s dumping US Treasuries and thus pushing up US long-term yields, would solve that problem. And the Fed can go about its path of raising short-term yields, confident that the Chinese authorities will do their part to push up long-term yields faster than the Fed is pushing up short-term yields. This would steepen the yield curve.
For people who dread and want to avoid a flat or an inverted yield curve, China’s dumping of US Treasuries would be a God send. So China’s threats of this type of retaliation make good media soundbites but are ultimately vacuous.
A timely book by Peter Schweizer, “Secret Empires”, explains how Chinese companies purchased U.S. politicians to gain trade advantages, aka the Beltway Swap. When you understand this process, you better understand why those same politicians today are against the Trump trade policy that is antithetical to their purchased interests.
Reminder: U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue is warning President Trump not to take any trade action against China or he will unleash his purchased control agents within congress and financial media to destroy his presidency.
Allow me to re-emphasize:
All opposition to President Trump stems from the underlying financial and economic policy. All opposition is about money!
When you ask the “why” question five times you end up discovering the financial motive for all opposition. It doesn’t matter who the group is; the opposition is ultimately about money. There are trillions at stake.
Donohue takes-in hundreds of millions in payments from multinational corporations who hold a vested interest in keeping the U.S. manufacturing economy subservient to China. The U.S. CoC then turns those corporate funds into lobbyist payments to DC politicians for legislative action that benefits their Chinese trade deals. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the #1 lobbyist in DC; there are trillions at stake.
Wall Street’s famous CONservative mouthpieces then take their cues from Donohue and decry any Trump trade policy that might impact their multinational benefactors. They hide behind catch phrases like “free trade”, or “free markets”. However, what they are really hiding is the truth, there is no free market – it is a controlled market. It’s a circle of trade and economic propaganda driven by the most well known guests that appear on Fox News. Ben Shapiro is one such example; there are hundreds more.
WASHINGTON (Reuters)– The head of the most influential U.S. business lobbying group warned the Trump administration that unilateral tariffs on Chinese goods could lead to a destructive trade war that will hurt American consumers and U.S. economic growth.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said in a statement on Thursday that such tariffs, associated with a probe of China’s intellectual property practices, would be “damaging taxes on American consumers.”
His comments came after White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said that Trump would in coming weeks get options to address China’s “theft and forced transfer” of American intellectual property as part of the investigation under Section 301 of the U.S. Trade Act of 1974.
Reuters reported on Tuesday that Trump was considering tariffs on up to $60 billion worth of Chinese information technology, telecommunications and consumer products, along with U.S. investment restrictions for Chinese companies.
Donohue said the Trump administration was right to focus on the negative economic impact of China’s industrial policies and unfair trade practices, but said tariffs were the wrong approach to dealing with these.
“Tariffs of $30 billion a year would wipe out over a third of the savings American families received from the doubling of the standard deduction in tax reform,” Donohue said. “If the tariffs reach $60 billion, which has been rumored, the impact would be even more devastating.”
He urged the administration not to proceed with such a plan.
“Tariffs could lead to a destructive trade war with serious consequences for U.S. economic growth and job creation,” hurting consumers, businesses, farmers and ranchers.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Donohue’s comments were correct, adding that recently more and more American intellectuals had made their rational voices heard. (read more)
Everyone admits the past 40+ years of U.S. trade deals have resulted in the massive export of U.S. wealth via jobs and manufacturing gains within other nations. The financial beneficiaries of those prior trade positions were: Wall Street, multinational corporations and multinational banks.
The losers of all prior trade priorities was the U.S. middle-class. This point is inarguable, just look around. Stop the nonsense and quit listening to those who control the markets.
So ask yourself, friends and family this very important question:
If prior U.S. trade policies resulted in the export and redistribution of U.S. wealth… What happens when you reverse the process?
In the answer to that question you discover the opposition to U.S. President Trump.
When Main Street economic principles are applied Wall Street will initially lose. There’s no way for this not to happen. Most of Wall Street is built on the Multinational platform of economic globalism. Weaken the grip of the multinational corporations and financial interests on the U.S. economy and Wall Street will drop… this is not difficult to predict. This is also necessary.
Putin reveals ‘fair multipolar world’ concept in which oil contracts could bypass the US dollar and be traded with oil, yuan and gold…
The annual BRICS summit in Xiamen – where President Xi Jinping was once mayor – could not intervene in a more incandescent geopolitical context.
Once again, it’s essential to keep in mind that the current core of BRICS is “RC”; the Russia-China strategic partnership. So in the Korean peninsula chessboard, RC context – with both nations sharing borders with the DPRK – is primordial.
Beijing has imposed a definitive veto on war – of which the Pentagon is very much aware.
Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test, although planned way in advance, happened only three days after two nuclear-capable US B-1B strategic bombers conducted their own “test” alongside four F-35Bs and a few Japanese F-15s.
Everyone familiar with the Korean peninsula chessboard knew there would be a DPRK response to these barely disguised “decapitation” tests.
So it’s back to the only sound proposition on the table: the RC “double freeze”. Freeze on US/Japan/South Korea military drills; freeze on North Korea’s nuclear program; diplomacy takes over.
The White House, instead, has evoked ominous “nuclear capabilities” as a conflict resolution mechanism.
Gold mining in the Amazon, anyone?
On the Doklam plateau front, at least New Delhi and Beijing decided, after two tense months, on “expeditious disengagement” of their border troops. This decision was directly linked to the approaching BRICS summit – where both India and China were set to lose face big time.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had already tried a similar disruption gambit prior to the BRICS Goa summit last year. Then, he was adamant that Pakistan should be declared a “terrorist state”. The RC duly vetoed it.
Modi also ostensively boycotted the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) summit in Hangzhou last May, essentially because of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
India and Japan are dreaming of countering BRI with a semblance of connectivity project; the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC). To believe that the AAGC – with a fraction of the reach, breath, scope and funds available to BRI – may steal its thunder, is to enter prime wishful-thinking territory.
Still, Modi emitted some positive signs in Xiamen; “We are in mission-mode to eradicate poverty; to ensure health, sanitation, skills, food security, gender equality, energy, education.” Without this mammoth effort, India’s lofty geopolitical dreams are D.O.A.
Brazil, for its part, is immersed in a larger-than-life socio-political tragedy, “led” by a Dracula-esque, corrupt non-entity; Temer The Usurper. Brazil’s President, Michel Temer, hit Xiamen eager to peddle “his” 57 major, ongoing privatizations to Chinese investors – complete with corporate gold mining in an Amazon nature reserve the size of Denmark. Add to it massive social spending austerity and hardcore anti-labor legislation, and one’s got the picture of Brazil currently being run by Wall Street. The name of the game is to profit from the loot, fast.
The BRICS’ New Development Bank (NDB) – a counterpart to the World Bank – is predictably derided all across the Beltway. Xiamen showed how the NDB is only starting to finance BRICS projects. It’s misguided to compare it with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). They will be investing in different types of projects – with the AIIB more focused on BRI. Their aim is complementary.
‘BRICS Plus’ or bust
On the global stage, the BRICS are already a major nuisance to the unipolar order. Xi politely put it in Xiamen as “we five countries [should] play a more active part in global governance”.
And right on cue Xiamen introduced “dialogues” with Mexico, Egypt, Thailand, Guinea and Tajikistan; that’s part of the road map for “BRICS Plus” – Beijing’s conceptualization, proposed last March by Foreign Minister Wang Yi, for expanding partnership/cooperation.
A further instance of “BRICS Plus” can be detected in the possible launch, before the end of 2017, of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – in the wake of the death of TPP.
Contrary to a torrent of Western spin, RCEP is not “led” by China.
Japan is part of it – and so is India and Australia alongside the 10 ASEAN members. The burning question is what kind of games New Delhi may be playing to stall RCEP in parallel to boycotting BRI.
Patrick Bond in Johannesburg has developed an important critique, arguing that “centrifugal economic forces” are breaking up the BRICS, thanks to over-production, excessive debt and de-globalization. He interprets the process as “the failure of Xi’s desired centripetal capitalism.”
It doesn’t have to be this way. Never underestimate the power of Chinese centripetal capitalism – especially when BRI hits a higher gear.
Meet the oil/yuan/gold triad
It’s when President Putin starts talking that the BRICS reveal their true bombshell. Geopolitically and geo-economically, Putin’s emphasis is on a “fair multipolar world”, and “against protectionism and new barriers in global trade.” The message is straight to the point.
The Syria game-changer – where Beijing silently but firmly supported Moscow – had to be evoked; “It was largely thanks to the efforts of Russia and other concerned countries that conditions have been created to improve the situation in Syria.”
On the Korean peninsula, it’s clear how RC think in unison; “The situation is balancing on the brink of a large-scale conflict.”
Putin’s judgment is as scathing as the – RC-proposed – possible solution is sound; “Putting pressure on Pyongyang to stop its nuclear missile program is misguided and futile. The region’s problems should only be settled through a direct dialogue of all the parties concerned without any preconditions.”
Putin’s – and Xi’s – concept of multilateral order is clearly visible in the wide-ranging Xiamen Declaration, which proposes an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” peace and national reconciliation process, “including the Moscow Format of consultations” and the “Heart of Asia-Istanbul process”.
That’s code for an all-Asian (and not Western) Afghan solution brokered by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), led by RC, and of which Afghanistan is an observer and future full member.
And then, Putin delivers the clincher;
“Russia shares the BRICS countries’ concerns over the unfairness of the global financial and economic architecture, which does not give due regard to the growing weight of the emerging economies. We are ready to work together with our partners to promote international financial regulation reforms and to overcome the excessive domination of the limited number of reserve currencies.”
“To overcome the excessive domination of the limited number of reserve currencies” is the politest way of stating what the BRICS have been discussing for years now; how to bypass the US dollar, as well as the petrodollar.
Beijing is ready to step up the game. Soon China will launch a crude oil futures contract priced in yuan and convertible into gold.
This means that Russia – as well as Iran, the other key node of Eurasia integration – may bypass US sanctions by trading energy in their own currencies, or in yuan.
Inbuilt in the move is a true Chinese win-win; the yuan will be fully convertible into gold on both the Shanghai and Hong Kong exchanges.
The new triad of oil, yuan and gold is actually a win-win-win. No problem at all if energy providers prefer to be paid in physical gold instead of yuan. The key message is the US dollar being bypassed.
RC – via the Russian Central Bank and the People’s Bank of China – have been developing ruble-yuan swaps for quite a while now.
Once that moves beyond the BRICS to aspiring “BRICS Plus” members and then all across the Global South, Washington’s reaction is bound to be nuclear (hopefully, not literally).
Washington’s strategic doctrine rules RC should not be allowed by any means to be preponderant along the Eurasian landmass. Yet what the BRICS have in store geo-economically does not concern only Eurasia – but the whole Global South.
Sections of the War Party in Washington bent on instrumentalizing India against China – or against RC – may be in for a rude awakening. As much as the BRICS may be currently facing varied waves of economic turmoil, the daring long-term road map, way beyond the Xiamen Declaration, is very much in place.
Punch Line: The U.S. Dollar Index (DXY) Chart
(ZeroHedge) Shanghai’s status as an emerging tech hub is bringing with it problems related to overcrowding experienced by US cities like San Francisco and certain parts of New York City – namely out-of-control rents and home prices.
But now, the cities’ mid-tier office drones, some of whom may not have enough cash saved to “commit” to an apartment, have a new low-cost housing alternative. They’re called shared compartments, and they’re are popping up in office buildings around Shanghai. Users pay to sleep in the compartments for a set amount of time. They’re given disposable bedding to make sleeping more comfortable, and the compartments are disinfected automatically by ultraviolet light after each use.
Photos of these compartments have been circulating on Chinese media:
People can enjoy a rest in the compartment by scanning the QR codes for payment.
A man experiences a shared compartment in Shanghai…
The inside of a shared compartment…
The disposable bedding…
They have been rising precipitously now for at least a decade, with an average 1,000 square foot apartment in Shanghai going for $725,000, or around five million yuan. Shanghai’s average salary per month is 7,108 yuan ($1,135) or 85,300 yuan a year. That puts local property in Shanghai at about 50 times median salaries in the city, according to Forbes. By comparison, housing prices in New York City are 32 times salaries of average New Yorkers.
With those figures in mind, showering at the company gym doesn’t sound so bad.
Living in a box: The desperate workers forced to live in tiny ‘coffin’ apartments of Tokyo – which still cost up to £400 a month to rent
- Japanese capital is one of the most crowded cities in the world
- ‘Geki-sema’ or share houses are mainly used by young professionals
- No windows and enough room for one person and a few possessions
But incredibly these tiny ‘coffin’ apartments in central Tokyo still command rents of up to £400 a month.
The Japanese capital is one of the most crowded cities in the world, and to cash in on the chronic housing problem, landlords have developed what are known as ‘geki-sema’ or share houses.
Tight squeeze: A Tokyo local shows a Japanese news crew around her tiny ‘coffin apartment’
Pokey: People are paying up to £400-a-month to live in the tiny ‘coffin’ apartments
Most are used by young professionals who spend most of their time at work and outdoors, using these tiny accommodations just for sleeping.
The photo’s of the apartments in the Tokyo’s Shibuya district come from a recent Japanese news program showed
The curious case of the inverted yield curve in China’s $1.7 trillion bond market is worsening as WSJ notes that an odd combination of seasonally tight funding conditions and economic pessimism pushed long-dated yields well below returns on one-year bonds, the shortest-dated government debt.
10-Year China bond yields fell to 3.55% overnight as the 1-Year yield rose to 3.61% – the most inverted in history, more so than in June 2013, when an unprecedented cash crunch jolted Chinese markets and nearly brought the nation’s financial system to its knees.
This inversion is being exacerbated by seasonally tight funding conditions.
June is traditionally a tight time for banks because of regulatory checks, and, as Bloomberg reports, this year, lenders are grappling with an official campaign to reduce the level of borrowing as well.
Wholesale funding costs climbed to the most expensive in history, and the 30-day Shanghai Interbank Offered Rate has jumped 51 basis points this month to the highest level in more than two years.
And this demand for liquidity comes as Chinese banks’ excess reserve ratio, a gauge of liquidity in the financial system, fell to 1.65 percent at the end of March, according to data from the China Banking Regulatory Commission. The index measures the money that lenders park at the PBOC above and beyond the mandatory reserve requirement, usually to draw risk-free interest.
“Major banks don’t have much extra funds, as is shown by the excess reserve data,” analysts at China Minsheng Banking Corp.’s research institute wrote in a June 5 note. Lenders have become increasingly reliant on wholesale funding and central bank loans this year, they said.
As The Wall Street Journal reports, an inverted yield curve defies common understanding that bonds requiring a longer commitment should compensate investors with a higher return. It usually reflects investor pessimism about a country’s long-term growth and inflation prospects.
“But the curve inversion we are seeing right now is one with Chinese characteristics and it’s different from the previous one in the U.S.,” said Deng Haiqing, chief economist at JZ Securities.
The current anomaly in the Chinese bond market is partly the result of mild inflation and expectations of a slowing economy, Mr. Deng said. “At the same time, short-term interest rates will likely stay elevated because the authorities will keep borrowing costs high so as to facilitate the deleveraging campaign,” he said.
Notably, it appears officials are concerned at the potential for fallout from this crisis situation.
In an article published Saturday, the central bank’s flagship newspaper, Financial News, said that the severe credit crunch four years ago won’t repeat itself this month because the central bank will keep liquidity conditions “not too loose but also not too tight.”
Chinese financial markets tend to be particularly jittery come June due to a seasonal surge of cash demand arising from corporate-tax payments and banks’ need to meet regulatory requirements on capital.
On Sunday, the official Xinhua News Agency ran a similar commentary that sought to stabilize markets expectations. “Don’t panic,” it urged investors.
Sounds like exactly the time to ‘panic’ if your money is in this.
A toxic trifecta for bondholders.
China’s holdings of US Treasury securities plunged by a stunning $66.4 billion in November 2016, after having already plunged $41 billion in October, the US Treasury Department reported today in its Treasury International Capital data release. After shedding Treasuries for months, China’s holdings, now the second largest behind Japan, are down to $1.049 trillion.
At this pace, it won’t take long before China’s pile of Treasuries falls below the $1 trillion mark. It was China’s sixth month in a row of declines. Over the 12-month period, China slashed its holdings by $215.2 billion, or by 17%!
Japan’s holdings of US Treasuries dropped by $23 billion in November. Over the 12-month period, its holdings are down by $36.3 billion.
But we don’t really know all the details. We only get to see part of it. This data is collected “primarily,” as the Treasury says, from US-based custodians and broker-dealers that are holding these securities. Treasury securities in custodial accounts overseas “may not be attributed to the actual owners.” These custodial accounts are in often tiny countries with tax-haven distinctions. And what happens there, stays there. The ones with the largest holdings are (in $ billions):
The UK is on this list because of the “City of London Corporation,” the center of a web of tax havens.
Total holdings by foreign entities, including by central banks and institutional investors, fell by $96.1 billion in November. China’s decline accounted for 69% of it, and Japan’s for 24%.
This says more about China than it says about the US, or US Treasuries, though November was a particularly ugly month of US Treasuries, when the 10-year yield surged from 1.84% to 2.37%, spreading unpalatable losses among investors. This surge in yields and swoon in prices wasn’t ascribed to China’s dumping of Treasuries, of course, but to the “Trump Trade” that changed everything after the election.
But China’s foreign exchange reserves have been dropping relentlessly, as authorities are trying to prop up the yuan, while trying to figure out how to stem rampant capital flight, even as wealthy Chinese are finding ways to get around every new rule and hurdle. Authorities are trying to manage their asset bubbles, particularly in the property sector. They’re trying to keep them from getting bigger, and they’re trying to keep them from imploding, all at the same time. And they’re trying to keep their bond market duct-taped together. And in juggling all this, they’ve been unloading their official foreign exchange reserves.
They dropped by $41 billion in December to $3.0 trillion. They’re now down 25% from $4.0 trillion in the second quarter of 2014. That’s a $1-trillion decline over 30 months! What’s included in these foreign-exchange reserves is a state secret. But pundits assume that about two-thirds are securities denominated in US dollars (via Trading Economics):
Japan and China remain by far the largest creditors of the US, and the US still owes them $2.16 trillion combined. But that’s down by $90 billion from a month earlier and down $251 billion from a year earlier. And it’s not because the US is suddenly running a trade surplus with them. Far from it. But it’s because both countries are struggling with their own unique sets of problems, and something has to give.
The fact that the two formerly-largest buyers of US Treasuries are no longer adding to their positions but are instead shedding their positions has changed the market dynamics. And both have a lot more to shed! This is in addition to the changes in the Fed’s monetary policy – now that the tightening cycle has commenced in earnest. And it comes on top of rising inflation in the US. These factors are forming a toxic trifecta for Treasury bondholders.
Confidential briefing for CRA auditors outlines strategy to tackle suspected tax cheats who do not report global income or who ‘flip’ homes – but reveals that last year, there was only one successful audit of global income for all of British Columbia
A secret strategy briefing for Canada Revenue Agency auditors has revealed plans to crack down on real estate tax cheats in Vancouver, with 50 auditors being assigned to investigate purchases funded by unreported foreign income.
Presentation notes for the seminar, delivered to auditors on June 2 and leaked to the South China Morning Post, show that only one successful audit of worldwide income was conducted in British Columbia in the past year, in spite of Vancouver’s reputation as a hotspot for immigrant “astronaut families” whose breadwinners often work in mainland China and Hong Kong.
The plans, which come amid a furore over the role of Chinese money in Vancouver’s runaway housing market, were provided by a Canada Revenue Agency employee who attended the June 2 briefing. The briefing is identified as a “protected B” confidential document on the cover.
But the employee feared the sweep would prove inadequate. “Sure, they’ve upped the numbers because it’s hitting the papers,” they said. But on average, they estimated, each redeployed income auditor would only be able to conduct 10 to 12 audits per year – about 500 or 600 in total. “This is nothing,” compared to the likely scale of the cheating, they said.
That estimate is in keeping with the briefing text which says the crackdown will “review the top 500 highest risk files within our region”.
The briefing lists four areas being targeted for audit under the CRA’s “real estate projects”, launched in response to “significant media attention”: unreported worldwide income, property “flipping”, under-reporting of capital gains from home sales, and under-reporting of Goods and Services Tax (GST) on sales of new homes.
‘High-end homes, minimal income’
The time-consuming global income audits will tackle “individuals living in high-valued areas in BC who are reporting minimal income not supporting their lifestyle”, as well as those who buy “high-end homes with minimal income being reported.”
The presentation includes a photo of a luxury home supposedly bought for C$5.8million whose owner claimed the “working income tax benefit” for low earners. It also lists the tuition fees of Vancouver private schools.
Property flippers who swiftly resell homes for profit will meanwhile be audited to see if their properties truly qualify for exemption from capital gains tax, granted to people selling their principal residence.
The briefing describes various excuses given by owners who moved out of newly purchased homes, including a negative feng shui report, the “bad omen” of tripping over a crack in the sidewalk, and a painter dying in the home.
It cites the highly publicized case of a well-kept 20-year-old, C$6million mansion that was simply torn down after being bought, prompting community outrage.
Yes, we are getting a response now, but the government has known about this issue for a few years. They held back
The briefing does not say the owners of this home, or the $5.8 million home, are tax cheats and nor does the SCMP suggest so.
The CRA employee said the briefing, which was streamed online, was delivered by CRA’s Pacific region business intelligence director, Mal Gill.
Gill declined to discuss the briefing. “I cannot confirm anything to you,” he said, referring the SCMP to a CRA communications manager.
A spokeswoman said: “The CRA cannot comment or release information related to risk assessment or non-compliance strategies.”
However, she said real estate transactions in Toronto have been the subject of greater scrutiny, for some years. “More recently, the CRA has been actively monitoring and auditing real estate transactions in British Columbia,” she said.
“For the year ending March 31, 2016, the CRA completed 2,203 files [in BC and Ontario] related to real estate,” she said.
In addition to the 50 redeployed income auditors, the leaked briefing says CRA is assigning 20 GST auditors and 15 other staff to the real estate project in BC.
The CRA source said they leaked the material because, “like many people, I’m pretty disgusted by what’s happening here [in the Vancouver real estate market], and a lack of enforcement has been a part of the problem. Yes, we are getting a response now, but the government has known about this issue for a few years. They held back.”
The employee said they were surprised to discover that only one successful audit of global income had been conducted in BC in the year to March 31. “That’s the ludicrousness of this. I was shocked when I saw this, and they only got C$27,000 in tax revenue out of it,” they said.
Asked whether this might show a widespread problem with undeclared worldwide income did not exist in BC, the source said: “No, what it shows is that inadequate people and resources have been put to the task. These [tax cheats] are highly sophisticated individuals, with good representation from their lawyers and accountants, and we are sending out our least experienced people to catch them. That’s the problem.”
Source cites CRA’s ‘racism fear’
Census data from 2011 has previously shown that 25,000 households in the City of Vancouver spent more on their housing costs than their entire declared income, with these representing 9.5 per cent of all households.
But far from being impoverished, such households were concentrated in some of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods, where homes sell for multi-million-dollar prices.
The source suggested CRA bureaucrats previously feared being labelled racist if they targeted low-income declarers buying real estate “because the vast majority of these cases, involving high real estate values, involve mainland Chinese”.
The crackdown was not intended for public knowledge, and instead was to satisfy “people from high up” in the CRA and government who wanted to know “what are you guys doing about this…there’s stuff hitting the papers every day”, the source said. Yet the briefing says the crackdown “will not address the major concerns about affordability of real estate”.
“The vast majority of these [undeclared global income] cases, involving high real estate values, involve mainland Chinese”
The source said there had previously been little done to check whether taxpayers were secretly living and working abroad while supporting a family in Vancouver. “There’s virtually no liaising done with immigration. The common auditor would never check when people are actually coming and going, to check whether they might be going back to China or wherever to work. You can be lied to, to your face: ‘Oh no, I live here [in Canada] full-time’.”
The leaked documents show that in in addition to the single audit on global income in the last fiscal year, CRA in BC conducted 93 successful audits on property flips, 20 on capital gains tax and 225 on under-reported GST. The audits yielded C$14.4 million in new tax, of which C$10million was GST. There was C$1.3 million in fines.
As of April 29, there were 40 audits of global income under way, 205 related to flipping, 34 related to capital gains and 428 related to GST.
The average Vancouver house price now sits around C$1.75million for the metropolitan region, while the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver’s “benchmark” price for all residential properties is C$889,100, a 30 per cent increase over the past year. However, incomes remain among the lowest in Canada, making Vancouver one of the world’s most un-affordable cities .
