Posts Tagged ‘resource boom’

Does the major Chinese economic slowdown signify the end of the commodities boom?

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Even as late as the end of last year, when the credit crisis was only a few months old, there was a popular de-coupling theory that believes that Chinese economic growth will run independently from any malaise in the US economy. As we recalled what we wrote at Is Chinese growth ?de-coupled? from the US economy? in November last year,

According to this new theory, China should continue to grow and power the global economy regardless of what happens to the US economy. This is the ?de-coupling? theory. Proponents of this theory sees that so far, China had ?de-coupled? (both in real and financial terms) the most from the US.

Today, this theory is very much discredited. As this news article from the Sydney Morning Herld (SMH) says,

China’s domestic economy is slowing, but no-one really knows how much.

IT IS NOW eight weeks since Beijing waved goodbye to the Olympic Games and yet the sky remains an eerie, brilliant blue. The world is waiting for China’s smokestack economy to roar back to life.

Only weeks ago it seemed China might provide an island of growth that would keep Australia afloat while the rest of the world fell apart.

How could a Wall Street credit crisis knock over a country with closed capital accounts, where shops do not take credit cards and where people buy apartments with suitcases of cash?

There is no doubt that the Chinese economy is slowing much more than expected. The latest data reported that China’s 3rd quarter GDP slowed to a less than expected single digit of 9% (see China’s third quarter GDP growth slows to 9%). There are reports that tens of thousands of factories in China’s manufacturing province, Guandong, have already gone bust.

Is China falling into a recession along with the rest of the world? Our long time readers should not be surprised at this development, as we warned at Can China really ?de-couple? from a US recession? in January this year,

So, do you see China being caught in between? On one hand, a slowdown in US consumption will ultimately result in far greater proportion of contraction in investment spending in China, which accounts for the majority of Chinese economic activity.

Now, we will ask a very interesting question that has never been brought up by the mainstream media: Is this slowdown of the Chinese economy within the design of the Chinese government? Please note that we are not suggesting this slowdown is deliberately engineered by the Chinese government. Rather, we are suggesting that this slowdown could be part of the longer-term big picture plan.

Why do we say that?

Remember that we wrote at China to pull the plug? in March last year (2007)

… the Chinese leadership is highly concerned about the social and environmental impact of breakneck economic growth over the past few decades. There is worry that the status quo is ?unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable.?

Assuming that this news is true, we can expect significant policy changes in China that will shift focus from the economy to the environment and social stability. This means the Chinese government will take steps to slow economic growth significantly in order for the non-economic aspects of the nation to catch up and for the economy to catch a breather. Indeed, China, for all her impressive economic growth, has a host of other serious problems as side effects.

Whatever the specific actions that the Chinese government take, we can be sure that there will be a great impact on the global economy and financial markets.

If you are a frequent watcher of the Chinese news media, you will notice that in recent times, the government showed its intention to develop the inner provinces. There are some snippets of images showing government initiatives in the agricultural heartlands of the peasant countryside (in Chinese lingo, that’s called “scientific farming”).

Thus, in the bigger scheme of things, this slowdown of the Chinese economy is still consistent with the Chinese government’s long-term plans. As we wrote in Can China really ?de-couple? from a US recession?,

The needs of the Chinese consumption economy is different from the US consumption economy. Some Chinese are rich. But some other parts of China are unbelievably poor. Wealth distribution in China is rather uneven and there are still many pressing social and environmental issues to be solved. Currently, the Chinese export economy is tooled towards US consumption. To re-tool and re-configure the Chinese economy towards its domestic needs requires a period of adjustment in which capitals are destroyed and built.

Our guess is that this is the adjustment period that China re-tooling its economy whereby capitals will be destroyed and built. The slowdown may still be significant, but that does not mean that the long-term commodity boom is over. As we said in What the commodities super-cycle is and isn?t?,

The point we are trying to bring across is that this secular commodity trend is a very long-term trend that will take decades to unfold. Within this secular trend, there will be cycles of bad years. But do not mistake these cycles of bad years as a permanent decline that will stretch on forever and ever.

China’s slowdown & its implication for Australia

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

Back in February this year in Will China slow down from 2009?, we said that

Dear readers, do you see what we are trying to mean? Make no mistake about this: the Chinese economy will slow down appreciably for the Olympics. We believe it will not be just a quick and temporary once-off slowdown- rather it will be a time for the Chinese economy to take a breather and cool down significantly, both by the design of the Chinese government and the effects of a US recession. The giddy and euphoric economic growth of 2007 will not be so ecstatic in 2008 and beyond (but not forever, we guess- but touch wood, if China fall into total social breakdown, then all bets are off… again, touch wood).

