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Massive Bailout’ Needed in China, Banking Analyst Chu Says

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Charlene Chu

Charlene Chu, a banking analyst who made her name warning of the risks from China’s credit binge, said a bailout in the trillions of dollars is needed to tackle the bad-debt burden dragging down the nation’s economy.

Speaking eight days after a Communist Party newspaper highlighted dangers from the build-up of debt, Chu, a partner at Autonomous Research, said she was yet to be convinced the government is serious about deleveraging and eliminating industry overcapacity.

QUICKTAKE China’s Pain Points

She also argued that lenders’ off-balance-sheet portfolios of wealth-management products are the biggest immediate threat to the nation’s financial system, with similarities to Western bank exposures in 2008 that helped to trigger a global meltdown.

The former Fitch Ratings analyst uses a top-down approach to calculating China’s bad-debt levels as the credit to gross domestic product ratio worsens, requiring more credit to generate each unit of GDP.

While Chu is on the bearish side of the debate about the outlook for China, she’s not alone. In a report on Monday, Societe Generale SA analysts said that Chinese banks may ultimately face 8 trillion yuan ($1.2 trillion) in losses and a bailout from the government, citing the scale of soured credit within state-owned enterprises.

Interviewed in Hong Kong last week, Chu estimated as much as 22 percent of all China’s outstanding credit may be nonperforming by the end of this year, compared with an official bad-loan number for banks in March of 1.75 percent.

Question

What do you see as the biggest risk in the financial system?

Answer

“China’s debt problems are large and severe, but in some respects a slow burn. Over the near term, we think the biggest risk is banks’ WMP portfolios. The stock of Chinese banks’ off-balance-sheet WMPs grew 73 percent last year. There is nothing in the Chinese economy that supports a 73 percent growth rate of anything at the moment. Regardless of all of the headlines and announcements about the authorities cracking down on WMPs, they have done very little, really, and issuance continues to accelerate.

“We call off-balance-sheet WMPs a hidden second balance sheet because that’s really what it is — it’s a hidden pool of liabilities and assets. In this way, it’s similar to the Special Investment Vehicles and conduits that the Western banks had in 2008, which nobody paid attention to until everything fell apart and they had to be incorporated on-balance-sheet.

“The mid-tier lenders is where these second balance sheets are very large. China Merchants Bank is a good example. Their second balance sheet is close to 40 percent of their on-balance-sheet liabilities. Enormous.”

Question

Who buys a WMP?

Answer

“The products used to be predominantly sold to the public, but now they’re increasingly being sold to banks and other WMPs. We’re starting to see layers of liabilities built upon the same underlying assets, much like we did with subprime asset-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, and CDOs-squared in the U.S. The range of assets is much more diverse than mortgages, but we have significantly less visibility on the assets than we did with subprime.”

Question

After the People’s Daily commentary, is it clear that the government is serious about deleveraging?

Answer

“The word deleveraging should not be used when discussing China. Deleveraging means negative credit growth, or a contraction in the ratio of credit to GDP. China is nowhere close to deleveraging. Over the years, I have learned from watching the authorities respond to issues like WMPs that there is often a large divergence between official rhetoric and actual action. It’s encouraging to see policy makers acknowledge the severe overcapacity problem, but I am sceptical that much headway will be made any time soon, given how painful implementation will be and the pushback they will inevitably receive at local levels.”

Question

Is a financial crisis or a very dramatic economic slowdown now inevitable?

Answer

“Not yet, but we’re getting there because the problem is getting so big. We’re still adding 10 to 20 percentage points to the ratio of credit to GDP every year — that has not changed despite the fact that credit growth has decelerated. If the government was to come out with a very aggressive — and it would have to be incredibly aggressive — bailout package for corporates, as well as financial institutions, it would do a lot in terms of dealing with some of this debt overhang and getting rid of the black cloud that’s hanging over the country. However, the idea that China needs a massive bailout in the trillions of U.S. dollars isn’t something I think the authorities are on board with or accept yet. They still believe they can grow out of it.”

Question

Could your assessment of China’s debt situation be based on faulty assumptions?

Answer

“If we’re wrong, and there’s always a chance of that, it’s going to be because we’re under-appreciating the economic growth potential in China — that there is some more strength to the consumption story and services story than we sense now, and that these are about to take off and propel the country out of these debt problems.”

Question

How does China’s debt build-up compare to Japan’s previously?

Answer

“If you look at Japan, the credit expansion wasn’t anywhere close to the size of China’s, and China’s continues to grow at a rapid rate. There is also a somewhat Wild West, chaotic nature to a lot of the shadow banking going on in China that is different from the shadow credit we saw in Japan. What’s positive for China is that they’ve got a leadership team that is not as afraid as the Japanese leadership is of radical change. So, if China’s authorities ever do decide debt is the center of their problems and they need to do something about it, we won’t have decades of complacency with nothing really done. On the negative side, China has a much weaker social safety net and a much poorer population, which makes social and political instability a real concern.”