The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email email@example.com or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70
China, as current chair of the G-20 group of nations, called on France to organize a very special conference in Paris. The fact such a conference would even take place in an OECD country is a sign of how weakened the hegemony of the US-dominated Dollar System has become.
On March 31 in Paris a special meeting, named “Nanjing II,” was held. People’s Bank of China Governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, was there and made a major presentation on, among other points, broader use of the IMF special basket of five major world currencies, the Special Drawing Rights or SDR’s. The invited were a very select few. The list included German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde discussed the world’s financial architecture together with China. Apparently and significantly, there was no senior US official present.
On the Paris talks, Bloomberg reported: “China wants a much more closely managed system, where private-sector decisions can be managed by governments,” said Edwin Truman, a former Federal Reserve and US Treasury official. “The French have always favored international monetary reform, so they’re natural allies to the Chinese on this issue.”
A China Youth Daily journalist present in Paris noted, “Zhou Xiaochuan pointed out that the international monetary and financial system is currently undergoing structural adjustment, the world economy is facing many challenges…” According to the journalist Zhou went on to declare that China’s aim as current President of the G20 talks is to “promote the wider use of the SDR.”
For most of us, that sounds about as exciting as watching Johnson grass grow in the Texas plains. However, behind that seemingly minor technical move, as is becoming clearer by the day, is a grand Chinese strategy, if it succeeds or not, a grand strategy to displace the dominating role of the US dollar as world central bank reserve currency. China and others want an end to the tyranny of a broken dollar system that finances endless wars on other peoples’ borrowed money with no need to ever pay it back. The strategy is to end the domination of the dollar as the currency for most world trade in goods and services. That’s no small beer.
Despite the wreck of the US economy and the astronomical $19 trillion public debt of Washington, the dollar still makes up 64% of all central bank reserves. The largest holder of US debt is the Peoples Republic of China, with Japan a close second. As long as the dollar is “king currency,” Washington can run endless budget deficits knowing well that countries like China have no serious alternative to invest its foreign currency trade profits but in US Government or government-guaranteed debt. In effect, as I have pointed out, that has meant that China has de facto financed the military actions of Washington that act to go against Chinese or Russian sovereign interests, to finance countless US State Department Color Revolutions from Tibet to Hong Kong, from Libya to Ukraine, to finance ISIS in the Middle East and on and on and on…
If we look more closely at all the steps of the Beijing government since the global financial crisis of 2008 and especially since their creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the BRICS New Development Bank, the bilateral national currency energy agreements with Russia bypassing the dollar, it becomes clear that Zhou and the Beijing leadership have a long-term strategy.
As British economist David Marsh pointed out in reference to the recent Paris Nanjing II remarks of Zhou, “China is embarking, pragmatically but steadily, towards enshrining a multi-currency reserve system at the heart of the world’s financial order.”
Since China’s admission into the IMF select group of SDR currencies last November, the multi-currency system, which China calls “4+1,” would consist of the euro, sterling, yen and renminbi (the 4), co-existing with the dollar. These are the five constituents of the SDR.
To strengthen the recognition of the SDR, Zhou’s Peoples’ Bank of China has begun to publish its foreign reserves total–the world’s biggest–in SDRs as well as dollars.
A golden future
Yet the Chinese alternative to the domination of the US dollar is about far more than paper SDR currency basket promotion. China is clearly aiming at the re-establishment of an international gold standard, presumably one not based on the bankrupt Bretton Woods Dollar-Gold exchange that President Richard Nixon unilaterally ended in August, 1971 when he told the world they would have to swallow paper dollars in the future and could no longer redeem them for gold. At that point global inflation, measured in dollar terms, began to soar in what future economic historians will no doubt dub The Greatest Inflation.
By one estimate, the dollars in worldwide circulation rose by some 2,500% between 1970 and 2000. Since then the rise has clearly brought it well over 3,000%. Without a legal requirement to back its dollar printing by a pre-determined fixed amount of gold, all restraints were off in a global dollar inflation. So long as the world is forced to get dollars to settle accounts for oil, grain, other commodities, Washington can write endless checks with little fear of them bouncing, stamped “insufficient funds.”
Combined with the fact that over that same time span since 1971 there has been a silent coup of the Wall Street banks to hijack any and all semblance of representative democracy and Constitution-based rules, we have the mad money machine, much like the German poet Goethe’s 18th Century fable, Sorcerers’ Apprentice, or in German, Der Zauberlehrling. Dollar creation is out of control.
Since 2015 China is moving very clearly to replace London and New York and the western gold futures price-setting exchanges. As I noted in a longer analysis in this space in August, 2015, China, together with Russia, is making major strides to back their currencies with gold, to make them “as good as gold,” while currencies like the debt-bloated Euro or the debt-bloated bankrupt dollar zone, struggle.
In May 2015, China announced it had set up a state-run Gold Investment Fund. The aim was to create a pool, initially of $16 billion making it the world’s largest physical gold fund, to support gold mining projects along the new high-speed railway lines of President Xi’s New Economic Silk Road or One Road, One Belt as it is called. As China expressed it, the aim is to enable the Eurasian countries along the Silk Road to increase the gold backing of their currencies. The countries along the Silk Road and within the BRICS happen to contain most of the world’s people and natural and human resources utterly independent of any the West has to offer.
In May 2015, China’s Shanghai Gold Exchange formally established the “Silk Road Gold Fund.” The two main investors in the new fund were China’s two largest gold mining companies–Shandong Gold Group who bought 35% of the shares and Shaanxi Gold Group with 25%. The fund will invest in gold mining projects along the route of the Eurasian Silk Road railways, including in the vast under-explored parts of the Russian Federation.
A little-known fact is that no longer is South Africa the world’s gold king. It is a mere number 7 in annual gold production. China is Number One and Russia Number Two.
On May 11, just before creation of China’s new gold fund, China National Gold Group Corporation signed an agreement with the Russian gold mining group, Polyus Gold, Russia’s largest gold mining group, and one of the top ten in the world. The two companies will explore the gold resources of what is to date Russia’as largest gold deposit at Natalka in the far eastern part of Magadan’s Kolyma District.
Recently, the Chinese government and its state enterprises have also shifted strategy. Today, as of March 2016 official data, China holds more than $3.2 trillion in foreign currency reserves at the Peoples’ bank of China, of which it is believed approximately 60% or almost $2 trillion are dollar assets such as US Treasury bonds or quasi-government bonds such as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac mortgage bonds. Instead of investing all its dollar earnings from trade surpluses into increasingly inflated and worthless US government debt, China has launched a global asset buying strategy.
Now it happens that prime on the Beijing foreign asset “to buy” shopping list are gold mines around the world. Despite a recent slight rise in the gold price since January, gold is still at 5 year-lows and many quality proven mining companies are cash-starved and forced into bankruptcy. Gold is truly at the beginning of a renaissance.
The beauty of gold is not only what countless gold bugs maintain, a hedge against inflation. It is the most beautiful of all precious metals. The Greek philosopher Plato, in his work The Republic, identified five types of regimes possible–Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny, with Tyranny the lowest most vile. He then lists Aristocracy, or rule by Philosopher Kings with “golden souls” as the highest form of rule, benevolent and with the highest integrity. Gold has worth in its own right throughout mankind’s history. China and Russia and other nations of Eurasia today are reviving gold to its rightful place. That’s very cool.
It’s not an easy time to be a construction worker in China. In some cases, economic frustration bubbles over into the streets such as the other day, when workers from rival companies used their bulldozers as battle tanks.
The AP reports:
BEIJING (AP) — Police in northern China say an argument between construction workers escalated into a demolition derby-style clash of heavy machinery that left at least two bulldozers flipped over in a street.
The construction workers were from two companies competing for business, Xu Feng, a local government spokesman in Hebei province’s Xingtang county, said Monday. He said he couldn’t disclose details about arrests or injuries until an investigation concludes.
Now here’s the stunning video:
There’s simply no respite.
Money is leaving China in myriad ways, chasing after overseas assets in near-panic mode. So Anbang Insurance Group, after having already acquired the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan a year ago for a record $1.95 billion from Hilton Worldwide Holdings, at the time majority-owned by Blackstone, and after having acquired office buildings in New York and Canada, has struck out again.
It agreed to acquire Strategic Hotels & Resorts from Blackstone for a $6.5 billion. The trick? According to Bloomberg’s “people with knowledge of the matter,” Anbang paid $450 million more than Blackstone had paid for it three months ago!
Other Chinese companies have pursued targets in the US, Canada, Europe, and elsewhere with similar disregard for price, after seven years of central-bank driven asset price inflation [read… Desperate “Dumb Money” from China Arrives in the US].
As exports of money from China is flourishing at a stunning pace, exports of goods are deteriorating at an equally stunning pace. February’s 25% plunge in exports was the 11th month of year-over-year declines in 12 months, as global demand for Chinese goods is waning.
And ocean freight rates – the amount it costs to ship containers from China to ports around the world – have plunged to historic lows.
The China Containerized Freight Index (CCFI), published weekly, tracks contractual and spot-market rates for shipping containers from major ports in China to 14 regions around the world. Unlike most Chinese government data, this index reflects the unvarnished reality of the shipping industry in a languishing global economy. For the latest reporting week, the index dropped 4.1% to 705.6, its lowest level ever.
It has plunged 34.4% from the already low levels in February last year and nearly 30% since its inception in 1998 when it was set at 1,000. This is what the ongoing collapse in shipping rates looks like:
The rates dropped for 12 of the 14 routes in the index. They rose in only one, to the Persian Gulf/Red Sea, perhaps in response to the lifting of the sanctions against Iran, and remained flat to Japan. Rates on all other routes dropped, including to Europe (-7.9%), the US West Coast (-3.5%), the US East Coast (-1.0%), or the worst drop, to the Mediterranean (-13.4%).
The Shanghai Containerized Freight Index (SCFI), which is much more volatile than the CCFI, tracks only spot-market rates (not contractual rates) of shipping containers from Shanghai to 15 destinations around the world. It had surged at the end of last year from record lows, as carriers had hoped that rate increases might stick this time and that the worst was over. But rates plunged again in the weeks since, including 6.8% during the last reporting week to 404.2, a new all-time low. The index is now down 62.3% from a year ago:
Rates were flat for three routes, but dropped for the other 12 routes, including to Europe, where rates plunged nearly 10% to a ludicrously low $211 per TEU (twenty-foot equivalent container unit). Rates to the US West Coast fell 8.4% to $810 per FEU (forty-foot equivalent container unit). Rates to the East Coast fell 5.2% to $1,710 per FEU. Rates to South America plunged 25.4%.
This crash in shipping rates is a result of two by now typical forces: rampant and still growing overcapacity and lackluster demand.
“Typical” because lackluster demand has been the hallmark of the global economy recently, and the problems of overcapacity have also been occurring in other sectors, including oil & gas and the commodities complex. Overcapacity from coal-mining to steel-making, much of it in state-controlled enterprises, has been dogging China for years and will continue to pose mega-problems well into the future. Overcapacity kills prices, then jobs, and then companies.
The ocean freight industry went on a multi-year binge buying the largest container ships the world has ever seen and smaller ones too. It was led by executives who believed in the central-bank dogma that radical monetary policy will actually stimulate the real economy, and they were trying to prepare for it. And it was made possible by central-bank-blinded yield-chasing investors and giddy bankers. As a result, after years of ballooning capacity, carriers added another 8% in 2015, even while demand for transporting containers across the oceans languished near the flat line, the worst performance since 2009.
“Massive Deterioration,” the CEO of Maersk, a bellwether for global trade, called the phenomenon. Read… “Worse than 2008”: World’s Largest Container Carrier on the Slowdown in Global Trade
Video Interview contains several sections pertaining to real estate & loan markets
One month ago, when describing the latest in an endless series of Vancouver real estate horror stories, in this case an abandoned, rotting home (which is currently listed for a modest $7.2 million), we explained the simple money-laundering dynamic involving Chinese “investors” as follows.
- Chinese investors smuggle out millions in embezzled cash, hot money or perfectly legal funds, bypassing the $50,000/year limit in legal capital outflows.
- They make “all cash” purchases, usually sight unseen, using third parties intermediaries to preserve their anonymity, or directly in person, in cities like Vancouver, New York, London or San Francisco.
- The house becomes a new “Swiss bank account”, providing the promise of an anonymous store of value and retaining the cash equivalent value of the original capital outflow.
We also explained that hundreds if not thousands of Vancouver houses, have become a part of the new normal Swiss bank account: “a store of wealth to Chinese investors eager to park “hot money” outside of their native country, and bidding up any Canadian real estate they could get their hands on.”
This realization has now fully filtered down to the local population, and as the National Post writes in its latest troubling look at the “dark side” of Vancouver’s real estate market, it cites wholesaler Amanda who says that “Vancouver seems to be evolving from a residential city into almost like a lock box for money… but I have to live among the empty houses. I’m a resident, not just an investor.”
The Post article, however, is not about the use of Vancouver (or NYC, or SF, or London) real estate as the end target of China’s hot money outflows – by now most are aware what’s going on. It focuses, instead, on those who make the wholesale selling of Vancouver real estate to Chinese tycoons who are bidding up real estate in this western Canadian city to a point where virtually no domestic buyer can afford it, and specifically the job that unlicensed “wholesalers” do in spurring and accelerating what is currently the world’s biggest housing bubble.
A bubble which, the wholesalers themselves admit, will inevitably crash in spectacular fashion.
This is the of about Amanda, who was profiled yesterday in a National Post article showing how a “Former ‘wholesaler’ reveals hidden dark side of Vancouver’s red-hot real estate market.” Amanda quit her job allegely for moral reasons; we are confident 10 people promptly filled her shoes.
* * *
Vancouver’s real estate market has been very good to Amanda. She’s not a licensed realtor, but buying and selling property is her full-time job.
She started about eight years ago as an unlicensed “wholesaler” in Vancouver.
She would approach homeowners and make unsolicited offers for private cash deals. Amanda made a 10-per-cent fee on each purchase by immediately assigning the contract to a background investor. It is seen as the lowest job in property investment, but it is low risk and very profitable. Amanda has done so well that she now owns two homes in Vancouver and develops property in the U.S.
Unlicensed wholesaling is an illicit and predatory business that is quickly growing in Metro Vancouver because enforcement is virtually non-existent.
It’s similar to a tactic currently being examined by B.C. real estate authorities known as “assignment flipping,” which involves legally but secretly trading homes on paper to enrich realtors and circles of investors.
However, unlicensed wholesaling is completely unregulated. Amanda estimates hundreds of wholesalers are scouring Metro Vancouver’s never-hotter speculative market — not including the realtors who are secretly wholesaling for themselves.
Amanda decided to step away from the easy money for moral reasons.
She’s most concerned that wholesalers are targeting B.C.’s vulnerable seniors who don’t understand the value of their old homes. She is also worried about offshore money being laundered, and the resulting vacant homes.
Because wholesalers are unlicensed, they have no obligation to identify their background investors or reveal the source of funds to Canadian authorities who fight money laundering.
“Vancouver seems to be evolving from a residential city into almost like a lock box for money,” Amanda said. “But I have to live among the empty houses. I’m a resident, not just an investor.”
Amanda said she believes that unethical and ignorant investors are driving B.C.’s housing market at full speed towards a crash. For these reasons, and with the condition that we not use her real name, she came forward to reveal how wholesalers operate.
The calling cards of wholesalers — hand-written flyers offering homeowners “confidential” and “discreet” cash sales — started flooding west side Vancouver homes over the past 18 months. With the dramatic surge in home prices, wholesalers now are spreading into neighborhoods across Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island.
In eight years Amanda has never seen the market hotter than it is right now, and her colleagues are urging her to start wholesaling again.
Notices offering cash for homes are the calling card of unlicensed wholesalers
“A lot of money is leaving China, so now every second day people are asking if I can go out and find places for them. They have tons of money,” Amanda said. “They are basically brokering business deals specifically for Chinese investors.”
She said the mechanics of wholesaling schemes work like this:
The investor behind the unlicensed broker targets a block, often with older homes, and gives the wholesaler cash in a legal trust.
The wholesaler persuades a homeowner to sell, offering immediate cash, no subjects, no home inspections, and savings on realtor fees.
While the wholesaler claims to represent one buyer, or in some cases to be the buyer, Amanda said three or four contract flippers are often already lined up, with an end-buyer from China who will eventually take title in most cases. These unlicensed broker deals appear to be illegal.
A veteran Vancouver realtor confirmed these types of deals. The realtors we spoke to have been asked by their brokerages not to comment to reporters, so we agreed to withhold their names.
“I work with some non-licensed flippers,” one said. “They walk on to the lawn of an older house, see the owner and yell, ‘We’re not realtors!’ The owner invites them in, thinks they’re saving a commission — which they are — and loses big-time on the actual sale. I’ve seen it first-hand.”
According to flyers obtained from across Metro Vancouver and interviews with homeowners who were solicited, wholesalers often say they have Chinese buyers willing to pay a premium for quick sales.
Homeowners in Richmond, Vancouver’s east and west sides, Surrey, Langley, Coquitlam, Burnaby, White Rock, Delta and North Vancouver confirmed such offers in interviews.
One resident of Vancouver’s west side Dunbar area said she was annoyed by wholesalers constantly soliciting her, and a man in Surrey said his elderly mother was bothered by wholesalers.
“A guy walked up and he offered $700,000 cash within a day, and he said I would save on the realtor fees,” said Zack Flegel, who lives near 119th Street and Scott Road in Delta.
“He also says he will give me $100,000 cash and move me into a $600,000 house. He said he has a bunch of properties. He was talking about my house like it was a trading card. We don’t have abandoned homes yet like Vancouver, but this is how it happens, right?”
After the offer is accepted, the wholesaler assigns the purchase contract to the investor for a 10-per-cent markup, Amanda said. But some wholesalers aren’t content with making $100,000 or more per sale.
“People were going in and offering, for example, an 80-year-old widow, she bought the house for $70,000 and it is now worth $800,000 and they were offering her $200,000,” Amanda said. “So they are making $300,000 or $400,000 (after assigning the contract).
“And you are socializing with other wholesalers, and it is hard to hear them say, ‘Oh this whole street is filled with seniors whose partners are dropping off like flies.’ Or, ‘They just want to get rid of it, they have no clue what their house is worth, and it’s the whole street.’”
Amanda said her father died recently. She pictured her mother being targeted by wholesalers and resolved never to play that role again.
“There are elements of this that are elder abuse, absolutely.”
In a recent story that deals with implications of rising property taxes rather than predatory real estate practices, the Financial Post reported that, especially in Vancouver and Toronto’s scorching markets, “it’s not uncommon for some Canadian seniors to be unaware of the value of their location.”
B.C.’s Superintendent of Real Estate, Carolyn Rogers, conceded the potential for elder abuse as reported by Amanda.
“We would welcome an opportunity to speak to (Amanda) and assuming she gives us the same information, we would open a file,” Rogers said. “The conditions in the Vancouver market right now present risks … and seniors could be an example of that.”
It is illegal for wholesalers to privately buy and sell property for investors without a licence, Rogers said. She said her officers have approached some wholesalers recently and asked them to become licensed or cease their activities.
A review of the superintendent’s website shows no enforcement orders, fines or consumer alerts filed in connection to unlicensed wholesalers making cash deals and flipping contracts.
Amanda said that over the past year she learned of new levels of “layering and complexity that I didn’t see five years ago” in wholesaling and assignment-clause flipping.
“Five years ago I didn’t see realtors wholesaling, and I didn’t see people calling me so that I would get them a property and not assign the property to them, but work as a ‘partner’ and I would attach a 10-per-cent fee.
“And then they would assign it to their boss and attach 10 per cent, and then that person’s boss would attach 10 per cent. I’ve been watching over the last month, and it has got astounding.”
Amanda said some wholesale deals involve only unlicensed brokers and pools of offshore cash organized informally, and some appear to involve realtors and brokerages hiding behind unlicensed wholesalers.
“I’ve seen it from the back end. We have friends in the British Properties and the realtor said he will buy their property for $2 million. And then six months later it was sold for $3.5 million. When I’m looking at that, it is a pretty clear wholesale deal.”
Darren Gibb, spokesman for Canada’s anti-money-laundering agency, FINTRAC, confirmed that unlicensed property buyers have no obligation to report the identity or sources of funds of the buyers they represent.
However, Gibb said, if realtors are involved in “assignment flipping” it is mandatory that they and unlicensed assistants make efforts to identify every assignment-clause buyer and their sources of funds.
Vancouver realtors confirmed that money laundering is a big concern in assignment-flipping deals, whether organized by an unlicensed wholesaler or a realtor.
“When you are a non-realtor broker you no longer have to play by any rules,” one Vancouver realtor said.
“There is a role for assignments, but nobody is asking where the money came from. We are creating vehicles for money laundering.”
“No person in their right mind wants to buy your house once, and sell it three more times in a small window of opportunity, unless they have a whole pool of people lined up trying to get their money out of the country. The higher the prices go, these vehicles to get money out of the country get bigger and bigger.”
NDP MLA David Eby and Green MLA Andrew Weaver commented that allegations of unlicensed brokers targeting seniors and participating in potential money-laundering schemes call for direct action from Victoria and independent investigation, because these concerns fall outside the jurisdiction of the B.C. Real Estate Council and its current ongoing review of real estate practices.
“It is very troubling to me,” Eby said, “that not only do we have a layer of real estate agents that are acting improperly and violating the rules, but there might be this additional layer who are not bound by any rule and have explicitly avoided becoming agents for that reason.
“This unscrupulous behavior is targeting seniors who need money for retirement. What kind of society is that?” Weaver said.
Earlier today, Reuters reported that China is preparing for an unprecedented overhaul in how it treats it trillions in non-performing loans.
Recall that as we first wrote last summer, and as subsequently Kyle Bass made it the centerpiece of his “short Yuan” investment thesis, the “neutron bomb” in the heart of China’s impaired financial system is the trillions – officially at $614 billion but realistically anywhere between 8% and 20% of China’s total $35 trillion in bank assets – in non-performing loans. It is the unknown treatment of these NPLs that has been the greatest threat to China’s just as vast deposit base amounting to well over $20 trillion, which has been the fundamental catalyst behind China’s record capital flight as depositors have been eager to move their savings as far from China’s domestic banks as possible.
As a result, conventional thinking such as that proposed by Bass, Ray Dalio, KKR and many others, speculated that China will have to devalue its currency in order to inflate away what is fundamentally an excess debt problem as the alternative is unleashing a massive debt default tsunami and “admitting” to the world just how insolvent China’s state-owned banks truly are, not to mention leading to the layoffs of tens of millions of workers by these zombie companies.
However, China now appears to be taking a surprisingly different track, and according to a Reuters report China’s central bank is preparing regulations that would allow commercial banks to swap non-performing loans of companies for stakes in those firms. Reuters sources said the release of a new document explaining the regulatory change was imminent.
According to Reuters, the move would represent, “on paper, a way for indebted corporates to reduce their leverage, reducing the cost of servicing debt and making them more worthy of fresh credit.”
It gets better.
It would also reduce NPL ratios at commercial banks, reducing the cash they would need to set aside to cover losses incurred by bad loans. These funds could then be freed up for fresh lending for investment in the new wave of infrastructure products and factory upgrades the government hopes will rejuvenate the Chinese economy.
It is certainly possible that this is merely a trial balloon, one which as was the case repeatedly during Europe’s crisis uses Reuters as a sounding board to gauge the market’s reaction, however the reality is that China may truly be desperate enough to pursue this option.
Because what is lacking in the Reuters explanation is that this proposal entails nothing short of a nationalization on a grand scale, one which gives China’s impaired commercial banks – all of which are implicitly state controlled – the “equity keys” to the companies to which they have given secured loans, loans which are no longer performing because the underlying assets are clearly impaired, and where the cash flow generated can’t even cover the interest payments.
In effect, the PBOC is proposing the biggest debt-for-equity swap ever seen. What it also means is that since the secured lender, which is at the top of the capital structure will drop all the way down, it wipes out the existing equity and unsecured debt, and make the banks the new equity owners, and as such China’s commercial banks will no longer be entitled to interest payments or security collateral on their now-equity investment.
Finally, while this move does free up loss reserves, it essentially strips banks of their security and asset protection which they enjoyed as secured lenders.
So why is China doing this?
As Reuters correctly noted, by equitizing trillions in bad loans, it frees up the corporate balance sheets to layer on fresh trillions in bad debt, the same debt that pushed these zombie companies into insolvency to begin with.
What this grand equitization does not do, is make the underlying business any more profitable or viable: after all the loans are bad because the companies no longer can generate even the required cash interest payment – as a result of China’s unprecedented excess capacity and low commodity prices which prevent corporate viability. It has little to do with their current balance sheet.