It is clear that at the eve of the Olympics, statistical numbers revealed that China’s economy is slowing. As this article from FN Arena reported, China Slowing,

Chinese growth in the June quarter declined to 10.1% from 10.6% in the March quarter, an outcome slightly below consensus forecasts of an increase of 10.3%. According to Danske Bank the shortfall was largely the result of weaker export growth, as domestic demand continues at solid levels.

There are anecdotal indications of this too. Marc Faber, in a recent interview a few weeks ago (see Marc Faber: Let Big Brokers Fail; Buy Gold Not Oil ), said that

As you may know, I travel extensively and I’m not an economist like Mr. Ben Bernanke who reads textbooks and write papers; but I talk to people. And I can assure you: worldwide, there has been a meaningful slowdown in business. And I believe that the demand for commodities will come off in the second half of this year… very meaningfully, including demand in China and India and so, near term, I’m negative about commodities and I wouldn’t buy there here; whereby the commodities bull market may still be intact for many years to come…

At this point, we have to ask these crucial questions: (1) Is this Chinese slowdown merely a temporary blip for the sake of the Olympics (i.e. after the Olympics, the break-neck growth will resume again)? (2) Or is it, as we explained in Will China slow down from 2009?, a chance to catch a breather for a while? (3) Or worse still, a pre-cursor to a major economic correction, as we explained in Can China really ?de-couple? from a US recession??

The theory supporting (1) is that many of China’s factories closed to clear the air for the Olympics. Therefore, according to that theory, production will resume once the Olympics are out of the way. However, there is another theory against (1)- many Chinese infrastructure investment spending are for the glory of the Olympics show-case. Therefore, once it is out of the way, such investments will not proceed in the same intensity as before.

For (3), we cannot really quantify the risk of such happening. Even if it is going to happen, it may not be imminent. This falls into the realm of Black Swans.

Our feeling is that, (2) is the most likely outcome. If that is the case, what will be the implication for Australia? Well, the mining sector may be doing just fine, albeit with a limited slowdown. It will not be as hot as before, when the resource boom was at its maximum intensity a couple of years ago. But with the rest of the economy slowing down, we doubt Australia’s mining sector can pull the rest of the country out of this lethargy. That is where the danger lies. With so much debt lying around, Australia’s economy cannot afford to slowdown. If it slows down too much, the economy may stall and fall into a serious recession. As we explained before in Can lower interest rates re-inflate the property price bubble?,

But what if the economy slows down too much for the RBA?s liking? In that case, given the high levels of debt of Australians, if the economy slows down too much, the Australian economy can tip into a dangerous downward deflationary spiral.

Please note: we are NOT predicting this will happen in the forecasting sense.

Can Australia’s resource boom end sooner than expected?

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Our long time readers will be very familiar with our frequent warnings not to take Australia’s resource boom for granted. Today, we will repeat this warning again, albeit briefly.

Back in September last year, in this news article, Post-Olympics hangover may be risky business, it said

A LEADING global manufacturing expert has warned that China could be heading for a post-Olympics hangover with the potential to disrupt the resources boom on which Australia depends.

In particular, domestic consumption in China still accounts for a relatively small 39 per cent of the economy, with the remaining 61 per cent soaked up by infrastructure investment and net exports.

“Over time, this will shift and domestic consumption is going to become a bigger and bigger piece of the economy,” Mr Gromley told BusinessDay. “But, while that transition happens, there is a risk that over-investment in infrastructure will cause a bubble effect, particularly after the Beijing Olympics.”

What Mr Gromley calls over-investment is what we call mal-investment (see our guide, What causes economic booms and busts? for the concept of mal-investments).

In January this year, we wrote about our scepticism about the Chinese de-coupling theory at Can China really ?de-couple? from a US recession?. If our theory is right, this will have grave implication for Australia’s resource boom. If this boom peters out, Australia, with such high debt levels, will fall into severe recession (if not already in recession) led by debt deflation. When that day comes, a lot of ‘rich’ people will suddenly find the value of their asset worth far less than their expectation (see Aussie household debt not as bad as it seems?).