Question

What’s your assessment of China’s capital flows?

Answer

“The party line is that outflows are all about offshore debt repayment, but that accounts for a minority of the flows we are seeing. We think most of the money is leaving through trade mis-invoicing, which is very hard to shut down. Although capital outflows have quieted down, the underlying motivations for people to move their money out of the country are still there. This problem has not gone away.”

CEO/Founder Investors King Ltd, a foreign exchange research analyst, contributing author on New York-based Talk Markets and Investing.com, with over a decade experience in the global financial markets.

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Markets Today – Rollercoaster Ride, Fed, Earnings, Ukraine, Oil, Gold, Bitcoin

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By Craig Erlam, Senior Market Analyst, UK & EMEA, OANDA

It’s been a rollercoaster start to what was always going to be a massive week in the markets and there’s little reason to expect that to change in the coming days.

The turnaround on Monday was incredible. From eye-watering losses to ending the day in the green; it’s not often you see that kind of action. Investors will no doubt be relieved but that could prove to be short-lived. US futures are back in negative territory ahead of the open – albeit to a much lesser degree at the moment – and even at the close on Monday, the Nasdaq was more than 13% off its highs.

The next couple of days will be huge. So much could hang on the communication from the Fed tomorrow and whether they strike the right balance between taking inflation seriously and not raising rates too aggressively. It’s a tightrope situation but if the central bank can find the right balance, more may be tempted by these levels.

It’s not just on the Fed, of course. On Monday, it was geopolitics that appeared to tip investors over the edge. The reaction looked over the top but that is indicative of the level of underlying anxiety in the markets at the moment. And if things don’t improve this week, we may see more episodes like that.

Which brings us to earnings season and a week in which numerous companies release fourth-quarter results, including a number of big tech names. A disappointing start to the season hasn’t helped to lift the mood but that could change this week. If not, the January blues could turn into something far more unsettling.

Fundamentals remain bullish for oil

Oil got caught up in the sell-everything panic at the start of the week, sliding more than 3% at one stage before recovering a little. There wasn’t much sense behind the move, but the fact that the dollar was strengthening and crude was already seeing profit-taking after peaking just shy of $90, probably contributed to it.

The market remains fundamentally bullish and conflict with Russia does nothing to alleviate supply-side pressures. If anything, the risks are tilted in the other direction, not that I think it will come to that. Nor does the market at this point, it seems.

Still, it was only likely to be a matter of time until oil bulls poured back in and prices are up again today. The correction from the peak was less than 5% so that may be a little premature, but then the market is very tight so perhaps not.

Conditions remain favourable for gold

Gold continues to be well supported at the start of the week, following some turbulent trading conditions and dollar strength. It continued to hold over the last couple of sessions around $1,830 and has pushed higher with $1,850 now in its sights.

The yellow metal is pulling back a little today, off a few dollars, but it remains in a good position. There still appears to be momentum behind the rally which could continue to take it higher. A move through yesterday’s lows could see that slip but at this point in time, conditions continue to look favourable. Of course, the Fed tomorrow could have a huge role to play in whether that continues to be the case which may explain the consolidation in recent days.

A strong recovery for bitcoin

Bitcoin rebounded strongly on Monday, alongside other risk assets that had also been pummelled earlier in the day. It’s trading a little lower today but that won’t be a major concern at this stage as broader risk appetite is holding up so far. Whether that is sustainable will determine how bitcoin responds and that may depend on the Fed tomorrow.

Bitcoin found support at $33,000 on Monday which isn’t far from a hugely important support zone around $30,000. If risk appetite takes a turn for the worse again, we could see that come under severe pressure. If the price can hold above here in the short term, it could be a very positive sign.

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Markets Today – Russia/Ukraine, Fed, Earnings, PMIs, Oil, Gold, Bitcoin

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U.S Dollar - Investors King

By Craig Erlam, Senior Market Analyst, UK & EMEA, OANDA

Another woeful start to trading on Monday, as heightened geopolitical risk compounds investor anxiety and drags on risk assets.

It could be a make or break week for the markets, with the Fed meeting on Wednesday, big tech earnings, and ongoing tensions on the Ukraine/Russia border. That may sound a bit over the top given how deep a correction we’ve already seen, particularly in the Nasdaq, but it could get much worse before it gets better.

Wednesday is going to be massive. The Fed needs to strike the right balance between taking inflation seriously and not wanting to cause further unnecessary turmoil in the markets. Not an easy balancing act when four hikes are already priced in, alongside balance sheet reduction, and some are arguing it’s not enough.