That, however, is irrelevant to the PBOC which is hoping that by taking this step it can magically eliminate trillions in NPL from commercial bank balance sheets in what is not only the biggest equitization in history, but also the biggest diversion since David Copperfield made the statue of liberty disappear, as instead of keeping the bad loans on the asset side as NPLs, thus assuring at least some recoveries, the banks are crammed down and when the next NPL wave hits, their exposure will be fully wiped out as mere equity stakeholders.
So why are banks agreeing to this? Because they know that as quasi (and not so quasi) state-owned enterprises, China’s commercial banks are wards of the state and when the ultimate impairment wave hits and banks have to write down trillions in “equity investments”, Beijing will promptly bail them out.
Essentially, in one simple move, Beijing is about to “guarantee” trillions in insolvent Chinese debt.
In short, as pointed out earlier, what the PBOC has proposed is the biggest “shadow nationalization” in history, one which will convert trillions in bad loans in insolvent enterprises into trillions in equity investments in the same enterprises, however without any new money actually coming in! Which means it will be up to new credit investors to prop up these failing businesses for a few more quarters before the reorganized equity also has to be wiped out.
Going back to the Reuters, it reports, that “the new regulations would be promulgated with special approval from the State Council, China’s cabinet-equivalent body, thus skirting the need to revise the current commercial bank law, which prohibits banks from investing in non-financial institutions.”
Of course the reason why commercial bank law prohibited banks from investing in non-financial institutions is precisely because it is a form of nationalization; only this time it will be worse – China will be nationalizing its most insolvent, biggest zombie companies currently in existence.
Reuters also observes that in the past Chinese commercial banks usually dealt with NPLs by selling them off at a discount to state-designated asset management companies. “The AMCs would turn around and attempt to recover the debt or resell it at a profit to distressed debt investors.” That China has given up on this approach confirms that there is just too much NPL supply and not nearly enough potential demand to offload these trillions in bad loans, hence explaining what may be the biggest nationalization in history.
Finally, Reuters concludes that “the sources did not have further detail about how the banks would value the new stakes, which would represent assets on their balance sheets, or what ratio or amount of NPLs they would be able to convert using this method.” Which is to be expected: in this grand diversion the last thing China would want is to reveal the proper math which would show how both China’s commercial banks, and the government itself, are about to guarantee trillions in insolvent assets.
While this is surely good news for the very short run, as it allows the worst of the worst in China’s insolvent corporate sector to issue even more debt, in the longer run it means that China’s total debt to GDP, which is already at 350% is about to surpass Japan’s gargantuan 400% within a year if not sooner.
We grow up being taught a very specific set of principles.
One plus one equals two. I before E, except after C.
As we grow older, the principles become more complex.
Take economics for example.
The law of supply states that the quantity of a good supplied rises as the market price rises, and falls as the price falls. Conversely, the law of demand states that the quantity of a good demanded falls as the price rises, and vice versa.
These basic laws of supply and demand are the fundamental building blocks of how we arrive at a given price for a given product.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
But what if I told you that the principles you grew up learning is wrong?
With today’s “creative” financial instruments, much of what you learned no longer applies in the real world.
Especially when it comes to oil.
The Law of Oil
Long time readers of this Letter will have read many of my blogs regarding commodities manipulation.
With oil, price manipulation couldn’t be more obvious.
For example, from my Letter, “Covert Connection Between Saudi Arabia and Japan“:
“…While agencies have found innovative ways to explain declining oil demand, the world has never consumed more oil.
In 2010, the world consumed a record 87.4 million barrels per day. This year (2014), the world is expected to consume a new record of 92.7 million barrels per day.
Global oil demand is still expected to climb to new highs.
If the price of oil is a true reflection of supply and demand, as the headlines tell us, it should reflect the discrepancy between supply and demand.
Since we know that demand is actually growing, that can’t be the reason for oil’s dramatic drop.
So does that mean it’s a supply issue? Did the world all of a sudden gain 40% more oil? Obviously not.
So no, the reason behind oil’s fall is not the causality of supply and demand.
The reason is manipulation. The question is why.
I go on to talk about the geopolitical reasons of why the price of oil is manipulated.
Here’s one example:
“On September 11, Saudi Arabia finally inked a deal with the U.S. to drop bombs on Syria.
Saudi Arabia possesses 18 per cent of the world’s proven petroleum reserves and ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum.
Syria is home to a pipeline route that can bring gas from the great Qatar natural gas fields into Europe, making billions of dollars for Saudi Arabia as the gas moves through while removing Russia’s energy stronghold on Europe.
Could the U.S. have persuaded Saudi Arabia, during their September 11 meeting, to lower the price of oil in order to hurt Russia, while stimulating the American economy?
… On October 1, 2014, shortly after the U.S. dropped bombs on Syria on September 26 as part of the September 11 agreement, Saudi Arabia announced it would be slashing prices to Asian nations in order to “compete” for crude market share. It also slashed prices to Europe and the United States.”
Following Saudi Arabia’s announcement, oil prices have plunged to a level not seen in more than five years.
Is it a “coincidence” that shortly after the Saudi Arabia-U.S. meeting on the coincidental date of 9-11, the two nations inked a deal to drop billions of dollars worth of bombs on Syria? Then just a few days later, Saudi Arabia announces a massive price cut to its oil.
There are many other factors – and conspiracies – in oil price manipulation, such as geopolitical attacks on Russia and Iran, whose economies rely heavily on oil. Saudi Arabia is also flooding the market with oil – and I would suggest that it’s because they are rushing to trade their oil for weapons to lead an attack or beef up their defense against the next major power in the Middle East, Iran.
However, all of the reasons, strategies or theories of oil price manipulation could only make sense if they were allowed by these two major players: the regulators and the Big Banks.
How Oil is Priced
On any given day, if you were to look at the spot price of oil, you’d likely be looking at a quote from the NYMEX in New York or the ICE Futures in London. Together, these two institutions trade most of the oil that creates the global benchmark for oil prices via oil futures contracts on West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and North Sea Brent (Brent).
What you may not see, however, is who is trading this oil, and how it is being traded.
Up until 2006, the price of oil traded within reason. But all of a sudden, we saw these major price movements. Why?
Because the regulators allowed it to happen.
Here’s a review from a 2006 US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report:
“Until recently, U.S. energy futures were traded exclusively on regulated exchanges within the United States, like the NYMEX, which are subject to extensive oversight by the CFTC, including ongoing monitoring to detect and prevent price manipulation or fraud.
In recent years, however, there has been a tremendous growth in the trading of contracts that look and are structured just like futures contracts, but which are traded on unregulated OTC electronic markets. Because of their similarity to futures contracts they are often called ”futures look-a likes.”
The only practical difference between futures look-alike contracts and futures contracts is that the look-a likes are traded in unregulated markets whereas futures are traded on regulated exchanges.
The trading of energy commodities by large firms on OTC electronic exchanges was exempted from CFTC oversight by a provision inserted at the behest of Enron and other large energy traders into the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 in the waning hours of the 106th Congress.
The impact on market oversight has been substantial.
NYMEX traders, for example, are required to keep records of all trades and report large trades to the CFTC. These Large Trader Reports (LTR), together with daily trading data providing price and volume information, are the CFTC’s primary tools to gauge the extent of speculation in the markets and to detect, prevent, and prosecute price manipulation.
…In contrast to trades conducted on the NYMEX, traders on unregulated OTC electronic exchanges are not required to keep records or file Large Trader Reports with the CFTC, and these trades are exempt from routine CFTC oversight.
In contrast to trades conducted on regulated futures exchanges, there is no limit on the number of contracts a speculator may hold on an unregulated OTC electronic exchange, no monitoring of trading by the exchange itself, and no reporting of the amount of outstanding contracts (”open interest”) at the end of each day.
The CFTC’s ability to monitor the U.S. energy commodity markets was further eroded when, in January of this year (2006), the CFTC permitted the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), the leading operator of electronic energy exchanges, to use its trading terminals in the United States for the trading of U.S. crude oil futures on the ICE futures exchange in London-called ”ICE Futures.”
Previously, the ICE Futures exchange in London had traded only in European energy commodities-Brent crude oil and United Kingdom natural gas. As a United Kingdom futures market, the ICE Futures exchange is regulated solely by the United Kingdom Financial Services rooority. In 1999, the London exchange obtained the CFTC’s permission to install computer terminals in the United States to permit traders here to trade European energy commodities through that exchange.
Then, in January of this year, ICE Futures in London began trading a futures contract for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil, a type of crude oil that is produced and delivered in the United States. ICE Futures also notified the CFTC that it would be permitting traders in the United States to use ICE terminals in the United States to trade its new WTI contract on the ICE Futures London exchange.
Beginning in April, ICE Futures similarly allowed traders in the United States to trade U.S. gasoline and heating oil futures on the ICE Futures exchange in London. Despite the use by U.S. traders of trading terminals within the United States to trade U.S. oil, gasoline, and heating oil futures contracts, the CFTC has not asserted any jurisdiction over the trading of these contracts.
Persons within the United States seeking to trade key U.S. energy commodities-U.S. crude oil, gasoline, and heating oil futures-now can avoid all U.S. market oversight or reporting requirements by routing their trades through the ICE Futures exchange in London instead of the NYMEX in New York.
As an increasing number of U.S. energy trades occurs on unregulated, OTC electronic exchanges or through foreign exchanges, the CFTC’s large trading reporting system becomes less and less accurate, the trading data becomes less and less useful, and its market oversight program becomes less comprehensive.
The absence of large trader information from the electronic exchanges makes it more difficult for the CFTC to monitor speculative activity and to detect and prevent price manipulation. The absence of this information not only obscures the CFTC’s view of that portion of the energy commodity markets, but it also degrades the quality of information that is reported.
A trader may take a position on an unregulated electronic exchange or on a foreign exchange that is either in addition to or opposite from the positions the trader has taken on the NYMEX, and thereby avoid and distort the large trader reporting system.
Not only can the CFTC be misled by these trading practices, but these trading practices could render the CFTC weekly publication of energy market trading data, intended to be used by the public, as incomplete and misleading.”
Simply put, any one can now speculate and avoid being tagged with illegal price. The more speculative trading that occurs, the less “real” price discovery via true supply and demand become.
With that in mind, you can now see how the big banks have gained control and cornered the oil market.
Continued from the Report:
“…Over the past few years, large financial institutions, hedge funds, pension funds, and other investment funds have been pouring billions of dollars into the energy commodities markets…to try to take advantage of price changes or to hedge against them.
Because much of this additional investment has come from financial institutions and investment funds that do not use the commodity as part of their business, it is defined as ”speculation” by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).
…Reports indicate that, in the past couple of years, some speculators have made tens and perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars in profits trading in energy commodities.
This speculative trading has occurred both on the regulated New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) and on the over-the-counter (OTC) markets.
The large purchases of crude oil futures contracts by speculators have, in effect, created an additional demand for oil, driving up the price of oil to be delivered in the future in the same manner that additional demand for the immediate delivery of a physical barrel of oil drives up the price on the spot market.
As far as the market is concerned, the demand for a barrel of oil that results from the purchase of a futures contract by a speculator is just as real as the demand for a barrel that results from the purchase of a futures contract by a refiner or other user of petroleum.
Although it is difficult to quantify the effect of speculation on prices, there is substantial evidence that the large amount of speculation in the current market has significantly increased prices.
Several analysts have estimated that speculative purchases of oil futures have added as much as $20-$25 per barrel to the current price of crude oil, thereby pushing up the price of oil from $50 to approximately $70 per barrel.”
The biggest banks in the world, such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, JP Morgan, are now also the biggest energy traders; together, they not only participate in oil trades, but also fund numerous hedge funds that trade in oil.
Knowing how easy it is to force the price of oil upwards, the same strategies can be done in reverse to force the price of oil down.
All it takes is for some media-conjured “report” to tell us that Saudi Arabia is flooding the market with oil, OPEC is lowering prices, or that China is slowing, for oil to collapse.
Traders would then go short oil, kicking algo-traders into high gear, and immediately sending oil down further. The fact that oil consumption is actually growing really doesn’t matter anymore.
In reality, oil price isn’t dictated by supply and demand – or OPEC, or Russia, or China – it is dictated by the Western financial institutions that trade it.
The Reason is Manipulation, the Question is Why?
Via my past Letter, “Secrets of Bank Involvement in Oil Revealed“:
“For years, I have been talking about how the banks have taken control of our civilization.
…With oil prices are falling, economies around the world are beginning to feel the pain causing a huge wave of panic throughout the financial industry. That’s because the last time oil dropped like this – more than US$40 in less than six months – was during the financial crisis of 2008.
…Let’s look at the energy market to gain a better perspective.
The energy sector represents around 17-18 percent of the high-yield bond market valued at around $2 trillion.
Over the last few years, energy producers have raised more than a whopping half a trillion dollars in new bonds and loans with next to zero borrowing costs – courtesy of the Fed.
This low-borrowing cost environment, along with deregulation, has been the goose that laid the golden egg for every single energy producer. Because of this easy money, however, energy producers have become more leveraged than ever; leveraging themselves at much higher oil prices.
But with oil suddenly dropping so sharply, many of these energy producers are now at serious risk of going under.
In a recent report by Goldman Sachs, nearly $1 trillion of investments in future oil projects are at risk.
…It’s no wonder the costs of borrowing for energy producers have skyrocketed over the last six months.
…many of the companies are already on the brink of default, and unable to make even the interest payments on their loans.
…If oil continues in this low price environment, many producers will have a hard time meeting their debt obligations – meaning many of them could default on their loans. This alone will cause a wave of financial and corporate destruction. Not to mention the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs across North America.”
You may be thinking, “if oil’s fall is causing a wave of financial disaster, why would the banks push the price of oil down? Wouldn’t they also suffer from the loss?”
Great question. But the banks never lose. Continued from my letter:
“If you control the world’s reserve currency, but slowly losing that status as a result of devaluation and competition from other nations (see When Nations Unite Against the West: The BRICS Development Bank), what would you do to protect yourself?
You buy assets. Because real hard assets protect you from monetary inflation.
With the banks now holding record amounts of highly leveraged paper from the Fed, why would they not use that paper to buy hard assets?
Bankers may be greedy, but they’re not stupid.
The price of hard physical assets is the true representation of inflation.
Therefore, if you control these hard assets in large quantities, you could also control their price.
This, in turn, means you can maintain control of your currency against monetary inflation.
And that is exactly what the banks have done.
The True World Power
Last month, the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations published a 403-page report on how Wall Street’s biggest banks, such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan, have gained ownership of a massive amount of commodities, food, and energy resources.
The report stated that “the current level of bank involvement with critical raw materials, power generation, and the food supply appears to be unprecedented in U.S. history.”
“…Until recently, Morgan Stanley controlled over 55 million barrels of oil storage capacity, 100 oil tankers, and 6,000 miles of pipeline. JPMorgan built a copper inventory that peaked at $2.7 billion, and, at one point, included at least 213,000 metric tons of copper, comprising nearly 60% of the available physical copper on the world’s premier copper trading exchange, the LME.
In 2012, Goldman owned 1.5 million metric tons of aluminum worth $3 billion, about 25% of the entire U.S. annual consumption. Goldman also owned warehouses which, in 2014, controlled 85% of the LME aluminum storage business in the United States.” – Wall Street Bank Involvement with Physical Commodities, United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
From pipelines to power plants, from agriculture to jet fuel, these too-big-to-fail banks have amassed – and may have manipulated the prices – of some of the world’s most important resources.
The above examples clearly show just how much influence the Big Banks have over our commodities through a “wide range of risky physical commodity activities which included, at times, producing, transporting, storing, processing, supplying, or trading energy, industrial metals, or agricultural commodities.”
With practically an unlimited supply of cheap capital from the Federal Reserve, the Big Banks have turned into much more than lenders and facilitators. They have become direct commerce competitors with an unfair monetary advantage: free money from the Fed.
Of course, that’s not their only advantage.
According to the report, the Big Banks are engaging in risky activities (such as ownership in power plants and coal mining), mixing banking and commerce, affecting prices, and gaining significant trading advantages.
Just think about how easily it would be for JP Morgan to manipulate the price of copper when they – at one point – controlled 60% of the available physical copper on the world’s premier copper trading exchange, the LME.
How easy would it be for Goldman to control the price of aluminum when they owned warehouses – at one point – that controlled 85% of the LME aluminum storage business in the United States?
And if they could so easily control such vast quantities of hard assets, how easy would it be for them to profit from going either short or long on these commodities?
Always a Winner
But if, for some reason, the bankers’ bets didn’t work out, they still wouldn’t lose.
That’s because these banks are holders of trillions of dollars in FDIC insured deposits.
In other words, if any of the banks’ pipelines rupture, power plants explode, oil tankers spill, or coal mines collapse, taxpayers may once again be on the hook for yet another too-big-to-fail bailout.
If you think that there’s no way that the government or the Fed would allow this to happen again after 2008, think again.
Via the Guardian:
“In a small provision in the budget bill, Congress agreed to allow banks to house their trading of swaps and derivatives alongside customer deposits, which are insured by the federal government against losses.
The budget move repeals a portion of the Dodd-Frank financial reform act and, some say, lays the groundwork for future bailouts of banks who make irresponsibly risky trades.”
Recall from my past letters where I said that the Fed wants to engulf you in their dollars. If yet another bailout is required, then the Fed would once again be the lender of last resort, and Americans will pile on the debt it owes to the Fed.
It’s no wonder that in the report, it actually notes that the Fed was the facilitator of this sprawl by the banks:
“Without the complementary orders and letters issued by the Federal Reserve, many of those physical commodity activities would not otherwise have been permissible ‘financial’ activities under federal banking law. By issuing those complementary orders, the Federal Reserve directly facilitated the expansion of financial holding companies into new physical commodity activities.”
The Big Banks have risked tons of cash lending and facilitating in oil business. But in reality they haven’t risked anything. They get free money from the Fed, and since they aren’t supposed to be directly involved in natural resources, they obtain control in other ways.
Remember, the big banks – and ultimately the Fed who controls them – are the ones who truly control the world. Their monetary actions are the cause of many of the world’s issues and have been used for many years to maintain control of other nations and the world’s resources.
But they can’t simply go into a country, put troops on the ground and take over. No, that would be inhumane.
So what do they do?
Via my past Letter, The Real Reason for War in Syria:
“Currency manipulation allows developed countries to print and lend to other developing countries at will.
A rich nation might go into a developing nation and lend them millions of dollars to build bridges, schools, housing, and expand their military efforts. The rich nation convinces the developing nation that by borrowing money, their nation will grow and prosper.
However, these deals are often negotiated at a very specific and hefty cost; the lending nation might demand resources or military and political access. Of course, developing nations often take the loans, but never really have the chance to pay it back.
When the developing nations realize they can’t pay back the loans, they’re at the mercy of the lending nations.
The trick here is that the lending nations can print as much money as they want, and in turn, control the resources of developing nations. In other words, the loans come at a hefty cost to the borrower, but at no cost to the lender.”
This brings us back to oil.
We know that oil’s crash has put a heavy burden on many debt facilities that are associated with oil. We also know that the big banks are all heavily leveraged within the sector.
If that is the case, why are the big banks so calm?
The answer is simple.
Most of the loans associated with oil are done through asset-backed loans, or reserve-based financing.
It means that the loans are backed by the underlying asset itself: the oil reserves.
So if the loans go south, guess who ends up with the oil?
According to Reuters, JP Morgan is the number one U.S. bank by assets. And despite its energy exposure assumed at only 1.6 percent of total loans, the bank could own reserves of up to $750 million!
“If oil reaches $30 a barrel – and here we are – and stayed there for, call it, 18 months, you could expect to see (JPMorgan’s) reserve builds of up to $750 million.”
No wonder the banks aren’t worried about a oil financial contagion – especially not Jamie Dimon, JP Morgan’s Chairman, CEO and President:
“…Remember, these are asset-backed loans, so a bankruptcy doesn’t necessarily mean your loan is bad.” – Jamie Dimon
As oil collapses and defaults arise, the banks have not only traded dollars for assets on the cheap, but gained massive oil reserves for pennies on the dollar to back the underlying contracts of the oil that they so heavily trade.
The argument to this would be that many emerging markets have laws in place that prevent their national resources from being turned over to foreign entities in the case of corporate defaults.
Which, of course, the U.S. and its banks have already prepared for.
Via my Letter, How to Seize Assets Without War:
“…If the Fed raises interest rates, many emerging market economies will suffer the consequence of debt defaults. Which, historically means that asset fire sales – often commodity-based assets such as oil and gas – are next.
Historically, if you wanted to seize the assets of another country, you would have to go to war and fight for territory. But today, there are other less bloody ways to do that.
Take, for example, Petrobras – a semi-public Brazilian multinational energy corporation.
…Brazil is in one of the worst debt positions in the world with much of its debt denominated in US dollars.
Earlier this year (2015), Petrobras announced that it is attempting to sell $58 billion of assets – an unprecedented number in the oil industry.
Guess who will likely be leading the sale of Petrobras assets? Yup, American banks.
“…JPMorgan would be tasked with wooing the largest number of bidders possible for the assets and then structure the sales.”
As history has shown, emerging market fire sales due to debt defaults are often won by the US or its allies. Thus far, it appears the Petrobras fire sale may be headed that way.
‘Brazilian state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA said Tuesday (September 22, 2015) it is closing a deal to sell natural-gas distribution assets to a local subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsui & Co.’
The combination of monetary policy and commodities manipulation allows Western banks and allies to accumulate hard assets at the expense of emerging markets. And this has been exactly the plan since day one.
As the Fed hints of raising rates, financial risks among emerging markets will continue to build. This will trigger a reappraisal of sovereign and corporate risks leading to big swings in capital flows.”
Not only are many of the big banks’ practices protected by government and Fed policies, but they’re also protected by the underlying asset itself. If things go south, the bank could end up owning a lot of oil reserves.
No wonder they’re not worried.
And since the banks ultimately control the price of oil anyway, it could easily bring the price back up when they’re ready.
Controlling the price of oil gives U.S. and its banks many advantages.
For example, the U.S. could tell the Iranians, the Saudis, or other OPEC nations, whose economies heavily rely on oil, “Hey, if you want higher oil prices, we can make that happen. But first, you have to do this…”
You see how much control the U.S., and its big banks, actually have?
At least, for now anyway.
Don’t think for one second that nations around the world don’t understand this.
Just ask Venezuela, and many of the other countries that have succumbed to the power of the U.S. Many of these countries are now turning to China because they feel they have been screwed.
The World Shift
The diversification away from the U.S. dollar is the first step in the uprising against the U.S. by other nations.
As the power of the U.S. dollar diminishes, through international currency swaps and loans, other trading platforms that control the price of commodities (such as the new Shanghai Oil Exchange) will become more prominent in global trade; thus, bringing some price equilibrium back to the market.
And this is happening much faster than you expect.
Chinese President Xi Jinping returned home Sunday after wrapping up a historic trip to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran with a broad consensus and 52 cooperation agreements set to deepen Beijing’s constructive engagement with the struggling yet promising region.
During Xi’s trip, China upgraded its relationship with both Saudi Arabia and Iran to a comprehensive strategic partnership and vowed to work together with Egypt to add more values to their comprehensive strategic partnership.
Regional organizations, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) and the Arab League (AL), also applauded Xi’s visit and voiced their readiness to cement mutual trust and broaden win-win cooperation with China.
AL Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi said China has always stood with the developing world, adding that the Arab world is willing to work closely with China in political, economic as well as other sectors for mutual benefit.
The Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious vision Xi put forward in 2013 to boost inter-connectivity and common development along the ancient land and maritime Silk Roads, has gained more support and popularity during Xi’s trip.
…Xi and leaders of the three nations agreed to align their countries’ development blueprints and pursue mutually beneficial cooperation under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, which comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
The initiative, reiterated the Chinese president, is by no means China’s solo, but a symphony of all countries along the routes, including half of the OIC members.
During Xi’s stay in Saudi Arabia, China, and the GCC resumed their free trade talks and “substantively concluded in principle the negotiations on trade in goods.” A comprehensive deal will be made within this year.”
In other words, the big power players in the Middle East – who produce the majority of the world’s oil – are now moving closer to cooperation with China, and away from the U.S.
As this progresses, it means the role of the U.S. dollar, and its value in world trade, will diminish.
And the big banks, which hold trillions of dollars in U.S. assets, aren’t concerned.
They’d much rather own the underlying assets.
Seek the truth,
Two days ago, I published a post explaining how the super high end real estate bubble had popped, and how signs of this reality have emerged across America. Here’s an excerpt from that post, The Luxury Housing Bubble Pops – Overseas Investors Struggle to Sell Overpriced Mansions:
The six-bedroom mansion in the shadow of Southern California’s Sierra Madre Mountains has lime trees and a swimming pool, tennis courts and a sauna — the kind of place that would have sold quickly just a year ago, according to real estate agent Kanney Zhang.
