Posts Tagged ‘G20’

Nations will rise against nations

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

A few days, as reported widely in the news media, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said at a press conference that

We have lent huge amounts of money to the United States. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets.

To be honest, I am a little bit worried and I would like to … call on the United States to honour its word and remain a credible nation and ensure the safety of Chinese assets.

Those words, when translated into English in writing, sound bland. But if you watch what he said in full video in the original language, then you will be able to appreciate the immense gravity of the situation from the tone of his voice.

But dear readers, you must understand that Premier Wen was just stating the obvious. There’s nothing new in what he said. All you have to do is to turn back to what we wrote in December 2006 and read Will the US dollar collapse? and Awash with cash?what to do with it? to see the big picture of what’s going on for years. As we wrote back then,

Lately, we are again hearing that central bankers are murmuring about diversifying their foreign reserves away from the US dollar. Does it mean that there is an imminent liquidation of their US dollar reserves? Well, this is not the first time they murmured about it and it is definitely not in their (including the Federal Reserve?s) interest to see a collapse of the US dollar. The Chinese, with their US$1 trillion of reserves, would not want to see their stockpile of US dollars to lose significant value.

That paragraph was written in the final days of 2006. Today, China’s US dollar reserve had doubled from they had more than 2 years ago. The major difference between today and back then is the emergence of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).

Thanks to the GFC, the status quo, which had been running for decades, is stressed towards a breaking point (but who knows, perhaps that inevitable  breaking point could still be delayed for longer before an almighty snap happens). There are far too many contradictory and conflicting interests among nations.

For the US, as we said before in How is the US going to repay its national debt?, is facing a situation in the coming decades of having to pay a colossal amount of public debt. The public sector is facing a massive debt many times its GDP from the unfunded Medicare and social security liabilities. With the GFC, the US government is transferring more and more private debt to the public sector through bailouts, handouts and stimulus. It is either the US mobilise its monetary printing press to massively inflate away (i.e. print copious amount of money) all these debts or they face up to the reality that they are bankrupt and go through the cold turkey of an almighty deflationary collapse (read: almighty depression). If the US chooses the former, China will be furious because that will be doing the very opposite of what Premier Wen called on the US to do, namely to “honour its word and remain a credible nation and ensure the safety of Chinese assets.”

Unfortunately, the big problem is that the US (along with countries like Australia and UK) has been de-industrialising and hollowing out its economy for a very long time, while the China has been doing the opposite. To put it simply, the US is consuming more and more while China produces more and more. This gross imbalance has been playing out for too long. With the GFC, the US consumers are effectively bankrupt and cannot borrow any more to buy from China. China has lost its biggest customer and is in trouble too.

The coming G20 Summit will be filled with countries with conflicting agendas. The US (and UK) wants more stimulus (and of course, bailouts when required), which can only happen if they print money (i.e. devalue the US dollar), which is as good as spitting on China’s face. Europe (headed by Germany and France) wants the focus to be on regulations and prevention, which means they are less keen on stimulus and bailouts. This is because the latter will involve the tax-payers of countries like Germany rescuing the tax-payers of other EU nations. China, on the other hand, wants an overhaul of the current world order so that they can have more power and say to better reflect their status as America’s creditor. Obviously, the US will not like that because that will mean they have to voluntarily descend for an ascending China.

There are plenty of temptations to take the easy way out. For example, if the Chinese expect the US to inflate away their debts by printing money and thereby, devaluing the US dollar, they will be likely to devalue their RMB in order to continue the process of hollowing out the US economy. The US (and the Europeans), in response, could impose trade barriers on Chinese imports. The Chinese could retaliate by dumping their holdings of US Treasuries. Remember, these are just examples of what may happen and they are by no means predictions. But we trust that you get the idea here.

Therefore, outwardly, the world may be at peace. But inwardly, we believe there will be jostling for power, influence and resources between the major nation blocs. Bigger nations will use smaller nations as pawns, international armed non-state groups will intensify their activities and inter-ethnic conflicts will arise. We have no doubt that there will be plenty of Black Swans appearing in the days to come.

What should China demand in return for help in combating economic crisis?

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

Even before this weekend’s G20 Summit, there was a lot of rhetoric on international solidarity and cooperation to tackle this global economic crisis. Since this crisis is a shared curse of every nation, global leaders pledged (or at least agreed nominally) coordinated action in a spirit of teamwork and camaraderie. After all, one of the reasons why the Great Depression was a depression instead of a severe recession was because of the spirit of self-interest, blame laying and cliques among the nations.

China gave indications that it will help in the bailouts via the IMF (see China ready to help tackle crisis via IMF). No doubt, there will be expectations on China to fork out a substantial part of its massive hoard of US dollar reserves to do so.

But will the Chinese government just help for nothing? Domestically, they have their own economic worries and problems to tackle. Naturally, their domestic needs will take the first place. As such, this will have negative repercussion on the US economy (see Is China?s pump priming bad for the US?). At the same time, the Chinese are too subtle to act so belligerently in the open.

What should the Chinese do then? To answer this question, we will put ourselves on the shoes of the Chinese. What will we do?

Well, if we are to dip into our hoard of US dollar reserves to help in the bailouts and rescues, we will demand one thing in return- the IMF’s gold reserves. China has only 600 tones of gold reserves whereas the IMF has around 3200 tonnes. If we can swap our US Treasuries/dollars for IMF’s gold, we will kill 4 birds with one stone:

  1. Be Mr. Nice in the eyes of the world because of our ‘generosity’ in sharing our US dollars.
  2. Increase our gold reserves by more than 6 times in one swoop.
  3. Leave the market price of gold unmolested.
  4. Getting rid of our US dollars without causing a destabilising run in US dollars in the forex market. This will reduce the vulnerability of our national savings in the hands of the money printers running the US government.

The only hitch is that at today’s gold spot market price, China’s current US dollar reserves of US$1.9 trillion can buy up half of all the gold ever mined in the entire history of humanity.

Anyway, we are not them and hence, we don’t expect them to act like us.