That’s a lot of pressure for a meeting that’s not really live but investors will be hanging on every single word. It won’t take much for the Fed to add to the anxiety but if they manage to strike the right chord, it could help settle the markets and draw investors back in.

And then there’s earnings. Netflix got things off to a rotten start for big tech but there’ll be plenty of opportunities to turn that around this week. The Nasdaq has fallen more than 16% from its highs and sits very close to bear market territory. Will investors be tempted back in at these levels if the other big tech names deliver?

Whatever happens, it promises to be a really interesting week in the markets and one that could go terribly wrong or be the turning point. Perhaps that’s oversimplifying things but when fear is in control as it seems to be now, it creates these kinds of extremes.

Weak PMIs as omicron weighs

The PMIs we’ve seen today won’t exactly be helping the mood but we should take them with a pinch of salt given the impact that omicron will have had. The services sector was hit particularly hard, especially in the US, but again that’s to be expected under the circumstance. While the data won’t have helped to lift the mood, it won’t change the outlook for interest rates either. There was cause for optimism in some of the UK service’s forward-looking components which bodes well for the coming months, even as households and businesses are hampered by higher energy costs and taxes.

Oil lower but fundamentals remain bullish

Oil prices are lower at the start of the week as we continue to see some profit-taking alongside another hit to risk appetite. It’s been a remarkable rally and there’s nothing to suggest that prices are peaking. It’s just come a long way in a short period of time but the fundamentals continue to look bullish.

Despite it already trading at very elevated levels, I wouldn’t be surprised if any corrective moves are relatively shallow. There’s still a big issue on the supply side, with OPEC+ unable to even come close to monthly addition targets and it’s happening at a time of strong demand.

Not to mention the fact that tensions are seriously heightened between Russia and the West and an invasion of Ukraine is becoming an increasing possibility. When energy markets are already so tight, the additional risk premium should continue to support prices.

Gold pares earlier gains

Gold got off to a decent start this week as it continued to do well in risk-averse trade, but it has since given those back to trade marginally lower on the day. Whether its performance recently is a safe haven move, inflation hedge, or a combination of the two, it’s certainly been supportive for the yellow metal. And now it’s found strong support around $1,830 where it had been seeing plenty of resistance in recent weeks before breaking higher.

That could be a bullish confirmation signal and there still appears to be a healthy amount of momentum, even as the dollar is performing well. The next big test for gold is $1,850, where it struggled on Thursday before profit-taking kicked in.

A major test of support coming for bitcoin

Another miserable day for bitcoin which is continuing to slide after surpassing the 50% mark a little over two months after hitting record highs. It’s in freefall once more and really suffering in these risk-averse markets.

We’ve seen this before though, extreme moves work both ways and while the market has matured over the years, it is still a highly speculative, high-risk asset class. And high-risk assets are being pummelled.

But bitcoin now has a real test on its hands. The psychological blow of losing $40,000 is nothing compared to what happens if $30,000 falls. This is a major level of technical support that held throughout 2021, despite numerous tests early in the year and then throughout the summer. If this falls, it could get very messy.

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Crude Oil

Concerns Over Interest Rates Hike and Stronger US Dollar Weighed on Oil Prices

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Crude Oil - Investors King

Oil prices dropped on the back of growing concerns over the possibility of the US Federal Reserve raising interest rates and the surge in dollar value against global counterparts.

Brent crude oil, against which Nigerian crude oil is measured, fell by $3.69 from $88.86 a barrel it peaked earlier today to $85.17 per barrel when the New York market opened. The US West Texas Intermediate crude oil shed $3.91 to $81.9 per barrel, down from $85.81 it opened during the Asian trading session.

The decline in oil prices was after the US dollar jumped to a two-week high on Monday against its global counterparts, largely due to the tension between Russia and the West over Ukraine and the likelihood of the Fed raising interest rates this week.

Francesco Pesole, a strategist at ING Bank, said the increase in dollar value could stall if the Fed signalled a preference for balance sheet reduction against the widely expected interest rate as means to tighten policy.

“If markets see the Fed willing to let balance sheet reduction do the heavy lifting, that may force a scaleback in forecasts for the number of rate hikes,” he said.

“The dollar will find more support from actual rate hike expectations than expectations of draining liquidity out of the market.”

Carsten Fritsch, an analyst at Commerzbank, explained that the crisis in both Ukraine and the Middle East “justify a risk premium on the oil price because the countries involved – Russia and the UAE – are important members of OPEC+”.

Tension in the United Arab Emirates rose on Monday following an interception of two Houthi ballistic missiles targeting the Gulf country after a deadly attack a week earlier.

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