Zhang is shopping it for a discounted $3.68 million, but nobody’s biting. Her clients, a couple from China, are getting anxious. They’re the kind of well-heeled international investors who fueled a four-year luxury real estate boom that helped pull America out of its worst housing slump since the 1930s. Now the couple is reeling from the selloff in the Chinese stock market and looking to raise cash to shore up finances.
In the Los Angeles suburb of Arcadia, where Zhang is struggling to sell the six-bedroom home, dozens of aging ranch houses were demolished to make way for 38 mansions built with Chinese buyers in mind. They have manicured lawns and wok kitchens and are priced as high as $12 million. Many of them sit empty because the prices are out of the range of most domestic buyers, said Re/Max broker Rudy Kusuma, who blames a crackdown by the Chinese on large sums leaving the country.
Well, I have some more bad news for mansion-flipping Chinese nationals.
Europe’s biggest lender HSBC will no longer provide mortgages to some Chinese nationals who buy real estate in the United States, a policy change that comes as Beijing is battling to stem a swelling crowd of citizens trying to get money out of China.
An HSBC spokesman in New York told Reuters on Wednesday that the new policy went into effect last week, roughly a month after China suspended Standard Chartered and DBS Group Holdings Ltd from conducting some foreign exchange business and as authorities try to limit capital outflows.
Realtors of luxury property in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Vancouver, said more than 80 percent of wealthy Chinese buyers have ties to China.
Luxury homes news website Mansion Global, which first reported the HSBC policy change, said it would affect Chinese nationals holding temporary visitor ‘B’ visas if the majority of their income and assets are maintained in China.
HSBC’s pivot away from lending to some Chinese nationals abroad comes as other international banks clamor to lend more to wealthy Chinese.
The Royal Bank of Canada scrapped its C$1.25 million cap on mortgages to borrowers with no local credit history last year in a bid to tap into surging demand for financing from wealthy immigrant buyers.
Related articles, see:
“$20,000 on drinks is a plain night on the town,” says one local restaurateur, as big-time Chinese money pours into Los Angeles, consuming everything from wine to diamonds to watches to cars to prime real estate (in one case, 25,000 square feet for a teenage college student).
A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
The ultra-wealthy Chinese tend to get what they want, and right now most of them want one thing: to get out. More than 60 percent of China’s most affluent citizens have already left the country or are planning to leave it, according to the Los Angeles Times. And L.A. — a politically stable and always-comfortable metropolis where catering to the rich is a way of life — is among their most coveted destinations. The numbers don’t lie: In 2014, a full 20 percent of the city’s $8 billion in real estate sales was purchased by Chinese buyers. Showing no signs of slowing down, this injection of Chinese capital and influence can be felt at every level of L.A.’s culture of consumption.
Thanks to big import and consumption taxes introduced in recent years by President Xi Jinping, most wealthy Chinese consider the cost of homes and luxury goods in L.A. to be something of a bargain. “They’ll buy high-end watches in threes and fours,” says Korosh Soltani, owner of Rodeo Drive jewelry store David Orgell, of his Chinese clientele, who’ll typically drop $200,000 on gifts in a single shopping spree. (Soltani has so many Chinese customers, he asks companies like Corum and Baume & Mercier to send him watches bearing the Mandarin logos they are more familiar with.)
Brand names are essential: Hermes tableware, Lalique crystal and yellow-gold jewelry from Carrera y Carrera — gold is the most popular gift among Chinese — are consistent hot sellers. Spending can easily soar much higher if shopping for a special occasion: “We just had a Chinese family come in looking for the finest, most vivid canary yellow diamond you can have. Fortunately I had one,” says Beverly Hills jeweler Martin Katz of a recent engagement ring purchase. “It was a seven-figure-priced stone in the six-carat range.”
While money is frequently no object, the Chinese still like to negotiate and won’t close a deal without getting “big discounts … it’s in the culture,” Soltanti says. They also expect a little something extra: “We ask our brands to give us pens or hats that will keep them happy. They’re very appreciative of it.”
The Beverly Center, meanwhile, has taken active steps toward luring China’s big spenders: The high-end shopping mall — which houses Louis Vuitton, Prada and Fendi boutiques — provides a Chinese version of its website and brochures, staffs Mandarin-speaking concierges, accepts China UnionPay credit cards and promotes itself on Sina Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter.
“They arrive with this endless stream of money without working or earning it. It’s just Monopoly money to them,” says Gotham Dream Cars’ Rob Ferretti of Chinese customers who come to him in search of an exotic ride. They lease cars like the $397,000 Maybach 57S for $2,200 a day. Color-wise, “They love these light blues,” Ferretti says. They’re even particular about the car’s VIN number: They like when it has as many eights in it as possible.
“Eight in Chinese rhymes with the word for prosperity. It’s extremely significant,” explains architect Anthony Poon of Beverly Hills-based Poon Design Inc. The Chinese fixation on the number can verge on the obsessive: One client, whose husband is a major film director, wanted Poon to design her an 8,888-square-foot home, while another Chinese developer working on a luxury community in Pacific Palisades insists that it have eight estates.
“They understand vertical living very well, and they love new construction, so condos are very much in their wheelhouse,” says Beverly Hills realtor (and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star) Mauricio Umansky of his Chinese clients, most of whom are relocating from densely packed urban centers like Shanghai to the comparative expansiveness of Arcadia, an L.A. suburb and Chinese-wealth magnet. If their kids are attending UCLA, parents will think nothing of spending $1 million to $3 million or more on a Westwood pied-a-terre instead of putting their children up in dorms. “The wealth and lack of reference point can be staggering,” marvels Poon, before sharing an anecdote about the family who purchased a 25,000-square-foot home in the Hollywood Hills for their teenage son. On the ultra-high-end market — mansions that cost $50 million and above — Umansky estimates that about 25 percent of sales are made to Chinese, a figure he says is climbing due to ongoing “political and financial uncertainty in China.”
When it comes to design, feng shui — the ancient philosophy of living in harmony with your surroundings — is a top priority among Chinese buyers, with architects scrambling to accommodate its highly specific criteria. According to Poon, a contained foyer is preferable to an open-plan entryway (it helps retain life force, or chi); floor plans must be simple, with no awkward or cramped spaces; furniture should be placed away from doors and be round, not rectangular; sloping backyards are a no-no (again, to avoid chi loss); and, says Umansky, “you don’t want the staircase facing the front door because it’s the money and fortune flowing out.”
Dining, too, comes with its own set of Chinese rules. For a taste of home, Chinese emigres gravitate to authentic dumpling houses like Din Tai Fung — either the original in Arcadia or either of two trendier outposts in Costa Mesa and Glendale. (The latter location, nestled in Rick Caruso’s Americana at Brand, serves the much-coveted black-truffle soup dumplings, a Hong Kong delicacy.) Restaurateur Peter Garland, owner of Porta Via on Canon Drive, notes that uber-wealthy Chinese diners spend freely on high-end wines — especially chardonnay and California cabernet. That extends to any restaurant boasting a stellar wine list, as Beverly Hills mainstays like Cut or Mastro’s regularly draw a deep-pocketed Chinese clientele who’ll think nothing at dropping four-figures on rare vintages and for whom “$20,000 on drinks in one night is a plain night on the town,” says Poon.
The Shanghai stock exchange, which has been creating global stock market convulsions while trimming 39 percent off its value since June, will be closed for the next two days. The Chinese holiday started on Thursday in Beijing with a big parade and show of military might to commemorate the 70th anniversary of V-Day and the defeat of Japan in World War II.
The massive military pageantry and display of weaponry was widely seen as a move by President Xi Jinping to reassert his authoritarian rule in the wake of a sputtering domestic economy, $5 trillion in value shaved off the stock market in a matter of months, and the need to devalue the country’s currency on August 11 in a bid to boost exports.
Tragically, what has received far less attention than melting China stocks is the mass arrests of dissidents, human rights activists, attorneys and religious leaders. More recently, the government has begun to “detain” journalists and finance executives in an apparent attempt to scapegoat them for the stock market’s selloff.
The mass arrests began in July, the same time the China stock market started to crater in earnest. Last evening, the Financial Times had this to say about the disappearance of Li Yifei, a prominent hedge fund chief at Man Group China.
“The whereabouts of Ms Li remained unclear on Wednesday. Her husband, Wang Chaoyong, told the Financial Times that her meetings with financial market authorities in Beijing had concluded, and ‘she will take a break for a while.’ ”
Bloomberg Business had previously reported that Li Yifei was being held by the police as part of a larger roundup of persons they wanted to interview regarding the stock market rout.
The reaction to these authoritarian sweeps has worsened the stock market situation in China. Volume on the Shanghai market, according to the Financial Times, has skidded from $200 billion on the heaviest days in June to just $66 billion this past Tuesday.
On Tuesday afternoon, a Wall Street Journal reporter was interviewed by phone from Beijing on the business channel, CNBC. He said “waves” of arrests were taking place. That interview followed an article in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, which appeared with no byline (perhaps for the safety of the Beijing-based reporter) that shed more light on the arrests:
“Chinese police on the weekend began rounding up the usual suspects, which in this case are journalists, brokers and analysts who have been reporting stock-market news. Naturally, the culprits soon confessed their non-crimes on national television. A reporter for the financial publication Caijing was shown on China Central Television on Monday admitting that he had written an article with ‘great negative impact on the market.’ His offense was reporting that authorities might scale back official share-buying, which is what they soon did. On Sunday China’s Ministry of Public Security announced the arrest of nearly 200 people for spreading rumors about stocks and other incidents.”
Also on Tuesday, David Saperstein, the U.S. Ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, publicly demanded that China release attorney Zhang Kai and religious leaders who had been swept up by the government the very day before Saperstein had been scheduled to meet with them. In an interview with the Associated Press, Saperstein called the state actions “outrageous,” particularly since he had been invited to China to observe religious freedom in the country.
Christianity is growing rapidly in some regions of China and strong religious leaders or movements are seen as a threat to communist party rule. Religious leaders had been protesting the state’s removal of crosses from the tops of churches.
On July 22, the New York Times reported that over 200 human rights lawyers and their associates had been detained. Using the same humiliating tactic as used recently against the financial journalist, The Times reports that some of the “lawyers have been paraded on television making humiliating confessions or portrayed as rabble-rousing thugs.” One of the lawyers who was later released, Zhang Lei, told The Times: “This feels like the biggest attack we’ve ever experienced. It looks like they’re acting by the law, but hardly any of the lawyers who disappeared have been allowed to see their own lawyers. Over 200 brought in for questioning and warnings — I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, is also demanding the release of female prisoners in China, including Wang Yu, who was arrested with her husband in July.
According to a detailed interview that Wang Yu gave the Guardian prior to her detention and disappearance on July 9, people are being arrested, grabbed off the street, sent to mental hospitals or detention centers. She said: ‘You could disappear at any time.’
As a documentary made by the Guardian shows, one of Wang Yu’s cases involved the alleged rape of six underage girls by the headmaster of their school. Wang Yu took the case and organized a protest, handing out literature on child protection laws to pedestrians and people passing by in automobiles.
Parents of the young girls who had originally consented to their legal representation soon withdrew the consent, saying they were being monitored by the government and had been told not to speak to journalists or lawyers. Wang Yu said that cases like this are happening every minute and everywhere in China.
Yesterday, the Mail & Guardian reported that Wang Yu’s whereabouts remain a mystery.
On August 18, Reuters reported that Chinese government officials “had arrested about 15,000 people for crimes that ‘jeopardized Internet security,’ as the government moves to tighten controls on the Internet.”
Against this horrific backdrop, China’s authoritarian President Xi Jinping is slated to visit the United States late this month for a meeting with President Obama and state dinner at the White House. According to the Washington Post’s David Nakamura, a bipartisan group of 10 senators sent President Obama a letter in August calling on him to raise the issue of human rights abuses when Xi visits. The Post published the following excerpt from the letter:
“We expect that China’s recent actions in the East and South China Seas, economic and trade issues, climate change, as well as the recent cyber-attacks, will figure prominently in your discussions. While these issues deserve a full and robust exchange of views, so too do human rights. Under President Xi, there has been an extraordinary assault on rule of law and civil society in China.”
Given the delicacy with which President Obama is likely to broach this subject with Xi, a mass demonstration outside of the White House by human rights activists and lawyers in this country during the White House visit might send a more powerful message. Last year, U.S. consumers and businesses purchased $466.8 billion in goods from China. Should these human rights abuses continue, China should be made aware that consumers in the U.S. know how to check labels for country of origin.
Wealthy, very nervous foreigners yanking their money out of their countries while they still can and pouring it into US residential real estate, paying cash, and driving up home prices – that’s the meme. But it’s more than a meme as political and economic risks in key countries surge.
And home prices are being driven up. The median price of all types of homes in July, as the National Association of Realtors (NAR) sees it, jumped 5.6% from a year ago to $234,000, now 1.7% above the totally crazy June 2006 peak of the prior bubble that blew up in such splendid manner. But you can’t even buy a toolshed for that in trophy cities like San Francisco, where the median house price has reached $1.3 million.
And the role of foreign buyers?
[N]ever have so many Chinese quietly moved so much money out of the country at such a fast pace. Nowhere is that Sino capital flight more prevalent than into the US residential real estate market, where billions are rapidly pouring into the American Dream. From New York to Los Angeles, China’s nouveau riche are going on a housing shopping spree.
So begins RealtyTrac’s current Housing News Report.
“For economic and political reasons, Chinese investors want to protect their wealth by diversifying their assets by buying US real estate,” William Yu, an economist at UCLA Anderson Forecast, told RealtyTrac. “The best place for China’s smart money to invest is the United States.”
In the 12-month period ending March 2015, buyers from China have for the first time ever surpassed Canadians as the top foreign buyers, plowing $28.6 billion into US homes, at an average price of $831,800, according to the NAR. In dollar terms, Chinese buyers accounted for 27.5% of the $104 billion that foreign buyers spent on US homes. It spawned a whole industry of specialized Chinese-American brokers.
Political and economic instability in China along with the anti-corruption drive have been growing concerns for wealthy Chinese, Yu said. “China’s real estate market has peaked already. Their housing bubble has popped.”
So they’re hedging their bets to protect their wealth. And more than their wealth….
“China’s economic elites have one foot out the door, and they are ready to flee en masse if the system really begins to crumble,” explained David Shambaugh Professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
China has capital controls in place to prevent this sort of thing for the average guy. But Yu said there are ways for well-connected Chinese to transfer money to the US, particularly those with business relationships in Hong Kong or Taiwan.
But in the overall and immense US housing market, foreign buying isn’t exactly huge. According to NAR, foreign buyers acquired 209,000 homes over the 12-month period, or 4% of existing home sales. But foreign buyers go for the expensive stuff, and in dollar terms, their purchases amounted to 8% of existing home sales.
In most states, offshore money accounts for only 3% or less of total homes sales. But in four states it’s significant: Florida (21%), California (16%), Texas (8%), and Arizona (5%). And in some trophy cities in these states, the percentages are huge.
“On the residential side, Chinese buyers are looking for very specific things,” Alan Lu, owner of ALTC Realty in Alhambra, California, told RealtyTrac. “They are looking for grand houses with large footprints. And they want lots of upgrades. It’s a must. They also like new homes.”
Among California cities that are hot with Chinese investors: Alhambra, Arcadia, Irvine, Monterey Park, San Francisco, San Marino, and in recent years Orange County, “a once heavily white middle-class suburb that is now 40% Asian and becoming increasingly expensive,” according to RealtyTrac:
Buyers from China, including investors from Hong Kong and Taiwan, are driving up prices and fueling new construction in Southern California areas such as Arcadia, a city of 57,000 people with top-notch schools, a large Chinese immigrant community, and a constellation of Chinese businesses.
For example, at a new Irvine, California development Stonegate, where homes are priced at over $1 million, upwards of 80% of the buyers in the new Arcadia development are overseas Chinese, according to Bloomberg….
Similar dynamics are playing out in New York.
“In Manhattan, we estimate that 15% of all transactions are to foreign buyers,” Jonathan Miller, president of New York real estate appraisal firm Miller Samuel Inc., told RealtyTrac. “Luxury real estate is the new global currency,” he said. “Foreigners are putting their cash into a hard asset.” And they see US real estate as “global safe haven.”
And then there’s Florida, where offshore money accounts for 25% of all real estate sales, twice as high as in California, according to a join report by the Florida Realtors and NAR. In 2014, foreigners gobbled up 26,500 properties for $8 billion. Based on data by the Miami Downtown Development Authority, offshore money powered 90% of residential real estate sales in downtown Miami.
In other places it isn’t quite that high….
“About 70% of our buyers are foreign, but recently there’s definitely been a slowdown in the international buyer market,” explained Lisa Miller, owner of Keller Williams Elite Realty in Aventura, Florida. “We still have a large amount of Latin American buyers, but the Russian buyers have dropped off,” she said, pointing at the fiasco in the Ukraine, the plunging ruble, and the sanctions on Russia.
But there’s a little problem:
“We have an enormous amount of condo inventory in South Florida,” Miller said. “We have 357 condo towers either going up or planned in South Florida. We have a ton of condo inventory.”
Brazilians are among the top buyers in South Florida’s luxury condo market. “Brazilians like the water,” explained Giovanni Freitas, a broker associate with The Keyes Company in Miami. “They love to shop. They want high-end properties. They also buy the most expensive properties. And they love brand-name products.”
Capital flight accounts for 80% of his Brazilian business, he said; Brazilians are fretting over the economy at home and the left-leaning policies of President Dilma Rousseff. Miami Beach is a magnet for them. For instance, according to NBC, they own nearly half of the condos at the W South Beach.
Other nationalities, including Canadian snowbirds, play a role as well. Even the Japanese. They’re increasingly worried about their government’s dedication to resolving its insurmountable debt problem by crushing the yen. Miyuki Fujiwara, an agent with the Keyes Company in Miami, told RealtyTrac: “Many of my Japanese customers buy two or three condo units at a time.”
At least 1,331 companies have halted trading on China’s mainland exchanges, freezing $2.6 trillion of shares, or about 40 percent of the country’s market value, Bloomberg News reports today.
The Shanghai Composite Index has fallen 5.9 percent on Wednesday, July 8th, 2015. It was about 32 percent below the peak of 5,166 it reached on June 12. The unwinding of margin loans is adding fuel to the fire. Individual investors, we all know by now, have used generous margin financing terms to enter the stock market and then build up their portfolios. Less known is that Chinese companies have been doing the exact same thing by using their own corporate stock to secure loans from banks.
This means that they stood to lose a lot when those share prices start trending dramatically lower.
Says Nick Lawson at Deutsche Bank: “Stocks are being suspended by the companies themselves because many have bank loans backed by shares which the banks themselves may want to liquidate, joining the queues of margin sellers.”
Nomura analysts add that: “Some bank loans have been extended with shares of listed companies put up as collateral.”
Numbers here are sketchy, but the team at Nomura estimate that the total amount of such loans may be 500-600 billion yuan ($80 billion – $96 billion), which sounds like a lot but is equivalent to about 1 percent of total loans to Chinese enterprises.
Still, the dynamic now at play is reminiscent of the troubles encountered by U.S. energy firms thanks to the plunging price of oil. Many shale explorers have bank loans tied to the value of their oil and gas reserves. When the price of oil began sinking last year, those credit lines were generally reassessed at a lower value, limiting the amount of credit available to the energy companies and creating further pressure for firms that were already dealing with the fallout from dramatically lower crude prices.
The easiest way to stop a painful cycle of lower share prices leading to curbed corporate credit, further troubles for Chinese companies and then ever-increasing share price pressures is to halt stock trading altogether.
Speaking of which, the latest move from Chinese regulators announced on Wednesday bans corporate executives from selling stock for six months.
This vicious circle described above also explains why China’s central bank has quickly moved to support the market in an effort to limit its impact on the wider economy.
China has long frustrated the hard-landing watchers – or any-landing watchers, for that matter – who’ve diligently put two and two together and rationally expected to be right. They see the supply glut in housing, after years of malinvestment. They see that unoccupied homes are considered a highly leveraged investment that speculators own like others own stocks, whose prices soar forever, as if by state mandate, but that regular people can’t afford to live in.
Hard-landing watchers know this can’t go on forever. Given that housing adds 15% to China’s GDP, when this housing bubble pops, the hard-landing watchers will finally be right.
Home-price inflation in China peaked 13 months ago. Since then, it has been a tough slog.
Earlier this month, the housing news from China’s National Bureau of Statistics gave observers the willies once again. New home prices in January had dropped in 69 of 70 cities by an average of 5.1% from prior year, the largest drop in the new data series going back to 2011, and beating the prior record, December’s year-over-year decline of 4.3%. It was the fifth month in a row of annual home price declines, and the ninth month in a row of monthly declines, the longest series on record.
Even in prime cities like Beijing and Shanghai, home prices dropped at an accelerating rate from December, 3.2% and 4.2% respectively.
For second-hand residential buildings, house prices fell in 67 of 70 cities over the past 12 months, topped by Mudanjiang, where they plunged nearly 14%.
True to form, the stimulus machinery has been cranked up, with the People’s Bank of China cutting reserve requirements for major banks in January, after cutting its interest rate in November. A sign that it thinks the situation is getting urgent.
So how bad is this housing bust – if this is what it turns out to be – compared to the housing bust in the US that was one of the triggers in the Global Financial Crisis?
Thomson Reuters overlaid the home price changes of the US housing bust with those of the Chinese housing bust, and found this:
The US entered recession around two years after house price inflation had peaked. After nine months of recession, Lehman Brothers collapsed. As our chart illustrates, house price inflation in China has slowed from its peak in January 2014 at least as rapidly as it did in the US.
Note the crashing orange line on the left: year-over-year home-price changes in China, out-crashing (declining at a steeper rate than) the home-price changes in the US at the time….
The hard-landing watchers are now wondering whether the Chinese stimulus machinery can actually accomplish anything at all, given that a tsunami of global stimulus – from negative interest rates to big bouts of QE – is already sloshing through the globalized system. And look what it is accomplishing: Stocks and bonds are soaring, commodities – a demand gauge – are crashing, and real economies are languishing.
Besides, they argue, propping up the value of unoccupied and often unfinished investment properties that most Chinese can’t even afford to live in might look good on paper, but it won’t solve the problem. And building even more of these units props up GDP nicely in the short term, and therefore it’s still being done on a massive scale, but it just makes the supply glut worse.
Sooner or later, the hard-landing watchers expect to be right. They know how to add two and two together. And they’re already smelling the sweet scent of being right this time, which, alas, they have smelled many times before.
But it does make you wonder what the China housing crash might trigger when it blooms into full maturity, considering the US housing crash helped trigger of the Global Financial Crisis. It might be a hard landing for more than just China. And ironically, it might occur during, despite, or because of the greatest stimulus wave the world has ever seen.
Stocks, of course, have been oblivious to all this and have been on a tear, not only in China, but just about everywhere except Greece. But what happens to highly valued stock markets when they collide with a recession? They crash.
Last week I had a fascinating conversation with Neile Wolfe, of Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC., about high equity valuations and what happens when they collide with a recession.
Here is my monthly update that shows the average of the four valuation indicators: Robert Shiller’s cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio (CAPE), Ed Easterling’s Crestmont P/E, James Tobin’s Q Ratio, and my own monthly regression analysis of the S&P 500:
Based on the underlying data in the chart above, Neile made some cogent observations about the historical relationships between equity valuations, recessions and market prices:
- High valuations lead to large stock market declines during recessions.
- During secular bull markets, modest overvaluation does not produce large stock market declines.
- During secular bear markets, modest overvaluation still produces large stock market declines.
Here is a table that highlights some of the key points. The rows are sorted by the valuation column.
Beginning with the market peak before the epic Crash of 1929, there have been fourteen recessions as defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). The table above l ists the recessions, the recession lengths, the valuation (as documented in the chart illustration above), the peak-to-trough changes in market price and GDP. The market price is based on the S&P Composite, an academic splicing of the S&P 500, which dates from 1957 and the S&P 90 for the earlier years (more on that splice here).
I’ve included a row for our current valuation, through the end of January, to assist us in making an assessment of potential risk of a near-term recession. The valuation that preceded the Tech Bubble tops the list and was associated with a 49.1% decline in the S&P 500. The largest decline, of course, was associated with the 43-month recession that began in 1929.
Note: Our current market valuation puts us between the two.
Here’s an interesting calculation not included in the table: Of the nine market declines associated with recessions that started with valuations above the mean, the average decline was -42.8%. Of the four declines that began with valuations below the mean, the average was -19.9% (and that doesn’t factor in the 1945 outlier recession associated with a market gain).
What are the Implications of Overvaluation for Portfolio Management?
Neile and I discussed his thoughts on the data in this table with respect to portfolio management. I came away with some key implications:
- The S&P 500 is likely to decline severely during the next recession, and future index returns over the next 7 to 10 years are likely to be low.
- Given this scenario, over the next 7 to 10 years a buy and hold strategy may not meet the return assumptions that many investors have for their portfolio.
- Asset allocation in general and tactical asset allocation specifically are going to be THE important determinant of portfolio return during this time frame. Just buying and holding the S&P 500 is likely be disappointing.
- Some market commentators argue that high long-term valuations (e.g., Shiller’s CAPE) no longer matter because accounting standards have changed and the stock market is still going up. However, the impact of elevated valuations — when it really matters — is expressed when the business cycle peaks and the next recession rolls around. Elevated valuations do not take a toll on portfolios so long as the economy is in expansion.
How Long Can Periods of Overvaluations Last?
Equity markets can stay at lofty valuation levels for a very long time. Consider the chart posted above. There are 1369 months in the series with only 58 months of valuations more than two Standard Deviations (STD) above the mean. They are:
- September 1929 (i.e., only one month above 2 STDs prior to the Crash of 1929)
- Fifty-one months during the Tech bubble (that’s over FOUR YEARS)
- Six of the last seven months have been above 2 STDs
How we could fall into another housing crisis before we’ve fully pulled out of the 2008 one.
When it comes to housing, sometimes it seems we never learn. Just when America appeared to be recovering from the last housing crisis—the trigger, in many ways, for 2008’s grand financial meltdown and the beginning of a three-year recession—another one may be looming on the horizon.
There are at several big red flags.
For one, the housing market never truly recovered from the recession. Trulia Chief Economist Jed Kolko points out that, while the third quarter of 2014 saw improvement in a number of housing key barometers, none have returned to normal, pre-recession levels. Existing home sales are now 80 percent of the way back to normal, while home prices are stuck at 75 percent back, remaining undervalued by 3.4 percent. More troubling, new construction is less than halfway (49 percent) back to normal. Kolko also notes that the fundamental building blocks of the economy, including employment levels, income and household formation, have also been slow to improve. “In this recovery, jobs and housing can’t get what they need from each other,” he writes.
Americans are spending more than 33 percent of their income on housing.
Second, Americans continue to overspend on housing. Even as the economy drags itself out of its recession, a spate of reports show that families are having a harder and harder time paying for housing. Part of the problem is that Americans continue to want more space in bigger homes, and not just in the suburbs but in urban areas, as well. Americans more than 33 percent of their income on housing in 2013, up nearly 13 percent from two decades ago, according to newly released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The graph below plots the trend by age.
Over-spending on housing is far worse in some places than others; the housing market and its recovery remain highly uneven. Another BLS report released last month showed that households in Washington, D.C., spent nearly twice as much on housing ($17,603) as those in Cleveland, Ohio ($9,061). The chart below, from the BLS report, shows average annual expenses on housing related items:
The result, of course, is that more and more American households, especially middle- and working-class people, are having a harder time affording housing. This is particularly the case in reviving urban centers, as more affluent, highly educated and creative-class workers snap up the best spaces, particularly those along convenient transit, pushing the service and working class further out.
Last but certainly not least, the rate of home ownership continues to fall, and dramatically. Home ownership has reached its lowest level in two decades—64.4 percent (as of the third quarter of 2014). Here’s the data, from the U.S. Census Bureau:
Home ownership currently hovers from the mid-50 to low-60 percent range in some of the most highly productive and innovative metros in this country—places like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. This range seems “to provide the flexibility of rental and ownership options required for a fast-paced, rapidly changing knowledge economy. Widespread home ownership is no longer the key to a thriving economy,” I’ve written.
What we are going through is much more than a generational shift or simple lifestyle change. It’s a deep economic shift—I’ve called it the Great Reset. It entails a shift away from the economic system, population patterns and geographic layout of the old suburban growth model, which was deeply connected to old industrial economy, toward a new kind of denser, more urban growth more in line with today’s knowledge economy. We remain in the early stages of this reset. If history is any guide, the complete shift will take a generation or so.
It’s time to impose stricter underwriting standards and encourage the dense, mixed-use, more flexible housing options that the knowledge economy requires.
The upshot, as the Nobel Prize winner Edmund Phelps has written, is that it is time for Americans to get over their house passion. The new knowledge economy requires we spend less on housing and cars, and more on education, human capital and innovation—exactly those inputs that fuel the new economic and social system.
But we’re not moving in that direction; in fact, we appear to be going the other way. This past weekend, Peter J. Wallison pointed out in a New York Times op-ed that federal regulators moved back off tougher mortgage-underwriting standards brought on by 2010’s Dodd-Frank Act and instead relaxed them. Regulators are hoping to encourage more home ownership, but they’re essentially recreating the conditions that led to 2008’s crash.
Wallison notes that this amounts to “underwriting the next housing crisis.” He’s right: It’s time to impose stricter underwriting standards and encourage the dense, mixed-use, more flexible housing options that the knowledge economy requires.
During the depression and after World War II, this country’s leaders pioneered a series of purposeful and ultimately game-changing polices that set in motion the old suburban growth model, helping propel the industrial economy and creating a middle class of workers and owners. Now that our economy has changed again, we need to do the same for the denser urban growth model, creating more flexible housing system that can help bolster today’s economy.
Dream housing for new economy workers?
The dramatic resurgence of the oil industry over the past few years has been a notable factor in the national economic recovery. Production levels have reached totals not seen since the late 1980s and continue to increase, and rig counts are in the 1,900 range. While prices have dipped recently, it will take more than that to markedly slow the level of activity. Cycles are inevitable, but activity is forecast to remain at relatively high levels.
An outgrowth of oil and gas activity strength is a need for additional workers. At the same time, the industry workforce is aging, and shortages are likely to emerge in key fields ranging from petroleum engineers to experienced drilling crews. I was recently asked to comment on the topic at a gathering of energy workforce professionals. Because the industry is so important to many parts of Texas, it’s an issue with relevance to future prosperity.
Although direct employment in the energy industry is a small percentage of total jobs in the state, the work is often well paying. Moreover, the ripple effects through the economy of this high value-added industry are large, especially in areas which have a substantial concentration of support services.
Employment in oil and gas extraction has expanded rapidly, up from 119,800 in January 2004 to 213,500 in September 2014. Strong demand for key occupations is evidenced by the high salaries; for example, median pay was $130,280 for petroleum engineers in 2012 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Due to expansion in the industry alone, the BLS estimates employment growth of 39 percent through 2022 for petroleum engineers, which comprised 11 percent of total employment in oil and gas extraction in 2012. Other key categories (such as geoscientists, wellhead pumpers, and roustabouts) are also expected to see employment gains exceeding 15 percent. In high-activity regions, shortages are emerging in secondary fields such as welders, electricians, and truck drivers.
The fact that the industry workforce is aging is widely recognized. The cyclical nature of the energy industry contributes to uneven entry into fields such as petroleum engineering and others which support oil and gas activity. For example, the current surge has pushed up wages, and enrollment in related fields has increased sharply. Past downturns, however, led to relatively low enrollments, and therefore relatively lower numbers of workers in some age cohorts. The loss of the large baby boom generation of experienced workers to retirement will affect all industries. This problem is compounded in the energy sector because of the long stagnation of the industry in the 1980s and 1990s resulting in a generation of workers with little incentive to enter the industry. As a result, the projected need for workers due to replacement is particularly high for key fields.
The BLS estimates that 9,800 petroleum engineers (25.5 percent of the total) working in 2012 will need to be replaced by 2022 because they retire or permanently leave the field. Replacement rates are also projected to be high for other crucial occupations including petroleum pump system operators, refinery operators, and gaugers (37.1 percent); derrick, rotary drill, and service unit operators, oil, gas, and mining (40.4 percent).
Putting together the needs from industry expansion and replacement, most critical occupations will require new workers equal to 40 percent or more of the current employment levels. The total need for petroleum engineers is estimated to equal approximately 64.5 percent of the current workforce. Clearly, it will be a major challenge to deal with this rapid turnover.
Potential solutions which have been attempted or discussed present problems, and it will require cooperative efforts between the industry and higher education and training institutions to adequately deal with future workforce shortages. Universities have had problems filling open teaching positions, because private-sector jobs are more lucrative for qualified candidates. Given budget constraints and other considerations, it is not feasible for universities to compete on the basis of salary. Without additional teaching and research staff, it will be difficult to continue to expand enrollment while maintaining education quality. At the same time, high-paying jobs are enticing students into the workforce, and fewer are entering doctoral programs.
Another option which has been suggested is for engineers who are experienced in the workplace to spend some of their time teaching. However, busy companies are naturally resistant to allowing employees to take time away from their regular duties. Innovative training and associate degree and certification programs blending classroom and hands-on experience show promise for helping deal with current and potential shortages in support occupations. Such programs can prepare students for well-paying technical jobs in the industry. Encouraging experienced professionals to work past retirement, using flexible hours and locations to appeal to Millennials, and other innovative approaches must be part of the mix, as well as encouraging the entry of females into the field (only 20 percent of the current workforce is female, but over 40 percent of the new entries).
Industry observers have long been aware of the coming “changing of the guard” in the oil and gas business. We are now approaching the crucial time period for ensuring the availability of the workers needed to fill future jobs. Cooperative efforts between the industry and higher education/training institutions will likely be required, and it’s time to act.
The practice of multigenerational housing has been on the rise the past few years, and now experts are saying that it is adding value to properties.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, several couples across the country are quoted saying that instead of downsizing to a new home, they are choosing to live with their adult children.
This is what many families across the country are doing for both a “peace of mind” and for “higher property values.”
“For both domestic and foreign buyers, the hottest amenity in real estate these days is an in-law unit, an apartment carved out of an existing home or a stand-alone dwelling built on the homeowners’ property,” writes Katy McLaughlin of the WSJ. “While the adult children get the peace of mind of having mom and dad nearby, real-estate agents say the in-law accommodations are adding value to their homes.”
And how much more are these homes worth? In an analysis by Zillow, the homes with this type of living accommodations were priced about 60 percent higher than regular single-family homes.
Local builders are noticing the trend, too. Horsham based Toll Brothers are building more communities that include both large, single-family homes and smaller homes for empty nesters, the company’s chief marketing officer, Kira Sterling, told the WSJ.
- The presumption that North American shale oil production is the “swing” component of global supply may be incorrect.
- Supply cutbacks from other sources may come first.
- Growth momentum in North American unconventional oil production will likely carry on into 2015, with little impact from lower oil prices on the next two quarters’ volumes.
- The current oil price does not represent a structural “economic floor” for North American unconventional oil production.
The recent pull back in crude oil prices is often portrayed as being a consequence of the rapid growth of North American shale oil production.
The thesis is often further extrapolated to suggest that a major slowdown in North American unconventional oil production growth, induced by the oil price decline, will be the corrective mechanism that will bring oil supply and demand back in equilibrium (given that OPEC’s cost to produce is low).
Both views would be, in my opinion, overly simplistic interpretations of the global supply/demand dynamics and are not supported by historical statistical data.
Oil Price – The Economic Signal Is Both Loud and Clear
The current oil price correction is, arguably, the most pronounced since the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. The following chart illustrates very vividly that the price of the OPEC Basket (which represents waterborne grades of oil) has moved far outside the “stability band” that seems to have worked well for both consumers and producers over the past four years. (It is important, in my opinion, to measure historical prices in “today’s dollars.”)
Given the sheer magnitude of the recent oil price move, the economic signal to the world’s largest oil suppliers is, arguably, quite powerful already. A case can be made that it goes beyond what could be interpreted as “ordinary volatility,” giving the hope that the current price level may be sufficient to induce some supply response from the largest producers – in the event a supply cut back is indeed needed to eliminate a transitory supply/demand imbalance.
Are The U.S. Oil Shales The Culprit?
It is debatable, in my opinion, if the continued growth of the U.S. onshore oil production can be identified as the primary cause of the current correction in the oil price. Most likely, North American shale oil is just one of several powerful factors, on both supply and demand sides, that came together to cause the price decline.
The history of oil production increases from North America in the past three years shows that the OPEC Basket price remained within the fairly tight band, as highlighted on the graph above, during 2012-2013, the period when such increases were the largest. Global oil prices “broke down” in September of 2014, when North American oil production was growing at a lower rate than in 2012-2013.
If the supply growth from North America was indeed the primary “disruptive” factor causing the imbalance, one would expect the impact on oil prices to become visible at the time when incremental volumes from North America were the highest, i.e., in 2012-2013.
Should One Expect A Strong Slowdown in North American Oil Production Growth?
There is no question that the sharp pullback in the price of oil will impact operating margins and cash flows of North American shale oil producers. However, a major slowdown in North American unconventional oil production growth is a lot less obvious.
First, the oil price correction being seen by North American shale oil producers is less pronounced than the oil price correction experienced by OPEC exporters. It is sufficient to look at the WTI historical price graph below (which is also presented in “today’s dollars”) to realize that the current WTI price decline is not dissimilar to those seen in 2012 and 2013 and therefore represents a signal of lesser magnitude than the one sent to international exporters (the OPEC Basket price).
Furthermore, among all the sources of global oil supply, North American oil shales are the least established category. Their cost structure is evolving rapidly. Given the strong productivity gains in North American shale oil plays, what was a below-breakeven price just two-three years ago, may have become a price stimulating growth going into 2015.
Therefore, the signal sent by the recent oil price decline may not be punitive enough for North American shale oil producers and may not be able to starve the industry of external capital.
Most importantly, review of historical operating statistics provides an indication that the previous similar WTI price corrections – seen in 2012 and 2013 – did not result in meaningful slowdowns in the North American shale oil production.
The following graph shows the trajectory of oil production in the Bakken play. From this graph, it is difficult to discern any significant impact from the 2012 and 2013 WTI price corrections on the play’s aggregate production volumes. While a positive correlation between these two price corrections and the pace of production growth in the Bakken exists, there are other factors – such as takeaway capacity availability and local differentials – that appear to have played a greater role. I should also note that the impact of the lower oil prices on production volumes was not visible in the production growth rate for more than half a year after the onset of the correction.
Leading U.S. Independents Will Likely Continue to Grow Production At A Rapid Pace
Production growth track record by several leading shale oil players suggests that U.S. shale oil production will likely remain strong even in the $80 per barrel WTI price environment. Several examples provide an illustration.
Continental Resources (NYSE:CLR) grew its Bakken production volumes at a 58% CAGR over the past three years (slide below). By looking at the company’s historical production, it would be difficult to identify any impact from the 2012 and 2013 oil price corrections on the company’s production growth rate. Continental just announced a reduction to its capital budget in 2015 in response to lower oil prices, to $4.6 billion from $5.2 billion planned initially. The company still expects to grow its total production in 2015 by 23%-29% year-on-year.
EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG) expects that its largest core plays (Eagle Ford, Bakken and Delaware Basin) will generate after-tax rates of return in excess of 100% in 2015 at $80 per barrel wellhead price. EOG went further to suggest that these plays may remain economically viable (10% well-level returns) at oil prices as low as $40 per barrel. The company expects to continue to grow its oil production at a double-digit rate in 2015 while spending within its cash flow. EOG achieved ~40% oil production growth in 2012-2013 and expects 31% growth for 2014. While a slowdown is visible, it is important to take into consideration that EOG’s oil production base has increased dramatically in the past three years and requires significant capital just to be maintained flat. Again, one would not notice much impact from prior years’ oil price corrections on EOG’s production growth trajectory.
Anadarko Petroleum’s (NYSE:APC) U.S. onshore oil production growth story is similar. Anadarko increased its U.S. crude oil and NLS production from 100,000 barrels per day in 2010 to close to almost 300,000 barrels per day expected in Q4 2014. Anadarko has not yet provided growth guidance for 2015, but indicated that the company’s exploration and development strategies remain intact. While recognizing a very steep decline in the oil price, Anadarko stated that it wants “to watch this environment a little longer” before reaching conclusions with regard to the impact on its future spending plans.
Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN) posted company-wide oil production of 216,000 barrels per day in Q3 2014. While Devon will provide detailed production and capital guidance at a later date, the company has indicated that it sees 20% to 25% oil production growth and mid‐single digit top‐line growth “on a retained‐property basis” (pro forma for divestitures) in 2015.
The list can continue on.
Based on preliminary 2015 growth indications from large shale oil operators, North American oil production growth in 2015 will likely remain strong, barring further strong decline in the price of oil.
No slowdown effect from lower oil prices will be seen for at least six months from the time operators received the “price signal” (August-September 2014).
Given the effects of the technical learning curve in oil shales and continuously improving drilling economics, the current ~$77 per barrel WTI price is unlikely to be sufficient to eliminate North American unconventional production growth.
North American shale oil production remains a very small and highly fragmented component of the global oil supply.
The global oil “central bank” (Saudi Arabia and its close allies in OPEC) remain best positioned to quickly re-instate stability of oil price in the event further significant decline occurred.
Romania draws foreign buyers looking for historic mansions and modern villas in resort areas
Count Dracula, the central character of Irish author Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel, eagerly left for England in search of new blood, in a story that popularized the Romanian region of Transylvania. Today, house hunters are invited to make the reverse journey now that Romania is a member of the European Union and that restrictions were lifted this year on purchases of local real estate by the bloc’s nationals.
Britain’s Prince Charles, for one, unwinds every year in Zalanpatak. The mud road leading to the remote village stretches for miles, with the clanging of cow bells accompanying tourists making the trek.
Elsewhere in the world, the heir to the British throne occupies great castles and sprawling mansions. In rural Romania, he resides in a small old cottage. His involvement, since 2006, in the restoration of a few local farmhouses has given the hamlet global popularity and added a sense of excitement about Transylvania living.
A living room in Bran Castle, a Transylvania property marketed as Count Dracula’s castle. The home is for sale, initially listed for $78 million.
Transylvania, with a population of more than seven million in the central part of Romania, has a number of high-end homes on the market. And, yes, one is a castle. Bran Castle in Brasov county is marketed as the home of Count Dracula. In reality it was a residence of Romanian Queen Marie in the early 20th century. In 2007, the home was available for $78 million. The sellers are no longer listing a price, said Mark A. Meyer, of Herzfeld and Rubin, the New York attorneys representing the queen’s descendants, but will entertain offers.
Foreign buyers had been focused on Bucharest, where there was speculative buying of apartments after the country joined the EU in 2007. But Transylvania has been luring house hunters away from the capital city.
A guesthouse on the property in Zalanpatak, Transylvania, that is owned by Britain’s Prince Charles. His presence has boosted interest in Romanian real estate.
Transylvania means “the land beyond the forest” and the region is famous for its scenic mountain routes. Brasov, an elegant mountain resort and the closest Transylvanian city to the capital, has many big villas built in the 19th century by wealthy merchants. A 10-room townhouse from that period in the historic city center is listed for $2.7 million. For $500,000, a 2,200-square-foot apartment offers rooftop views of the city and the surrounding mountains.
A seven-bedroom mansion in the nearby village of Halchiu, close to popular skiing resorts, is on the market for $2.4 million. The modern villa features two huge living rooms, a swimming pool, a tennis court and spectacular views of the Carpathian Mountains.
The village, founded by Saxons in the 12th century, has rows of historic houses across the street. Four such buildings were demolished to make way for the mansion, completed in 2010.
A $2.4 million mansion is for sale in Halchiu village.
“Rather than invest a million or more to buy an existing house, the wealthy prefer to build on their own because construction materials and work is cheaper,” said Raluca Plavita, senior consultant at real-estate firm DTZ Echinox in Bucharest.
Non-EU nationals can’t purchase land outright—although they may use locally registered companies to circumvent the restriction—but they can buy buildings freely, said Razvan Popa, real-estate partner at law firm Kinstellar. High-end properties are out of reach for many Romanians, who make an average of $500 in monthly take-home pay.
The country saw a rapid inflation of real-estate prices before 2008, on prospects of Romania’s entry to the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as well as aggressive lending by banks. Values then fell by half during the global financial crisis.
The economy is stronger now, with the International Monetary Fund estimating 2.4% growth this year. But the country is still among Europe’s poorest. Its isolation during the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu gave it a bad image.
The interior of the seven-bedroom Halchiu mansion, which was built on the site of four traditional Saxon homes.
“Interest in Romania isn’t comparable with Prague or Budapest where some may be looking to buy a small apartment with a view of Charles Bridge or the Danube,” said Mr. Popa, the real-estate lawyer.
The international publicity around Prince Charles’s properties offers a counterbalance to some of the negative press Romania has received in Western Europe, which is worried about well-educated Romanians moving to other countries to provide inexpensive labor.
The Zalanpatak property is looked after by Tibor Kalnoky, a descendant of a Hungarian aristocratic family. The 47-year-old studied in Germany to be a veterinarian and, after reclaiming family assets in Romania, has managed the prince’s property and has hosted him during his visits.
These occasional visits are enough to attract scores of tourists throughout the year to the formerly obscure village in a Transylvanian valley. The fact that few street signs lead there, that the property offers no Internet or TV and that cellphone signals are absent for miles, seems only to add to the mystery of the place.
Kenny DeLaGarza, a building inspector for the city of Midland, at a 600-home Betenbough development.
Single-family home construction is expected to increase 26 percent in 2015, the National Association of Home Builders reported Oct. 31. NAHB expects single-family production to total 802,000 units next year and reach 1.1 million by 2016.
Economists participating in the NAHB’s 2014 Fall Construction Forecast Webinar said that a growing economy, increased household formation, low interest rates and pent-up demand should help drive the market next year. They also said they expect continued growth in multifamily starts given the nation’s rental demand.
The NAHB called the 2000-03 period a benchmark for normal housing activity; during those years, single-family production averaged 1.3 million units a year. The organization said it expects single-family starts to be at 90 percent of normal by the fourth quarter 2016.
NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe said multifamily starts currently are at normal production levels and are projected to increase 15 percent to 365,000 by the end of the year and hold steady into next year.
The NAHB Remodeling Market Index also showed increased activity, although it’s expected to be down 3.4 percent compared to last year because of sluggish activity in the first quarter 2014. Remodeling activity will continue to increase gradually in 2015 and 2016.
Moody’s Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi told the NAHB that he expects an undersupply of housing given increasing job growth. Currently, the nation’s supply stands at just over 1 million units annually, well below what’s considered normal; in a normal year, there should be demand for 1.7 million units.
Zandi noted that increasing housing stock by 700,000 units should help meet demand and create 2.1 million jobs. He also noted that things should level off by the end of 2017, when mortgage rates probably will rise to around 6 percent.
“The housing market will be fine because of better employment, higher wages and solid economic growth, which will trump the effect of higher mortgage rates,” Zandi told the NAHB.
Robert Denk, NAHB assistant vice president for forecasting and analysis, said that he expects housing recovery to vary by state and region, noting that states with higher levels of payroll employment or labor market recovery are associated with healthier housing markets
States with the healthiest job growth include Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Texas and Wyoming, as well as farm belt states like Iowa.
Meanwhile Alabama, Arizona, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and Rhode Island continue to have weaker markets.
Rurick Jutting, a Cambridge University graduate, has been named as the suspect of the double murder
by Tyler Durden
The excesses of 1980s New York investment banking as captured best (and with just a dose of hyperbole) by Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho may be long gone in the US, but they certainly are alive and well in other banking meccas, such as the one place where every financier wants to work these days (thanks to the Chinese government making it rain credit): Hong Kong. It is here that yesterday a 29-year-old British banker, Rurik Jutting, a Cambridge University grad and current Bank of America Merrill Lynch, former Barclays employee, was arrested in connection with the grisly murder of two prostitutes. One of the two victims had been hidden in a suitcase on a balcony, while the other, a foreign woman of between 25 and 30, was found lying inside the apartment with wounds to her neck and buttocks, the police said in a statement.
A spokesman for Bank of America Merrill Lynch told Reuters on Sunday that the U.S. bank had, until recently, an employee bearing the same name as a man Hong Kong media have described as the chief suspect in the double murder case. Bank of America Merrill Lynch would not give more details nor clarify when the person had left the bank.
Britain’s Foreign Office in London said on Saturday a British national had been arrested in Hong Kong, without specifying the nature of any suspected crime.
The details of the crime are straight out of American Psycho 2: the Hong Kong Sequel. One of the murdered women was aged between 25 and 30 and had cut wounds to her neck and buttock, according to a police statement. The second woman’s body, also with neck injuries, was discovered in a suitcase on the apartment’s balcony, the police said. A knife was seized at the scene.
According to the WSJ, the arrested suspect, who called police to the apartment in the early hours of Nov. 1, was until recently a Hong Kong-based employee of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Filings with Hong Kong’s securities regulator show that the suspect was an employee with the bank as recently as Oct. 31.The man had called police in the early hours of Saturday and asked them to investigate the case, police said.
Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper said the suspect had taken about 2,000 photographs and some video footage of the victims after the killings including close-ups of their wounds. Local media said the two women were prostitutes.
The apartment where the bodies were found is on the 31st floor in a building popular with financial professionals, where average rents are about HK$30,000 (nearly $4,000) a month.
According to the Telegraph the suspect, who had previously worked at Barclays from 2008 until 2010 before moving to BofA, and specifically its Hong Kong office in July last year, had apparently vanished from his workplace a week ago. It has also been reported that he resigned from his post days before news of the murders emerged.
And as usual in situations like these, the UK’s Daily Mail has the granular details. It reports that the British banker arrested on suspicion of a double murder in Hong Kong has been identified as 29-year-old Rurik Jutting.
Mr Jutting, who attended Cambridge University, is being held by police after the bodies of two prostitutes were discovered in his up-market apartment in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Officers found the women, thought to be a 25-year-old from Indonesia and a 30-year-old from the Philippines, after Mr Jutting allegedly called police to the address, which is located near the city’s red light district. The naked body of the Filipina victim, who had suffered a series of knife wounds, was found inside the 31st-floor apartment in J Residence – a development of exclusive properties in the city’s Wan Chai district that are popular with young expatriate executives.
The second woman was reportedly discovered naked and partially decapitated in a suitcase on the balcony of the apartment. She is believed to have been tied up and to have been left there for around a week.
Sex toys and cocaine were also reportedly found, along with a knife which was seized by officers.
Mr Jutting’s phone is today being examined by police in a bid to identify possible further victims, according to the South China Morning Post.
It is understood that photos of the woman who was found in the suitcase, apparently taken after she died, were among roughly 2,000 that officers found on the device.
Mr Jutting attended Winchester College, an independent boys school in Hampshire, before continuing his studies in history and law at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he became secretary of the history society.
He appears to have worked at Barclays in London between 2008 and 2010, when he took a job with Bank of America Merrill Lynch. He was moved to the bank’s Hong Kong office in July last year.
A spokesman for Bank of America Merrill Lynch confirmed that it had previously employed a man by the same name but would not give more details nor clarify when the person had left the bank.
CCTV footage from the apartment block, located near Hong Kong’s red light district, showed the banker and the Filipina woman returning to the 31st floor shortly after midnight local time yesterday.
He allegedly called police to his home at 3.42am, shortly after the woman he was seen with is believed to have been killed.
She was found with two wounds to her neck and her throat had been slashed. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
The body on the balcony, wrapped in a carpet and inside a black suitcase, which measured about three feet by 18 inches, was not found by police until eight hours later.
A police source quoted by the South China Morning Post said: ‘She was nearly decapitated and her hands and legs were bound with ropes. ‘She was naked and wrapped in a towel before being stuffed into the suitcase. Her passport was found at the scene.’
Wan Chai, the district where the apartment is located, is known for its bustling nightclub scene of ‘girly bars,’ popular with expatriate men and staffed by sex workers from South East Asia. Police have today been contacting nearby bars in an attempt to find out more about the background of the two murdered women.
One resident in the 40-storey block, where most of the residents are expatriates, said he had noticed an unusual smell in recent days. He told the South China Morning Post that there had been ‘a stink in the building like a dead animal’.
And just like that, the worst excesses of the “peak banking” days from 1980, when sad scenes like these were a frequent occurrence, are back.
Government workers remove the body of a woman who was found dead at a flat in Hong Kong’s Wan chai district in the early hours of this morning. A British man was been arrested in connection with the murders.
A second victim was found stuffed inside a suitcase on the balcony of the residential flat in Hong Kong
The 40-storey J Residence is reportedly a high-end development favored by junior expatriate bankers
Bank Of America Psycho Killer Was Busy Helping Hedge Funds Avoid Taxes During His Business Hours
The most bizarre story of the weekend was that of Bank of America’s 29-year-old banker Rurik Jutting, who shortly after allegedly killing two prostitutes (and stuffing one in a suitcase), called the cops on himself and effectively admitted to the crime having left a quite clear autoreply email message, namely “For urgent inquiries, or indeed any inquiries, please contact someone who is not an insane psychopath. For escalation please contact God, though suspect the devil will have custody. [Last line only really worked if I had followed through..]”
But while his attempt to imitate Patrick Bateman did not go unnoticed, even if it will be promptly forgotten until the next grotesquely insane banker shocks the world for another 15 minutes, the question that has remained unanswered is what did young Master Jutting do when not chopping women up.
The answer, as the WSJ has revealed, is just as unsavory: “he had been part of a Bank of America team that specialized in tax-minimization trades that are under scrutiny from prosecutors, regulators, tax collectors and the bank’s own compliance department, according to people familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.”
Basically, when not acting as a homicidal psychopath, Jutting was facilitating full-blown tax evasion, just the activity that every developed, and thus broke, government around the globe is desperately cracking down on, and why every single Swiss bank is non-grata in the US and may be arrested immediately upon arrival on US soil.
Mr. Jutting, a U.K. native and a competitive poker player, worked in Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Structured Equity Finance and Trading group, first in London and then in Hong Kong, according to these people and regulatory filings. Mr. Jutting resigned from the bank sometime before Oct. 27, which police say was the date of the first murder, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The trading group, known as SEFT, employs about three dozen people globally, one of these people said. It helps hedge funds and other clients manage their stock portfolios, often through the use of derivatives, according to the people and internal bank documents.
Mr. Jutting joined Bank of America in 2010 and worked three years in its London office, the bank’s hub for dividend-arbitrage trades, the people familiar with the matter say. He moved to Bank of America’s Hong Kong office in July 2013.
Ironic, because it was just this summer that a Congressional panel headed by Carl Levin was tearing foreign banks Deutsche Bank and Barclays a new one for providing structures such as MAPS and COLT, which did precisely this: give clients a derivative-based means of avoiding taxation (as described in “How Rentec Made More Than 34 Billion In Profits Since 1998 “Fictional Derivatives“).
As it turns out not only did a US-based bank – Bank of America – have an entire group dedicated to precisely the same type of hedge fund, and other Ultra High Net Worth, clients tax evasion advice, but it also housed a homicidal psychopath.
Perhaps if instead Levin had been grandstanding and seeking to punish foreign banks, he had cracked down on everyone who was providing this service, Jutting’s group would have been disbanded long ago, and two innocent lives could have been saved, instead allowing the alleged cocaine-snorting murderer to engage in far more wholesome, banker-approrpriate activities:
During his time in Asia, Mr. Jutting’s pastimes apparently included gambling. In a Sept. 14 Facebook post, he boasted of winning thousands of dollars playing poker at a tournament in the Philippines. He signed off the post: “God I love Manila.” The comment drew eight “likes.”
Alas one will never know “what if.”
But we are certain that with none other than America’s most prominent bank, the one carrying its name, has now been busted for aiding and abetting hedge fund tax evasion around the globe, it will get the same treatment as evil foreign banks Barclays and Deutsche Bank, right Carl Levin?
When it comes to Internet speeds, the U.S. lags behind much of the developed world.
That’s one of the conclusions from a new report by the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, which looked at the cost and speed of Internet access in two dozen cities around the world.
Clocking in at the top of the list was Seoul, South Korea, where Internet users can get ultra-fast connections of roughly 1000 megabits per second for just $30 a month. The same speeds can be found in Hong Kong and Tokyo for $37 and $39 per month, respectively.
For comparison’s sake, the average U.S. connection speed stood at 9.8 megabits per second as of late last year, according to Akamai Technologies.
Residents of New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. can get 500-megabit connections thanks to Verizon, though they come at a cost of $300 a month.
There are a few cities in the U.S. where you can find 1000-megabit connections. Chattanooga, Tenn., and Lafayette, La. have community-owned fiber networks, and Google has deployed a fiber network in Kansas City. High-speed Internet users in Chattanooga and Kansas City pay $70, while in Lafayette, it’s $110.
The problem with fiber networks is that they’re hugely expensive to install and maintain, requiring operators to lay new wiring underground and link it to individual homes. Many smaller countries with higher population density have faster average speeds than the United States.
“Especially in the U.S., many of the improved plans are at the higher speed tiers, which generally are the most expensive plans available,” the report says. “The lower speed packages—which are often more affordable for the average consumer—have not seen as much of an improvement.”
Google is exploring plans to bring high-speed fiber networks to a handful of other cities, and AT&T has also built them out in a few places, but it will be a long time before 1000-megabit speeds are an option for most Americans.
by Tyler Durden
We have a very serious problem with Hillary. I was asked years ago to review Hillary’s Commodity Trading to explain what went on. Effectively, they did trades and simply put winners in her account and the losers in her lawyer’s. This way she gets money that is laundered through the markets – something that would get her 25 years today. People forget, but Hillary was really President – not Bill. Just 4 days after taking office, Hillary was given the authority to start a task force for healthcare reform. The problem was, her vision was unbelievable. The costs upon business were oppressive so much so that not even the Democrats could support her. When asked how was a small business mom and pop going to pay for healthcare she said “if they could not afford it they should not be in business.” From that moment on, my respect for her collapsed. She revealed herself as a real Marxist. Now, that she can taste the power of Washington, and I dare say she will not be a yes person as Obama and Bush seem to be, therein lies the real danger. Giving her the power of dictator, which is the power of executive orders, I think I have to leave the USA just to be safe. Hillary has stated when she ran the White House before regarding her idea of healthcare, “We can’t afford to have that money go to the private sector. The money has to go to the federal government because the federal government will spend that money better than the private sector will spend it.” When has that ever happened?
Hillary believes in government at the expense of the people. I do not say this lightly, because here she goes again. She just appeared at a Boston rally for Democrat gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley on Friday. She was off the hook and amazingly told the crowd gathered at the Park Plaza Hotel not to listen to anybody who says that “businesses create jobs.” “Don’t let anybody tell you it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs,” Clinton said. “You know that old theory, ‘trickle-down economics,’” she continued. “That has been tried, that has failed. It has failed rather spectacularly.” “You know, one of the things my husband says when people say ‘Well, what did you bring to Washington,’ he said, ‘Well, I brought arithmetic,” Hillary said.
I wrote an Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal on Clinton’s Balanced Budget. It was smoke and mirrors. Long-term interest rates were sharply higher than short-term. Clinton shifted the national debt to save interest expenditures. He also inherited a up-cycle in the economy that always produces more taxes. Yet she sees no problem with the math of perpetually borrowing. Perhaps she would get to the point of being unable to sell debt and just confiscate all wealth since government knows better.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Here’s a shocker or is it? Take the quiz and then check your answers at the bottom. Then take action!!!
And, no, the answers to these questions aren’t all “Barack Obama”!
1) “We’re going to take things away from you on behalf
of the common good.”
A. Karl Marx
B. Adolph Hitler
C. Joseph Stalin
D. Barack Obama
E. None of the above
2) “It’s time for a new beginning, for an end to government
of the few, by the few, and for the few…… And to replace it
with shared responsibility, for shared prosperity.”
C. Idi Amin
D. Barack Obama
E. None of the above
3) “(We)…..can’t just let business as usual go on, and that
means something has to be taken away from some people.”
A. Nikita Khrushchev
B. Joseph Goebbels
C. Boris Yeltsin
D. Barack Obama
E. None of the above
4) “We have to build a political consensus and that requires
people to give up a little bit of their own … in order to create
this common ground.”
A. Mao Tse Tung
B. Hugo Chavez
C. Kim Jong II
D. Barack Obama
E. None of the above
5) “I certainly think the free-market has failed.”
A. Karl Marx
D. Barack Obama
E. None of the above
6) “I think it’s time to send a clear message to what
has become the most profitable sector in (the) entire
economy that they are being watched.”
C. Saddam Hussein
D. Barack Obama
E. None of the above
and the answers are ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) E. None of the above. Statement was made by Hillary Clinton 6/29/2004
(2) E. None of the above. Statement was made by Hillary Clinton 5/29/2007
(3) E. None of the above. Statement was made by Hillary Clinton 6/4/2007
(4) E. None of the above. Statement was made by Hillary Clinton 6/4/2007
(5) E. None of the above. Statement was made by Hillary Clinton 6/4/2007
(6) E. None of the above. Statement was made by Hillary Clinton 9/2/2005
Want to know something scary? She may be the next POTUS.
- The slump in the oil price is primarily a result of extreme short positioning, a headline-driven anxiety and overblown fears about the global economy.
- This is a temporary dip and the oil markets will recover significantly by H1 2015.
- Now is the time to pick the gold nuggets out of the ashes and wait to see them shine again.
- Nevertheless, the sky is not blue for several energy companies and the drop of the oil price will spell serious trouble for the heavily indebted oil producers.
Introduction: It has been a very tough market out there over the last weeks. And the energy stocks have been hit the hardest over the last five months, given that most of them have returned back to their H2 2013 levels while many have dropped even lower down to their H1 2013 levels.
But one of my favorite quotes is Napoleon’s definition of a military genius: “The man who can do the average thing when all those around him are going crazy.” To me, you don’t have to be a genius to do well in investing. You just have to not go crazy when everyone else is.
In my view, this slump of the energy stocks is a deja-vu situation, that reminded me of the natural gas frenzy back in early 2014, when some fellow newsletter editors and opinion makers with appearances on the media (i.e. CNBC, Bloomberg) were calling for $8 and $10 per MMbtu, trapping many investors on the wrong side of the trade. In contrast, I wrote a heavily bearish article on natural gas in February 2014, when it was at $6.2/MMbtu, presenting twelve reasons why that sky high price was a temporary anomaly and would plunge very soon. I also put my money where my mouth was and bought both bearish ETFs (NYSEARCA:DGAZ) and (NYSEARCA:KOLD), as shown in the disclosure of that bearish article. Thanks to these ETFs, my profits from shorting the natural gas were quick and significant.
This slump of the energy stocks also reminded me of those analysts and investors who were calling for $120/bbl and $150/bbl in H1 2014. Even T. Boone Pickens, founder of BP Capital Management, told CNBC in June 2014 that if Iraq’s oil supply goes offline, crude prices could hit $150-$200 a barrel.
But people often go to the extremes because this is the human nature. But shrewd investors must exploit this inherent weakness of human nature to make easy money, because factory work has never been easy.
Let The Charts And The Facts Speak For Themselves
The chart for the bullish ETF (NYSEARCA:BNO) that tracks Brent is illustrated below:
For the risky investors, there is the leveraged bullish ETF (NYSEARCA:UCO), as illustrated below:
It is clear that these ETFs have returned back to their early 2011 levels amid fears for oversupply and global economy worries. Nevertheless, the recent growth data from the major global economies do not look bad at all.
In China, things look really good. The Chinese economy grew 7.3% in Q3 2014, which is way far from a hard-landing scenario that some analysts had predicted, and more importantly the Chinese authorities seem to be ready to step in with major stimulus measures such as interest rate cuts, if needed. Let’s see some more details about the Chinese economy:
1) Exports rose 15.3% in September from a year earlier, beating a median forecast in a Reuters poll for a rise of 11.8% and quickening from August’s 9.4% rise.
2) Imports rose 7% in terms of value, compared with a Reuters estimate for a 2.7% fall.
3) Iron ore imports rebounded to the second highest this year and monthly crude oil imports rose to the second highest on record.
4) China posted a trade surplus of $31.0 billion in September, down from $49.8 billion in August.
Beyond the encouraging growth data coming from China (the second largest oil consumer worldwide), the US economy grew at a surprising 4.6% rate in Q2 2014, which is the fastest pace in more than two years.
Meanwhile, the Indian economy picked up steam and rebounded to a 5.7% rate in Q2 2014 from 4.6% in Q1, led by a sharp recovery in industrial growth and gradual improvement in services. And after overtaking Japan as the world’s third-biggest crude oil importer in 2013, India will also become the world’s largest oil importer by 2020, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The weakness in Europe remains, but this is nothing new over the last years. And there is a good chance Europe will announce new economic policies to boost the economy over the next months. For instance and based on the latest news, the European Central Bank is considering buying corporate bonds, which is seen as helping banks free up more of their balance sheets for lending.
All in all, and considering the recent growth data from the three biggest oil consumers worldwide, I get the impression that the global economy is in a better shape than it was in early 2011. On top of that, EIA forecasts that WTI and Brent will average $94.58 and $101.67 respectively in 2015, and obviously I do not have any substantial reasons to disagree with this estimate.
The Reasons To Be Bullish On Oil Now
When it comes to investing, timing matters. In other words, a lucrative investment results from a great entry price. And based on the current price, I am bullish on oil for the following reasons:
1) Expiration of the oil contracts: They expired last Thursday and the shorts closed their bearish positions and locked their profits.
2) Restrictions on US oil exports: Over the past three years, the average price of WTI oil has been $13 per barrel cheaper than the international benchmark, Brent crude. That gives large consumers of oil such as refiners and chemical companies a big cost advantage over foreign rivals and has helped the U.S. become the world’s top exporter of refined oil products.
Given that the restrictions on US oil exports do not seem to be lifted anytime soon, the shale oil produced in the US will not be exported to impact the international supply/demand and lower Brent price in the short-to-medium term.
3) The weakening of the U.S. dollar: The U.S. dollar rose significantly against the Euro over the last months because of a potential interest rate hike.
However, U.S. retail sales declined in September 2014 and prices paid by businesses also fell. Another report showed that both ISM indices weakened in September 2014, although the overall economic growth remained very strong in Q3 2014.
The ISM manufacturing survey showed that the reading fell back from 59.0 in August 2014 to 56.6 in September 2014. The composite non-manufacturing index dropped back as well, moving down from 59.6 in August 2014 to 58.6 in September 2014.
Source: Pictet Bank website
These reports coupled with a weak growth in Europe and a potential slowdown in China could hurt U.S. exports, which could in turn put some pressure on the U.S. economy.
These are reasons for caution and will most likely deepen concerns at the U.S. Federal Reserve. A rate hike too soon could cause problems to the fragile U.S. economy which is gradually recovering. “If foreign growth is weaker than anticipated, the consequences for the U.S. economy could lead the Fed to remove accommodation more slowly than otherwise,” the U.S. central bank’s vice chairman, Stanley Fischer, said.
That being said, the US Federal Reserve will most likely defer to hike the interest rate planned to begin in H1 2015. A delay in expected interest rate hikes will soften the dollar over the next months, which will lift pressure off the oil price and will push Brent higher.
4) OPEC’s decision to cut supply in November 2014: Many OPEC members need the price of oil to rise significantly from the current levels to keep their house in fiscal order. If Brent remains at $85-$90, these countries will either be forced to borrow more to cover the shortfall in oil tax revenues or cut their promises to their citizens. However, tapping bond markets for financing is very expensive for the vast majority of the OPEC members, given their high geopolitical risk. As such, a cut on promises and social welfare programs is not out of the question, which will likely result in protests, social unrest and a new “Arab Spring-like” revolution in some of these countries.
This is why both Iran and Venezuela are calling for an urgent OPEC meeting, given that Venezuela needs a price of $121/bbl, according to Deutsche Bank, making it one of the highest break-even prices in OPEC. Venezuela is suffering rampant inflation which is currently around 50%, and the government currency controls have created a booming black currency market, leading to severe shortages in the shops.
Bahrain, Oman and Nigeria have not called for an urgent OPEC meeting yet, although they need between $100/bbl and $136/bbl to meet their budgeted levels. Qatar and UAE also belong to this group, although hydrocarbon revenues in Qatar and UAE account for close to 60% of the total revenues of the countries, while in Kuwait, the figure is close to 93%.
The Gulf producers such as the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait are more resilient than Venezuela or Iran to the drop of the oil price because they have amassed considerable foreign currency reserves, which means that they could run deficits for a few years, if necessary. However, other OPEC members such as Iran, Iraq and Nigeria, with greater domestic budgetary demands because of their large population sizes in relation to their oil revenues, have less room to maneuver to fund their budgets.
And now let’s see what is going on with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is too reliant on oil, with oil accounting for 80% of export revenue and 90% of the country’s budget revenue. Obviously, Saudi Arabia is not a well-diversified economy to withstand low Brent prices for many months, although the country’s existing sovereign wealth fund, SAMA Foreign Holdings, run by the country’s central bank, consisting mainly of oil surpluses, is the world’s third-largest, with assets totaling 737.6 billion US dollars.
This is why Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, billionaire investor and chairman of Kingdom Holding, said back in 2013: “It’s dangerous that our income is 92% dependent on oil revenue alone. If the price of oil decline was to decline to $78 a barrel there will be a gap in our budget and we will either have to borrow or tap our reserves. Saudi Arabia has SAR2.5 trillion in external reserves and unfortunately the return on this is 1 to 1.5%. We are still a nation that depends on the oil and this is wrong and dangerous. Saudi Arabia’s economic dependence on oil and lack of a diverse revenue stream makes the country vulnerable to oil shocks.”
And here are some additional key factors that the oil investors need to know about Saudi Arabia to place their bets accordingly:
a) Saudi Arabia’s most high-profile billionaire and foreign investor, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, has launched an extraordinary attack on the country’s oil minister for allowing prices to fall. In a recent letter in Arabic addressed to ministers and posted on his website, Prince Alwaleed described the idea of the kingdom tolerating lower prices below $100 per barrel as potentially “catastrophic” for the economy of the desert kingdom. The letter is a significant attack on Saudi’s highly respected 79-year-old oil minister Ali bin Ibrahim Al-Naimi who has the most powerful voice within the OPEC.
b) Back in June 2014, Saudi Arabia was preparing to launch its first sovereign wealth fund to manage budget surpluses from a rise in crude prices estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars. The fund would be tasked with investing state reserves to “assure the kingdom’s financial stability,” Shura Council financial affairs committee Saad Mareq told Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat back then. The newspaper said the fund would start with capital representing 30% of budgetary surpluses accumulated over the years in the kingdom. The thing is that Saudi Arabia is not going to have any surpluses if Brent remains below $90/bbl for months.
c) Saudi Arabia took immediate action in late 2011 and early 2012, under the fear of contagion and the destabilisation of Gulf monarchies. Saudi Arabia funded those emergency measures, thanks to Brent which was much higher than $100/bbl back then. It would be difficult for Saudi Arabia to fund these billion dollar initiatives if Brent remained at $85-$90 for long.
d) Saudi Arabia and the US currently have a common enemy which is called ISIS. Moreover, the American presence in the kingdom’s oil production has been dominant for decades, given that U.S. petroleum engineers and geologists developed the kingdom’s oil industry throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
From a political perspective, the U.S. has had a discreet military presence since 1950s and the two countries were close allies throughout the Cold War in order to prevent the communists from expanding to the Middle East. The two countries were also allies throughout the Iran-Iraq war and the Gulf War.
5) Geopolitical Risk: Right now, Brent price carries a zero risk premium. Nevertheless, the geopolitical risk in the major OPEC exporters (i.e. Nigeria, Algeria, Libya, South Sudan, Iraq, Iran) is highly volatile, and several things can change overnight, leading to an elevated level of geopolitical risk anytime.
For instance, the Levant has a new bogeyman. ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq, emerged from the chaos of the Syrian civil war and has swept across Iraq, making huge territorial gains. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s figurehead, has claimed that its goal is to establish a Caliphate across the whole of the Levant and that Jordan is next in line.
At least 435 people have been killed in Iraq in car and suicide bombings since the beginning of the month, with an uptick in the number of these attacks since the beginning of September 2014, according to Iraq Body Count, a monitoring group tracking civilian deaths. Most of those attacks occurred in Baghdad and are the work of Islamic State militants. According to the latest news, ISIS fighters are now encamped on the outskirts of Baghdad, and appear to be able to target important installations with relative ease.
Furthermore, Libya is on the brink of a new civil war and finding a peaceful solution to the ongoing Libyan crisis will not be easy. According to the latest news, Sudan and Egypt agreed to coordinate efforts to achieve stability in Libya through supporting state institutions, primarily the military who is fighting against Islamic militants. It remains to be see how effective these actions will be.
On top of that, the social unrest in Nigeria is going on. Nigeria’s army and Boko Haram militants have engaged in a fierce gun battle in the north-eastern Borno state, reportedly leaving scores dead on either side. Several thousand people have been killed since Boko Haram launched its insurgency in 2009, seeking to create an Islamic state in the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria.
6) Seasonality And Production Disruptions: Given that winter is coming in the Northern Hemisphere, the global oil demand will most likely rise effective November 2014.
Also, U.S. refineries enter planned seasonal maintenance from September to October every year as the federal government requires different mixtures in the summer and winter to minimize environmental damage. They transition to winter-grade fuel from summer-grade fuels. U.S. crude oil refinery inputs averaged 15.2 million bopd during the week ending October 17. Input levels were 113,000 bopd less than the previous week’s average. Actually, the week ending October 17 was the eighth week in a row of declines in crude oil runs, and these rates were the lowest since March 2014. After all and given that the refineries demand less crude during this period of the year, the price of WTI remains depressed.
On top of that, the production disruptions primarily in the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico are not out of the question during the winter months. Even Saudi Arabia currently faces production disruptions. For instance, production was halted just a few days ago for environmental reasons at the Saudi-Kuwait Khafji oilfield, which has output of 280,000 to 300,000 bopd.
7) Sentiment: To me, the recent sell off in BNO is overdone and mostly speculative. To me, the recent sell-off is primarily a result of a headline-fueled anxiety and bearish sentiment.
8) Jobs versus Russia: According to Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist studying the country’s elite at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, top Kremlin officials said after the annexation of Crimea that they expected the U.S. to artificially push oil prices down in collaboration with Saudi Arabia in order to damage Russia.
And Russia is stuck with being a resource-based economy and the cheap oil chokes the Russian economy, putting pressure on Vladimir Putin’s regime, which is overwhelmingly reliant on energy, with oil and gas accounting for 70% of its revenues. This is an indisputable fact.
The current oil price is less than the $104/bbl on average written into the 2014 Russian budget. As linked above, the Russian budget will fall into deficit next year if Brent is less than $104/bbl, according to the Russian investment bank Sberbank CIB. At $90/bbl, Russia will have a shortfall of 1.2% of gross domestic product. Against a backdrop of falling revenue, finance minister Anton Siluanov warned last week that the country’s ambitious plans to raise defense spending had become unaffordable.
Meanwhile, a low oil price is also helping U.S. consumers in the short term. However, WTI has always been priced in relation to Brent, so the current low price of WTI is actually putting pressure on the US consumers in the midterm, given that the number one Job Creating industry in the US (shale oil) will collapse and many companies will lay off thousands of people over the next few months. The producers will cut back their growth plans significantly, and the explorers cannot fund the development of their discoveries. This is another indisputable fact too.
For instance, sliding global oil prices put projects under heavy pressure, executives at Chevron (NYSE:CVX) and Statoil (NYSE:STO) told an oil industry conference in Venezuela. Statoil Venezuela official Luisa Cipollitti said at the conference that mega-projects globally are under threat, and estimates that more than half the world’s biggest 163 oil projects require a $120 Brent price for crude.
Actually, even before the recent fall of the oil price, the oil companies had been cutting back on significant spending, in a move towards capital discipline. And they had been making changes that improve the economies of shale, like drilling multiple wells from a single pad and drilling longer horizontal wells, because the “fracking party” was very expensive. Therefore, the drop of the oil price just made things much worse, because:
a) Shale Oil: Back in July 2014, Goldman Sachs estimated that U.S. shale producers needed $85/bbl to break even.
b) Offshore Oil Discoveries: Aside Petr’s (NYSE: PBR) pre-salt discoveries in Brazil, Kosmos Energy’s (NYSE: KOS) Jubilee oilfield in Ghana and Jonas Sverdrup oilfield in Norway, there have not been any oil discoveries offshore that move the needle over the last decade, while depleting North Sea fields have resulted in rising costs and falling production.
The pre-salt hype offshore Namibia and offshore Angola has faded after multiple dry or sub-commercial wells in the area, while several major players have failed to unlock new big oil resources in the Arctic Ocean. For instance, Shell abandoned its plans in the offshore Alaskan Arctic, and Statoil is preparing to drill a final exploration well in the Barents Sea this year after disappointing results in its efforts to unlock Arctic resources.
Meanwhile, the average breakeven cost for the Top 400 offshore projects currently is approximately $80/bbl (Brent), as illustrated below:
Source: Kosmos Energy website
c) Oil sands: The Canadian oil sands have an average breakeven cost that ranges between $65/bbl (old projects) and $100/bbl (new projects).
In fact, the Canadian Energy Research Institute forecasts that new mined bitumen projects requires US$100 per barrel to breakeven, whereas new SAGD projects need US$85 per barrel. And only one in four new Canadian oil projects could be vulnerable if oil prices fall below US$80 per barrel for an extended period of time, according to the International Energy Agency.
“Given that the low-bearing fruit have already been developed, the next wave of oil sands project are coming from areas where geology might not be as uniform,” said Dinara Millington, senior vice president at the Canadian Energy Research Institute.
So it is not surprising that Suncor Energy (NYSE:SU) announced a billion-dollar cut for the rest of the year even though the company raised its oil price forecast. Also, Suncor took a $718-million charge related to a decision to shelve the Joslyn oilsands mine, which would have been operated by the Canadian unit of France’s Total (NYSE:TOT). The partners decided the project would not be economically feasible in today’s environment.
As linked above, others such as Athabasca Oil (OTCPK: ATHOF), PennWest Exploration (NYSE: PWE), Talisman Energy (NYSE: TLM) and Sunshine Oil Sands (OTC: SUNYF) are also cutting back due to a mix of internal corporate issues and project uncertainty. Cenovus Energy (NYSE:CVE) is also facing cost pressures at its Foster Creek oil sands facility.
And as linked above: “Oil sands are economically challenging in terms of returns,” said Jeff Lyons, a partner at Deloitte Canada. “Cost escalation is causing oil sands participants to rethink the economics of projects. That’s why you’re not seeing a lot of new capital flowing into oil sands.”
After all, helping the US consumer spend more on cute clothes today does not make any sense, when he does not have a job tomorrow. Helping the US consumer drive down the street and spend more at a fancy restaurant today does not make any sense, if he is unemployed tomorrow.
Moreover, Putin managed to avoid mass unemployment during the 2008 financial crisis, when the price of oil dropped further and faster than currently. If Russia faces an extended slump now, Putin’s handling of the last crisis could serve as a template.
In short, I believe that the U.S. will not let everything collapse that easily just because the Saudis woke up one day and do not want to pump less. I believe that the U.S. economy has more things to lose (i.e. jobs) than to win (i.e. hurt Russia or help the US consumer in the short term), in case the current low WTI price remains for months.
I am not saying that an investor can take the plunge lightly, given that the weaker oil prices squeeze profitability. Also, I am not saying that Brent will return back to $110/bbl overnight. I am just saying that the slump of the oil price is primarily a result from extreme short positioning and overblown fears about the global economy.
To me, this is a temporary dip and I believe that oil markets will recover significantly by the first half of 2015. This is why, I bought BNO at an average price of $33.15 last Thursday, and I will add if BNO drops down to $30. My investment horizon is 6-8 months.
Nevertheless, all fingers are not the same. All energy companies are not the same either. The rising tide lifted many of the leveraged duds over the last two years. Some will regain quickly their lost ground, some will keep falling and some will cover only half of the lost ground.
I am saying this because the drop of the oil price will spell serious trouble for a lot of oil producers, many of whom are laden with debt. I do believe that too much credit has been extended too fast amid America’s shale boom, and a wave of bankruptcy that spreads across the oil patch will not surprise me. On the debt front, here is some indicative data according to Bloomberg:
1) Speculative-grade bond deals from energy companies have made up at least 16% of total junk issuance in the U.S. the past two years as the firms piled on debt to fund exploration projects. Typically the average since 2002 has been 11%.
2) Junk bonds issued by energy companies, which have made up a record 17% of the $294 billion of high-yield debt sold in the U.S. this year, have on average lost more than 4% of their market value since issuance.
3) Hercules Offshore’s (NASDAQ:HERO) $300 million of 6.75% notes due in 2022 plunged to 57 cents a few days ago after being issued at par, with the yield climbing to 17.2%.
4) In July 2014, Aubrey McClendon’s American Energy Partners LP tapped the market for unsecured debt to fund exploration projects in the Permian Basin. Moody’s Investors Service graded the bonds Caa1, which is a level seven steps below investment-grade and indicative of “very high credit risk.” The yield on the company’s $650 million of 7.125% notes maturing in November 2020 reached 11.4% a couple of days ago, as the price plunged to 81.5 cents on the dollar, according to Trace, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s bond-price reporting system.
Due to this debt pile, I have been very bearish on several energy companies like Halcon Resources (NYSE:HK), Goodrich Petroleum (NYSE:GDP), Vantage Drilling (NYSEMKT: VTG), Midstates Petroleum (NYSE: MPO), SandRidge Energy (NYSE:SD), Quicksilver Resources (NYSE: KWK) and Magnum Hunter Resources (NYSE:MHR). All these companies have returned back to their H1 2013 levels or even lower, as shown at their charts.
But thanks also to this correction of the market, a shrewd investor can separate the wheat from the chaff and pick only the winners. The shrewd investor currently has the unique opportunity to back up the truck on the best energy stocks in town. This is the time to pick the gold nuggets out of the ashes and wait to see them shine again. On that front, I recommended Petroamerica Oil (OTCPK: PTAXF) which currently is the cheapest oil-weighted producer worldwide with a pristine balance sheet.
Last but not least, I am watching closely the situation in Russia. With economic growth slipping close to zero, Russia is reeling from sanctions by the U.S. and the European Union. The sanctions are having an across-the-board impact, resulting in a worsening investment climate, rising capital flight and a slide in the ruble which is at a record low. And things in Russia have deteriorated lately due to the slump of the oil price.
Obviously, this is the perfect storm and the current situation in Russia reminds me of the situation in Egypt back in 2013. Those investors who bought the bullish ETF (NYSEARCA: EGPT) at approximately $40 in late 2013, have been rewarded handsomely over the last twelve months because EGPT currently lies at $66. Therefore, I will be watching closely both the fluctuations of the oil price and several other moving parts that I am not going to disclose now, in order to find the best entry price for the Russian ETFs (NYSEARCA: RSX) and (NYSEARCA:RUSL) over the next months.
by Karen Weise
“Oh, hey! How ya’ doin’?” Raleigh Ornelas hollers, leaning out the window of his spotless white pickup truck. He’s recognized the man across the street, a developer standing in front of a Tuscan-style mansion under construction. “Where have you been hiding at? I call you, you don’t call me.”
Ornelas is an informal broker in Arcadia, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb at the foot of the San Gabriel mountains. He’s been keeping an eye out for the builder, an Asian man with a slight comb-over who goes by Mark. Ornelas has found two older homeowners who’ve finally agreed to sell their properties, and he knows that Mark, like all developers here, needs land on which to build mansions for an influx of rich clients from mainland China.
Ornelas rattles off addresses on a nearby street. “Three-eleven, that guy, he’s wack,” he says, shaking his head. “He wants 2.8.” He means million dollars. “And then 354, they want $2 million.”
The lot is 17,000 square feet. “Seventeen for 2 mil?” Mark asks, incredulous.
“I know,” Ornelas says. “They’re going crazy.”
A year ago the property would have gone for $1.3 million, but Arcadia is booming. Residents have become used to postcards offering immediate, all-cash deals for their property and watching as 8,000-square-foot homes go up next door to their modest split levels. For buyers from mainland China, Arcadia offers excellent schools, large lots with lenient building codes, and a place to park their money beyond the reach of the Chinese government.
The city, population 57,600, projects that about 150 older homes—53 percent more than normal—will be torn down this year and replaced with mansions. The deals happen fast and are rarely listed publicly. Often, the first indication that a megahouse is coming next door is when the lawn turns brown. That means the neighbor has stopped watering and green construction netting is about to go up.
Damon Casarez for Bloomberg Businessweek.
This flood of money, arriving from China despite strict currency controls, has helped the city build a $20 million high school performing arts center and the local Mercedes dealership expand. “Thank God for them coming over here,” says Peggy Fong Chen, a broker in Arcadia for many years. “They saved our recession.” The new residents are from China’s rising millionaire class—entrepreneurs who’ve made fortunes building railroads in Tibet, converting bioenergy in Beijing, and developing real estate in Chongqing. One co-owner of a $6.5 million house is a 19-year-old college student, the daughter of the chief executive of a company the state controls.
Arcadia is a concentrated version of what’s happening across the U.S. The Hurun Report, a magazine in Shanghai about China’s wealthy elite, estimates that almost two-thirds of the country’s millionaires have already emigrated or plan to do so. They’re scooping up homes from Seattle to New York, buying luxury goods on Fifth Avenue, and paying full freight to send their kids to U.S. colleges. Chinese nationals hold roughly $660 billion in personal wealth offshore, according to Boston Consulting Group, and the National Association of Realtors says $22 billion of that was spent in the past year acquiring U.S. homes. Arcadia has become a hotbed of the buying binge in the past several years, and long-standing residents are torn—giddy at the rising property values but worried about how they’re transforming their town. And they’re increasingly nervous about what would happen to the local economy if the deluge of Chinese cash were to end.
Back on the street corner, Ornelas and Mark agree to meet for coffee to discuss other deals. Before he drives away, Ornelas asks if the developer wants to speak with a reporter. Mark declines, saying he tries to keep a low profile. “See?” Ornelas says as he pulls away, leaning toward the passenger seat and raising his eyebrows. “Everything’s hush-hush here in Arcadia.”
For almost a century after its founding in 1903, Arcadia was white and conservative. In the late 1930s more than 90 percent of the city’s property owners signed agreements, circulated by the Chamber of Commerce, to sell only to white buyers. Its Santa Anita racetrack held about 19,000 Japanese Americans as they were relocated to internment camps during World War II. In the early 1980s an influx of immigrants from Taiwan arrived, drawn in large part to the great public schools. A second wave came from Hong Kong after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. The city’s Asian population grew from 4 percent in 1980 to 59 percent in 2010. There were tensions at first—a letter in a local newspaper praised a proposed ban on non-English storefronts, writing, “Please leave your Asian signs in the old country and get Americanized.” Over time, the new residents got involved in civic life, joining the Rotary Club, entering local government, and opening businesses such as Din Tai Fung Dumpling House, a Taiwanese restaurant tucked in the corner of a strip mall.
Arcadia has no real downtown, only low-rise commercial stretches lined with real estate offices and boba tea shops; Din Tai Fung is the closest thing there is to a central hub. Hostesses with walkie-talkies manage the hourlong wait of people clamoring for plump soup dumplings and pork buns. It was here, a decade ago, that Ornelas broke into Chinese real estate. Leaving lunch one day, he spotted a Ferrari parked outside. “Boy, that’s a beautiful car,” he said. The owner was Chinese and asked Ornelas if he wanted to take it for a drive. Ornelas squeezed in and took a quick spin. As he returned, a white man walked by and made a racial slur about the owner.
“I said, ‘Leave the guy alone,’ ” Ornelas recalls. The talk escalated into a fistfight, which ended badly for the heckler. Ornelas is a Vietnam veteran who spent years bare-knuckle boxing for cash while working as a longshoreman. “The Chinese guy goes, ‘I’m a stranger. Why did you stick up for me?’ I said, ‘We’re all equal in this world, man.’ ” After that, Ornelas says, “I just met people from him, and then I got into different developers.”
“Obviously if your house isn’t feng shui-friendly, it’s like we’re not even going to have a conversation”
Ornelas matches them up with sellers. He swings by garage sales to chat up owners, and as he drives Arcadia’s streets, he looks for signs a homeowner may need money. On a blistering hot day in July, he goes scouting through the city’s foothills. “The roof is popping in that one there,” he says, pointing to an older ranch house. “This one, they put a new roof on, but the house is in bad shape.” Ornelas stops at a corner lot, where a property is under construction. “Look at how big that house is,” he says. “Ooof. Gigantic.”
As Ornelas tells it, last year the real estate website Zillow (Z) had estimated the property’s value at $1.2 million when he, on behalf of a developer, offered the owner $1.5 million. The owner’s brother, who worked in law enforcement, called Ornelas to ask if he was laundering money. “I told him, ‘That’s what the house is worth to me,’ you know? And he kind of investigated to see if it was dirty money. Everything was on the uppity-up, so he sold it to us.” Where Ornelas’s tales can be checked against public records, they stand up—Zillow did make the lower estimate, the house did sell for $1.5 million, and the owner’s brother is a sergeant with the county sheriff’s department. (The lawman didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
Next, Ornelas drives over to one in a string of construction sites in the city’s Upper Rancho neighborhood, where large lots line curving streets shaded by gracious oak trees. At the site, buzz saws blare, and stacks of plywood lie on a concrete foundation. Richard Smith, the sun-tanned owner of a construction company working on seven homes in Arcadia, walks over to talk shop. Smith is building the 11,000-square-foot home for a developer who expects to sell it, he says, for $8 million to $9 million. Smith grew up in Arcadia, and his company has only Asian clients. They have certain preferences. “Obviously, if your house isn’t feng shui-friendly, it’s like we’re not even going to have a conversation,” he says. That means minding the number of stairs, the directions rooms face, and how materials line up. “And understanding the value of water, that’s probably one of my key strengths,” he says. “If you go to any successful businessman in China, or even here, they generally will have a picture of water behind their desk.” He whips out his phone and swipes to photos of a project with a waterfall cascading off the top of a gazebo and into a backyard pool.
Photograph by Damon Casarez for Bloomberg Businessweek
Smith says many of the newest buyers in Arcadia don’t speak English. “They’ve just come here,” he says. “They’re on that EB—what’s it called?” He means the EB-5 visas that the U.S. grants to foreigners who plow at least $500,000 into American development projects. Congress created the program in 1990 to spur investment, and demand for the visas has grown recently. This year, for the first time, the government gave away the annual allocation of 10,000 visas before the year was over, with Chinese nationals snapping up 85 percent. Brokers in the area say it’s the most common way buyers are coming to town. “Once they obtain residency, they want to bring their family over and get the United States education,” says real estate agent Ricky Seow. “They can start a new life in California.”
Taillights whiz by as 19-year-old Cheng Qianrong heads east along the freeway that runs from Los Angeles International Airport toward Arcadia, in a video she posts in June to her 22,000 Instagram followers. Later that night she stands in a marble kitchen, points a gold iPhone at a mirror, and, with a hip to the side, snaps a picture of her reflection, writing, “I’m finally home.
A sophomore studying business at the University of Oregon, Cheng, who goes by Heli in the U.S., is a minor social media celebrity in China. In selfies, her long, straight hair and wide-eyed gaze make her look younger than she is. Her followers express awe for her style and gush at photos of her enjoying a smoothie; posing with stuffed animals; and smiling with a birthday cake made to look like a stack of Tiffany boxes.
In late 2013, Cheng and her mother, Wang Jun, bought a 9,000-square-foot house with a pool and spa in Arcadia for $6.5 million. According to an L.A. property filing, Wang’s husband is Cheng Qingtao. He’s CEO of China Huayang Economic & Trade Group, one of the first state-owned companies set up by the central government, which still owns a majority stake. Heli’s two-story chateau-style home is only a few miles from one owned by her aunt, who’s married to Cheng’s older brother, Cheng Qingbo. Qingbo was the first private owner of railroads in China and, by 2013, was the country’s 257th-richest person, worth an estimated $1.06 billion, Hurun says. In June, Shanghai police arrested Qingbo for allegedly duping people into investments, including a project that, China Business News says, didn’t exist.
For most Arcadians, it would be hard to know if Heli owned the house next door. A member of one homeowners association estimates that about 20 percent of the new purchases sit empty, and for those who don’t speak Mandarin, language barriers have made it hard to share more than a wave with neighbors. For many sales, public records provide no way to understand who the new owners are. A recorded deed may show just an English transliteration of a buyer’s name, with no signature. Some public documents provide small clues: a second address in a luxury condo near Tiananmen Square; a seal if a document has been notarized at the U.S. Embassy in Guangzhou; a husband who relinquishes rights to the land to his wife; or a signature in Chinese characters.
Chinese nationals hold $660 billion in personal wealth offshore; they spent $22 billion on U.S. homes in the past year
Some of those clues match up with public documents in China. A mile north of the Chengs, Fu Youhong and Zhang Jian, a couple who founded a pharmaceutical distributor in China before starting a business converting agricultural waste into energy, bought a $3.5 million home advertised as a “spectacular brand-new French Normandy Estate.” Pesticide manufacturer Huifeng International USA got into the boom early, in 2012, and for $3.4 million bought a house with a grand circular staircase and Swedish sauna. The company says the property is used as an office for its trading business and not as a personal home. And a $3.2 million property in one of Arcadia’s rare gated communities was sold to a woman from Guangzhou named Zeng Fang, who runs a network of immigration sites, one of which, baby-usa.net, tells Chinese mothers they can deliver babies at Arcadia Methodist Hospital.
A few miles south, another new house, this one with Tuscan styling and Moorish window treatments, sold last year to a woman named Jin Liping. Her husband, Du Jianming, is the owner of one of China’s largest private builders of steel structures. His company has built bridges in Shanghai and connecting railways on the Tibetan Plateau. His wife bought the 8,000-square-foot house in Arcadia for $4.8 million in September 2013, around the same time the couple faced financial pressures at home. They lost three lawsuits in China related to unpaid loans, but their home in California looks in peak condition, with little red ribbons tied around the topiary by the front door.
A goldenrod-yellow house on South 6th Avenue belongs to Tao Weisheng and Du Xiaojuan, who develop homes and run hotels in Chongqing. Tao is known in China for collecting calligraphy and paintings—and for reportedly paying bribes to bureaucrats. According to state-run media, in 2004, Tao and a business partner paid a local official’s gambling debt at a Macau casino. The official had given them a land certificate they needed for a loan. In 2010 the court found the official guilty of taking a bribe and gave him a suspended death sentence. The prosecutor didn’t charge Tao and his partner. The homeowners or their representatives declined to comment or did not respond to interview requests.
Lately, groups of Chinese investors have pooled their money to buy Arcadian homes, which often aren’t occupied. More than 400 residents showed up at a community meeting with the police department this spring, in part concerned about a spate of burglaries targeting empty mansions. When there are leaks or other problems with a property, even the city struggles to identify who’s responsible. “Who do we contact? Where do we contact them?” says Jim Kasama, the community development administrator for the city’s building department. “Sometimes it’s not that easy.”
Arcadia is on track to bring in record revenue this year. In the fiscal year ended in June, fees from building permits and development reached $7.9 million, a 72 percent increase from the previous year. Its quiet streets are busy with gardeners blowing leaves and laborers laying roofs. This summer, the high school updated its gym and cafeteria. For a generation of older homeowners, the boom has created one hell of a nest egg. The Great Recession hit many retirees hard, but now they’ve sold and moved to cheaper places a few miles away. As Smith, the contractor, says, “They still live close, but they’ve got 2 million bucks in their bank account.”
With so many homes vacant and language barriers prevalent, distrust is building. There are strange rumors—local officials on the take; bridal studios as fronts for massage parlors—and stranger truths. Just steps from the Arcadia police station, a local TV news reporter uncovered a hotel being used for birth tourism. A member of one homeowners association says a developer told the local board at various meetings that three separate homes he was building were all for his own family. When the board called him on it, he said his wife couldn’t decide which one she wanted.
“The growth we’re experiencing isn’t typical,” Kasama says. “It’s not like we have new subdivisions. It’s the houses that are growing.” The city’s homeowners associations can do only so much—three years ago, the city changed a regulation that limits their ability to cap the size of houses.
Neighborhood disputes are getting intense. Dong Chang, a local dermatologist who told the Rotary Club that he left Taiwan in the early 1970s with “two bags of rice and a frying pan,” is suing the developer building a mansion next door for cutting down an old oak tree on his property. He’s seeking about $280,000, saying the harm was “intentional, fraudulent, oppressive, malicious, and despicably done.”
Courtesy City of Arcadia
Then there’s the cannon incident. That battle went down on West Las Flores Avenue, on a block with a mix of older homes and newer construction, including a house owned by David Tran, the Huy Fong sriracha magnate. A family moved into a new home in 2008 and flanked the front walkway with two waist-high lion statues, the “fu dogs” that guard imperial Chinese palaces. A few years later, a developer named Ricky Tang began building his own home across the street. Tang didn’t care for the lions, but their owners refused to remove them. In January 2011, according to city records, Tang mounted two replica cannons on top of a construction trailer in the front of his lot, aiming back at the lions. A red sign reading “Cannon against dogs” in Chinese hung from each cannon. “The neighbor across the street took offense,” Kasama says. “He felt they looked threatening.” Soon a city-owned Prius pulled up, lights flashing, with an official entreating Tang to take down the weaponry. He acquiesced after a month of haggling. Tang didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Mary Garzio, a widow who’s Tang’s neighbor, calls him “a very nice man.” She says he’s been wooing her to sell her 73-year-old house for $3 million in cash. He brings over fruit and says she can live rent-free until she gets settled elsewhere. “He says, ‘You’re a good neighbor, Mary. I don’t want you to leave, but I want your home.’ ”
Arcadia’s Chinese buyers may have made their wealth in different ways, but they face a common problem: getting their cash to America. China controls the flow of its currency, restricting residents from converting more than $50,000 in yuan into foreign denominations each year. At that pace it would take half a lifetime for a couple to buy a $4 million home.
Jeff Needham, a senior vice president at HSBC (HSBC), says it’s most common for buyers to transfer money from personal or business accounts they already have in Hong Kong, which doesn’t impose caps. “In most of our buyer situations, they have funds outside China already that they have accumulated over years,” he says, adding that the bank verifies the source of the funds.
It’s trickier for those without accounts in Hong Kong. Chen Ping, a local broker, says there’s a common workaround. “We call it ‘head-count wiring,’ ” she says. Buyers line up other people—friends, family, or, if need be, paid strangers—to each transfer a share. “I once had a customer who bought a $1.9 million house in Arcadia who said, ‘Not a problem. I have more than enough head counts,’ ” Chen says. Many buyers have legitimate ways to wire the funds, says broker Imy Dulake, but “there is no way we can have this much cash coming in legally.”
When they can’t get enough money through, property records show many get mortgages to buy the homes, often putting at least 40 percent down. Others buy with all cash and later take out home-equity loans, freeing up funds for other investments in the U.S. without going through the rigmarole of getting money across the Pacific again. Dozens of Chinese homeowners in Arcadia have loans from HSBC and East West Bancorp (EWBC), both of which have branches in China. HSBC’s Needham says the bank gives “premier” clients a discounted rate, and it can underwrite loans in the U.S. based on international credit scores and assets overseas. East West didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Even as they fret about their town, longtime Arcadians worry about a sudden end to the money. What happens if the U.S. limits visas, the Chinese government clamps down, or the émigrés pick another place to park their cash? “How high we go, we can’t foresee, because we never know the policy changes,” real estate agent Seow says. This summer, after an exposé on China Central Television, the Bank of China ended a government program that quietly let some customers convert an unlimited amount of yuan into dollars and transfer it overseas. And President Xi Jinping’s anticorruption campaign has raised the specter of a larger slowdown. “I was in escrow on a property before this crackdown, and oh my God, they could not get their money out” of China, broker Dulake says. The sale fell through.
Stig Hedlund lives on the block with the cannons, in a house built in 1937 by his grandfather, a civil engineer who laid out many of the city’s roads when everything was still alfalfa fields. Now Hedlund is wondering if he should leave. He’s received nice offers for his house, like when a broker and a couple drove up his driveway unannounced in a black Mercedes one Sunday morning; the broker knocked on the front door, saying the couple wanted to buy his home. He’d like to wait until his last son graduates from college, but he fears his “five-year plan” will make him miss the boom. When he reads news about recent protests in Hong Kong, he wonders how China’s response will ripple across the mainland. “If a communist government starts putting the kibosh, isn’t it more incentive to get money out of the country?” he asks. Or would a crackdown mean he blows his chance to sell? It’s a question central to Arcadia’s gardeners and construction workers, the car salesmen and the boba tea makers, who all rely on the money surging out of China. For now, Hedlund figures he can wait a little longer. He hears Ornelas just brokered a sale down the street for $2.8 million.
By Tyler Durden
Last week, Zero Hedge first reported on this side of the Pacific, some very troubling news: the biggest offshore buyer of luxury US real estate, that would be Chinese money laundering oligarchs and other member of the upper class, may be locked out of any future US housing purchases for a long, long time. The reason: an unexpected revelation by the power state CCTV channel revealed that contrary to popular disinformation, some of the largest Chinese banks – the PBOC included – were not only permitting but actively encouraging Chinese “money laundering” far above the $50,000/year statutory limit, the immediate result of which was soaring prices of the luxury segment of the US housing market.
We summarized the next steps last Thursday:
“So what happens next? Assuming there is the anticipated resulting backlash and crackdown on Chinese banks, which will finally enforce the $50K/year outflow limitation, this could well be the worst possible news not only for Chinese inflation, which suddenly – no longer having a convenient outlet for the unprecedented liquidity formed in the country every month – is set to soar, but also for the ultra-luxury housing in the US.
Because without the Chinese bid in a market in which the Chinese are the biggest marginal buyer scooping up real estate across the land, sight unseen, and paid for in laundered cash (which the NAR blissfully does not need to know about due to its AML exemptions), watch as suddenly the 4th dead cat bounce in US housing since the Lehman failure rediscovers just how painful gravity really is.”
We forgot to mention one other thing that would promptly happen: the rest of the US mainstream media would quickly catch to this critical story which is still woefully unreported.
First, the WSJ, from earlier today, which basically provides a recap of what we wrote before:
China’s major banks have halted an experimental program, sanctioned by the country’s central bank, that helped citizens transfer large sums overseas despite government capital controls, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
The halt, which the people said was likely to be temporary, comes after the program was criticized by China’s powerful state television broadcaster, underscoring the political sensitivity of the issue of wealthy Chinese moving money abroad. Experts said the criticism could set back China’s efforts to ease its grip on the country’s financial system.
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The controversy comes at a politically sensitive time. China’s top leadership is deepening a nationwide effort to fight corruption, with a focus on officials suspected of trying to move abroad assets they might have gotten through bribes or other illegal means. Earlier this month, Liu Yunshan —a member of the Communist Party’s top decision-making body who is in charge of the country’s propaganda apparatus—called on the government to address the problem of what are known in the country as naked officials, or those whose families have moved overseas.
Analysts and economists have widely acknowledged that China’s closed capital-account system has become more porous and that the rules are routinely circumvented. A 2008 report by the PBOC said that up to 18,000 corrupt officials and employees of state-owned enterprises had fled abroad or gone into hiding since the mid-1990s, and that they were suspected of having taken $123 billion with them. A favored method, according to the PBOC report, involved squirreling cash away with the help of loved ones emigrating abroad.
The CCTV report brought to light a trial program the PBOC launched about two years ago that allowed a few approved banks, including Bank of China, ICBC and China Citic, to start offering cross-border yuan remittance services for Chinese individuals through their branches in the southern province of Guangdong. The PBOC never publicly announced the program because it intended to carry out the trial quietly, the people familiar with the matter said.
“The program itself is neither illegal nor improper as it’s been approved by the central bank, but the question is if any particular bank has gone too far by offering clients services they are not supposed to,” said a senior executive at a big state-owned bank in Beijing. “We all had to put a brake on it before the central bank draws a conclusion from its investigation.”
Of course the program was legal and proper: it served a key purpose – to keep Chinese hot money inflation under control, by which we mean, exporting it to the US housing market. This is what we said last week:
Why would the PBOC agree to quietly bless this activity which it has, at least openly, blasted vocally in the past?
Simple – to keep inflation in check.
Recall that China is a country which creates nearly $4 trillion in bank deposits every year. Also recall that back in 2011 China nearly chocked when inflation briefly soared out of control, leading to sporadic “Arab Spring” type riots in various cities. And since China simply can not reduce the pace of its loan creation at the macro level without crushing the economy, what it needs is to find outlets – legal or otherwise – that permit the outflow of funds.
Which is why it is not at all surprising that as SCMP reports, the scheme was launched in 2011, just as China’s scary encounter with soaring inflation was unfolding and Beijing needed a fast way to solve the overabundance of domestic liquidity. Basically at that point the central bank agreed to keep its eyes shut as wealthy oligarchs transferred funds to developed world nations, something the US government and NAR were delighted by as it kept real estate prices (if only at the very top) soaring, dragging the entire housing market higher with them. Furthermore recall: the one thing the Fed has wanted more than anything for the past several years is inflation. And since the US economy is nowhere near strong enough to create the kind of inflation needed, with the bulk of the Fed’s reserves ending up in the capital markets and the latest and greatest credit bubble, the Fed would be more than happy to import some of China’s inflation from it, even if that means a housing market which at the upper end is no longer accessible to anyone but the 0.0001%.
This explains the following qualifier from the WSJ:
Officials close to the PBOC said on Monday that it isn’t likely that the central bank will withdraw the trial program altogether, as it is in keeping with Beijing’s broader effort to make it easier for funds to move in and out of the mainland and to promote the yuan’s use overseas. In its latest announcements aimed at gradually freeing up the flow of money, China’s foreign-exchange regulator on Monday issued revised rules that would make it easier for Chinese companies to keep overseas profits and dividends earned in other countries.
Some analysts say the halting of the business amounts to a setback to the government’s reform efforts, at least for now. “This action highlights the tension between the benefits of easing restrictions on capital flows and the risks of allowing freer movement of capital in the absence of effective regulation of financial institutions,” said Eswar Prasad, a China scholar at Cornell University.
Worse, should the hot money flow into ultra luxury US real estate stop, watch as New York City double (and triple) digit million duplex and triplex condo plummet in value as the dumb, marginal money is locked out for good.
Which brings us to the next account of the same story: that of Bloomberg, and its specifics of just how it took place. According to Bloomberg the endorsed money laundering program was introduced in 2011 for overseas property purchases and emigration and, drumroll, doesn’t constitute money laundering, Bank of China said in a July 9 statement. The transfers were allowed by regulators and reported to them, the bank said.
“What it shows is the government has been trying to internationalize the renminbi for a lot longer than we thought,” Jim Antos, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Mizuho Securities Ltd., said by phone, using the official name for China’s currency and referring to policy makers’ long-stated goal of allowing the yuan to become freely convertible with other currencies. “I’m rather encouraged by this news because this is the way they need to go.”
China’s foreign-exchange rules cap the maximum amount of yuan that individuals are allowed to convert at $50,000 each year and ban them from transferring the currency abroad directly. Policy makers have taken steps in recent years, including allowing freer movements of capital in and out of China, as they seek to boost the global stature of the not-yet-fully convertible yuan.
“There’s a silver lining in this incident as it may force the regulators to address the issue in a more open and transparent way,” Zhou Hao, a Shanghai-based economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd., said by phone. “This is an irreversible trend.”
The issue came to light after CCTV said Bank of China helped customers transfer unlimited amounts of yuan abroad through a product called Youhuitong, which means “superior foreign-exchange channel.”
Of course, this being China, it is far more likely that the “incident” will force the regulators to step aside and keep this all too critical overflow valve of China’s epic hot money, amounting to over nearly $4 trillion in credit money created out of thin air every year, perfectly function for future needs. Especially considering the original report has now been permanently “suicided.” That’s right: any reference to this story in China no longer exists!
The Guangdong branch of China’s currency regulator, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, picked Bank of China, China Citic Bank Corp. (998) and a foreign lender to let individuals transfer yuan abroad in a trial the banks were told not to promote, Time Weekly reported in April 2013. A Beijing-based Citic Bank press officer declined to comment on the program.
While Bank of China didn’t provide figures, the 21st Century Business Herald estimated the lender has moved about 20 billion yuan ($3.2 billion) abroad through Youhuitong, citing people with knowledge of the trial program. “Many commercial banks” in Guangdong offer a similar service, Bank of China said in its statement, without naming them.
On CCTV’s website, the report on Bank of China hasn’t been viewable since at least July 12. Today, the story link led only to a series of advertisements. A spokeswoman for CCTV’s international relations department, which handles foreign media inquiries, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment on why the story wasn’t available.
And the details:
Youhuitong customers would typically deposit yuan with Bank of China at least two weeks before the transfer, the person said. Once approved, the customer and the bank agree on an exchange rate before the funds are moved to an overseas account designated by the customer, he said. Money destined for real estate would go directly to the property seller’s account to ensure the cash won’t be misused, he said.
Remember: the program is endorsed not only by the PBOC but certainly by the Fed which is delighted in importing tens of billions in offshore money spurring inflation in the US, even if it is very localized, asset-price inflation:
A Beijing-based press officer for Bank of China declined to comment. Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. and China Construction Bank Corp. (939), the nation’s two largest banks, declined to comment on whether they offer similar products.
HSBC Holdings Plc (5), which runs the largest branch network among foreign banks in China, offers its Chinese clients another way to access offshore mortgages while avoiding the cap on foreign-exchange conversion, according to a person familiar with the mechanism, who asked not to be identified without having authorization to speak publicly.
Customers deposit yuan with HSBC’s mainland unit or purchase its wealth-management products, and the bank’s overseas branch then issues a foreign-currency denominated mortgage using the China deposits as collateral, the person said.
“We seek to abide by the rules and laws of the jurisdictions and geographies in which we operate,” said Gareth Hewett, a Hong Kong-based HSBC spokesman.
Translation: unlike money laundering originating at BNP or elsewhere in continental Europe, this particular instance of offshore funds parking in US real estate has been blessed by Janet Yellen. Why? “Clearly the property market wouldn’t nearly be so robust as it is today without mainland money,” Mizuho’s Antos said. “How did they do it? With Bank of China’s help. There has been a tremendous amount of mainland money flowing offshore and it couldn’t have happened without” official approval.”
And it’s not just the US:
Chinese have become the biggest investors in Australia’s commercial and residential property, with purchases surging 42 percent to A$5.9 billion ($5.6 billion) in the year to June 2013, according to the country’s Foreign Investment Review Board.
Vancouver’s real estate market has also seen the impact, having been “fueled tremendously in the last couple of years by high-end wealthy Chinese and Hong Kong buyers,” according to real estate agent Malcolm Hasman.
But it’s the US that would be crushed should Chinese money laundering into ultra luxury real estate – something we said is happening in 2012 – cease. From Bloomberg:
While Chinese buyers’ $22b in spending on U.S. homes in yr through March is “small fraction” of total existing-home sales, a halt in spending would “make a big impact” in cities with the most Chinese buyers, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, NYC, San Francisco, Nela Richardson, Redfin chief economist, says in note to Bloomberg First Word. She notes Redfin agents have told her Chinese buyers will sometimes have several family, friends transfer $50k at closing, in keeping with yuan cap
Chinese parents also buy high-end properties where kids are going to college, use them as vacation homes or rentals after graduation
Raymond James also piggybacked on our conclusion adding that on the West Coast, Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipino buyers have been scouring parts of Orange County, and Las Vegas; and clearly it may hurt Lennar, SPF if travel/capital flows are suddenly restricted.
Because remember: there is good illegal money laundering, such as this one, and then there is bad illegal laundering, that which does not end up being invested in the massively overvalued luxury segment of the US housing market.
And that is all you need to know on a topic which will hardly receive much more coverage in any media outlets in the US, and certainly not China.
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There is much more on this fascinating topic: those eager for a glimpse of the next steps are urged to read: “Bank of China-CCTV drama may reveal power struggle in Beijing – Money laundering accusation may be sign of a power struggle within mainland banking system.” Because when the laundering of trillions of dollars is at stake, a power struggle is certainly assured.
Author: Mike Shedlock
Real estate is well back in bubble territory in some places, notably California. It won’t end any differently this time for the buyers, but at least banks will not be on the hook for all of the loans.
All cash buyers from China are bidding up the price of mansions, defined as anything with two stories.
Bloomberg reports Chinese Cash-Bearing Buyers Drive U.S. Foreign Sales Jump.
Henry Nunez, a real estate agent in Arcadia, California, met with so many homebuyers from China that he bought a Mandarin-English translation app for his phone.
The $1.99 purchase paid off last month, when he sold a five-bedroom home with crystal chandeliers, marble floors and two kitchens, one designed for smoky wok cooking. The buyers were a Chinese couple who paid $3.5 million in cash.
Buyers from Greater China, including people from Hong Kong and Taiwan, spent $22 billion on U.S. homes in the year through March, up 72 percent from the same period in 2013 and more than any other nationality, the National Association of Realtors said yesterday in its annual report on foreign home purchases. That’s 24 cents of every dollar spent by international homebuyers, according to the survey of 3,547 real estate agents.
Chinese buyers paid a median of $523,148 per transaction, compared with a U.S. median price of $199,575 for existing-home sales. While Canadians bought more houses than the Chinese, they spent less — a median of $212,500 per residence, for a total of $13.8 billion.
Chinese bought 32 percent of homes sold to foreign buyers in the state, double the share sold to Canadians, according to an April survey by the California Association of Realtors. About 70 percent of international buyers pay cash, the survey showed.
Buyers from China are driving up prices and fueling new construction in Southern California areas such as Arcadia, a city of about 57,500 people with top-rated schools, a large Chinese immigrant community and an array of Chinese restaurants and markets.
The median home price in Arcadia’s 91006 ZIP code was $1.28 million in May, up 18.5 percent from a year earlier, according to research firm DataQuick.
“About 90 percent of my buyers are from China,” said Peggy Fong Chen, a broker with Re/Max Holdings Inc., who sold 80 homes in Arcadia last year. “They want new construction. They want two levels. In China, it is considered a mansion if it has two levels.”
Chinese investors are moving into development in Arcadia, Chen said. They are buying lots with homes built in the 1970s and ’80s, tearing them down and erecting sprawling houses like the one Nunez sold for $3.5 million, which has a double-height entry hall and wood-paneled library.
“Local people really cannot afford these most of the time,” Chen said.
Buyers from China and Asian-Americans purchased about 80 percent of the 47 houses sold at Tri Pointe Homes Inc.’s Arcadia at Stonegate community in Irvine, about 40 miles southeast of Los Angeles, according to Tom Mitchell, president of the Irvine-based builder.
Almost half of the buyers paid cash for houses in the development, at prices starting at $1.16 million, he said. The company has been surprised by how word travels among overseas buyers.
“A Chinese national bought one of our houses at Arcadia in Irvine after reading about it on a blog,” Tri Pointe CEO Doug Bauer said in a telephone interview. “It was a Chinese blog. We couldn’t even read it.”
The share of money arriving from China is likely to keep growing, according to Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors.
“It’s just the beginning of a tidal wave,” he said in a telephone interview.
Overseas buyers are changing Arcadia, according to Nunez, 55, who has lived in the city since he was 6 years old.
“You drive every street and there are three or four new houses being built,” he said. “It’s just incredible, the demand.”
“Beginning of Tidal Wave”
Lawrence Yun, is Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of Research for the National Association of Realtors.
As for the “beginning”, I seem to recall similar statements from the NAR made in 2005. Of course, when you are dealing with the NAR, no matter when or where, there’s “never been a better time to buy than now.”
Nonsensical statements marked the peak of housing insanity in 2005.
Please recall that disgraced former NAR chief economist, David Lereah timed the exact peak in the the housing bubble with his book Why the Real Estate Boom Will Not Bust – And How You Can Profit from It.
The reviews are hilarious.
Today’s Raison d’être
Today’s Raison d’être from the NAR is the “It’s just the beginning of a tidal wave.” Yeah, right. Beginning of the end of the echo bubble is more like it.
Source: Zero Hedge
One of the primary drivers of the real estate bubble in the past several years, particularly in the ultra-luxury segment, were mega wealthy Chinese buyers, seeking to park their cash into the safety of offshore real estate where it was deemed inaccessible to mainland regulators and overseers, tracking just where the Chinese record credit bubble would end up. Some, such as us, called it “hot money laundering”, and together with foreclosure stuffing and institutional flipping (of rental units and otherwise), we said this was the third leg of the recent US housing bubble. However, while the impact of Chinese buying in the US has been tangible, it has paled in comparison with the epic Chinese buying frenzy in other offshore metropolitan centers like London and Hong Kong. This is understandable: after all as Chuck Prince famously said in 2007, just before the first US mega-bubble burst, “as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance.” In China, the music just ended.
But more so than mere analyses which speculate on the true state of the Chinese record credit-fueled economy, such as the one we posted earlier today in which Morgan Stanley noted that China’s “Minsky Moment” has finally arrived, we now can judge them by their actions.
And sure enough, it didn’t take long before the debris from China’s sharp, sudden attempt to “realign” its runaway credit bubble, including the first ever corporate bond default earlier this month, floated right back to the surface.
Cash-strapped Chinese are scrambling to sell their luxury homes in Hong Kong, and some are knocking up to a fifth off the price for a quick sale, as a liquidity crunch looms on the mainland.
Said otherwise, what goes up is now rapidly coming down.
Wealthy Chinese were blamed for pushing up property prices in the former British territory, where they accounted for 43 percent of new luxury home sales in the third quarter of 2012, before a tax hike on foreign buyers was announced.
The rush to sell coincides with a forecast 10 percent drop in property prices this year as the tax increase and rising borrowing costs cool demand. At the same time, credit conditions in China have tightened. Earlier this week, the looming bankruptcy of a Chinese property developer owing 3.5 billion yuan ($565.25 million) heightened concerns that financial risk was spreading.
“Some of the mainland sellers have liquidity issues – say, their companies in China have some difficulties – so they sold the houses to get cash,” said Norton Ng, account manager at a Centaline Property real estate office close to the China border, where luxury houses costing up to HK$30 million ($3.9 million) have been popular with mainland buyers.
Alas, as the recent events in China, chronicled in minute detail here have revealed, the “liquidity issues” of the mainland sellers are about to go from bad to much worse. As for Hong Kong, it may have been last said so long ago nobody even remembers the origins of the word but, suddenly, it is now a seller’s market:
Property agents said mainland Chinese own close to a third of the existing homes that are now for sale in Hong Kong – up 20 percent from a year ago. Many are offering discounts of 5-10 percent below the market average – and in some cases as much as 20 percent – to make a quick sale, property agents and analysts said.
Also known as a liquidation. And like every game theoretical outcome, he who defects first, or in this case sells, first, sells best. In fact, since panicked selling will only beget more selling, watch as prices suddenly plunge in what was until recently one of the most overvalued property markets in the world. And with prices still at nosebleed levels, not even BlackRock would be able to be a large enough bid to absorb all the slamming offers as suddenly everyone rushes to cash out.
The biggest irony: after creating ghost towns at home, the Chinese “uber wealthy” army is doing so abroad.
In a Hong Kong housing development called Valais, about 10 minutes drive from the Chinese border, real estate agents said that between a quarter and a half of the 330 houses are now on sale. At the development’s frenzied debut in 2010, a third of the HK$30-HK$66 million units were sold on the first day, with nearly half going to mainland China buyers.
Dubbed a “ghost town” by local media, the development built by the city’s largest developer, Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd (0016.HK), is one of many estates in Hong Kong where agents are seeing an increasing number of Chinese eager to sell.
“Many mainland buyers bought lots of properties in Hong Kong when the market was red-hot three years ago,” said Joseph Tsang, managing director at Jones Lang LaSalle. “But now they want to cash in as liquidity is quite tight in the mainland.”
Perhaps our post from yesterday chronicling the crash of the Chinese property developer market was on to something. And of course, as also described in detail, should China’s Zhejiang Xingrun not be bailed out, as the PBOC sternly refuted it would do on Weibo, watch as the intermediary firms themselves shutter all credit, and bring the Chinese property market, both domestic and foreign, to a grinding halt (something he highlighted in our chart of the day).
Meanwhile, the selling rush is on.
In a nearby development called The Green – developed by China Overseas Land & Investment (0688.HK) – about one-fifth of the houses delivered at the start of this year are up for sale. More than half of the units, bought for between HK$18 million and HK$60 million, were snapped up by mainland Chinese in 2012.
Because so much changes in just over a year.
“Some banks were chasing them (Chinese landlords) for money, so they need to move some cash back to the mainland,” said Ricky Poon, executive director of residential sales at Colliers International. “They’re under greater pressure from banks, so they’re cutting prices.”
In West Kowloon district, an area where mainland Chinese bought up close to a quarter of the apartments in many newly-developed estates, some Chinese landlords are offering discounts on the higher-end, three- to four-bedroom apartments they bought just a few years ago.
This month, a Chinese landlord sold a 1,300 square foot (121 square meter) apartment at the Imperial Cullinan – a high-end estate developed by Sun Hung Kai in 2012 – for HK$19.3 million, 17 percent less than the original price. The landlord told agents to sell the flat “as soon as possible,” said Richard Chan, branch manager at Centaline Property in West Kowloon.
In the same area, a 645 square foot, 2-bedroom flat in the Central Park development was sold in just two days after the Chinese owner put it on the market at HK$6.5 million in what agents called the year’s best bargain – the cheapest price for a unit of its kind over the past year.
Don’t worry there will be many more bargains. Why? Because what was once a buying panic – as recently as months ago – has finally shifted to its logical conclusion. Selling.
“The most important thing for them is to sell as soon as possible,” Centaline’s Chan said. “In the past two weeks, those who were willing to cut prices were mainland Chinese. It is going to have some impact on the local property market, that’s for sure.”
Indeed. And once the Hong Kong liquidation frenzy is over, and leaves the city in a state of shock, watch as the great Chinese selling horde stampedes from Los Angeles, to New York, to London, Zurich and Geneva, and leave not a single 50% off sign in its wake.
The good news? All those inaccessibly priced houses that were solely the stratospheric domain of the ultra-high net worth oligarch and criminal jet set, will soon be available to the general public. Especially once the global housing bubble pops, which may have just happened.