July 20, 2018

Trump's Trade War May Spark A Chinese Debt Crisis

There’s no chance China will cut its trade surplus with the U.S. in response to President Donald Trump’s tariff threats. For starters, Washington has made no specific demand to which Beijing can respond. But its efforts may have an unexpected side effect: a debt crisis in China.

The 25 percent additional tariffs on exports of machinery and electronics looked, at first blush, like a stealth tax on offshoring. The focus on categories like semiconductors and nuclear components, in which U.S.-owned manufacturers in China are strong, recalled Trump’s 2016 promise to tax “any business that leaves our country.”

It seems, though, that offshoring wasn’t the target after all. Now, with the imposition of new tariffs on low-value exports that mostly involve Asian value chains, the simple fact of selling cheap products that the U.S. buys has become the problem.

Either way, the administration appears set on shrinking its current-account deficit (which, at a moderate 2.4 percent of GDP, is far lower than the 6 percent clocked in 2006-7) just as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates. Distress has already been registered in China. On July 19, the yuan (also known as the renminbi) hit 6.80 to the dollar, the weakest in a year and 7 percent lower than at the end of May.

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July 19, 2018

China Launches Quasi QE To Support Banks And Sliding Bond Market

With the ECB's QE coming to an end at the end of the year (absent some shock to the market or economy), some traders have already been voicing concerns which central bank will step in and provide a backstop to the global fixed income market, especially once the BOJ joins the global tightening bandwagon (something it will soon have to as Japan is rapidly running out of monetizable securities, and just moments ago the BOJ announced it would trim its purchases of bonds in both the 10-25 and 25+ year bucket).

Today one answer emerged when China’s central bank - three weeks after its latest RRR cut - announced further easing measures, including the introduction of incentives that will boost the liquidity of commercial banks, helping them to expand lending and increase investment in bonds issued by corporates and other entities.

And in a surprising twist, in order to make sure that Chinese banks and financial institutions have ample liquidity, the PBOC appears to have engaged in quasi QE - using monetary policy instruments such as its medium term loan facility (MLF) - to support the local bond market and banks, especially those that have invested in bonds rated AA+ and below. Effectively, China will directly fund banks with ultra cheap liquidity, with one simple instruction: "increase bank lending and bond purchases." And since all Chinese banks are essentially state owned, what Beijing is doing is launching a form of stealthy QE, only one where it is not the central bank, but the country's various commercial banks that do the purchases... using central bank liquidity.

As a reminder, one month ago we noted that the spread between China's AAA and AA- rated bonds has spiked in the past three months, blowing out to levels not seen since August 2016, and an indication of the market's growing fears about the recent surge in Chinese corporate defaults.

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July 18, 2018

EU Fines Google Record $5 Billion In Android Antitrust Probe

Shares of Google parent Alphabet are in the red on Wednesday morning as European Union antitrust regulators unveiled a record €4.3 billion ($5 billion) fine against the tech giant for allegedly anti-competitive practices related to Google's Android operating system. The wide-ranging probes into Alphabet have been a primary focus of Margrethe Vestager, the bloc's famously aggressive competition commissioner, since she was first appointed to the role in 2014.

Wednesday's fine follows a then-record 2.4 billion euro ($2.8 billion) levied by Vestager last year over allegations that Google's search feature unfairly benefited its comparative-shopping service.

Of course, the size of the latest fine is certainly notable, and begs the question: Is the bloc using these fines to retaliate against the US tech industry and President Trump for his refusal to grant a permanent exemption to the EU from the US's tariffs on aluminum and steel imports? Like China, which is also employing similar "stealth" retaliatory measures, the bloc also has a massive trade surplus of roughly $150 billion with the US.

Others have speculated that the hefty fines and intense scrutiny are a result of resentments in the EU over the global dominance of the US tech industry. Bloomberg broke the story, and also pointed out that the expected fine is roughly equivalent to the annual contribution to the EU's budget made by the Netherlands.

The decision will bring the running total of fines levied against Alphabet to €6.7 billion, and could soon be followed by fines related to Google's online advertising contracts - the last of the three anti-trust probes against the company.

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July 17, 2018

Did Xi's Overly-Ambitious Goals Trigger US-China Trade War?

Talk of becoming world No.1 backfired, hurting even dinner tables...

Soon, all 1.4 billion Chinese will be feeling the pinch of Donald Trump's presidency an ocean away.

They will look at their dining table and notice their favorite dishes -- Chinese-style deep fried chicken, firecracker chicken and twice-cooked pork -- are all cooked with lots of oil, much of which is pressed from the seeds of American or Brazilian soybeans.

Similarly, many of China's pigs and chickens are raised on imported soybean meal, the residue left after oil extraction.

Doubanjiang, the chili-bean paste that determines the splendor of Chinese cuisine, also cannot be made without soybeans. Of the above mentioned dishes, cabbage is about the only ingredient the country can fully provide for itself.

President Trump last week imposed 25% punitive import tariffs on Chinese products, citing violations of intellectual property rights. Chinese President Xi Jinping responded immediately, slapping 25% retaliatory import tariffs on American products, including soybeans.

As a result of the soybean levy, the cost of food in China will jump, dealing a serious blow to Chinese farmers and eaters.

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July 16, 2018

China GDP Growth Slows After Record Contraction In Shadow Banking Credit

Following the largest contraction in 'shadow banking system' credit, and a record low for M2 growth, fears were building that China's economic growth prospects may lag expectations.

By way of background for tonight's economic data deluge, here are the lowlights.

The drop in shadow bank was particularly sharp for the second month in a row: this has been the area where Beijing has been most focused in their deleveraging efforts as it’s the most opaque and riskiest segment of credit. And, as the chart below show, the aggregate off balance-sheet financing posted its biggest monthly drop on record in June the lass granular M2 reading also posted a growth slowdown, rising only 8.0% in June, down from May's 8.3%, below consensus of 8.4%, and the lowest on record.

Both of which do nothing to help China's credit impulse. Investors see China's liquidity tightening...

Commenting on the ongoing slowdown in China's credit creation, Goldman said that the latest money and credit data highlighted the challenges the government is facing in loosening monetary policy.

But before we shift to the market's perceptions, don't forget, China's trade surplus with the US just hit a Trump-tantrum-creating record high...

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July 13, 2018

European Powers Prepare To Ditch Dollar In Trade With Iran

While the White House’s frenzied anti-Iran campaign has entailed unprecedented attempts to twist the arms of the United States’ traditional European allies, the pressure may be backfiring – a reality made all the more clear by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s claims that Europe’s three major powers plan to continue trade ties with Iran without the use of the U.S. dollar.

The move would be a clear sign that the foremost European hegemons – France, Germany, and the United Kingdom – plan to protect the interests of companies hoping to do business with Iran, a significant regional power with a market of around 80 million people.

Lavrov’s statement came as Trump insisted that European companies would “absolutely” face sanctions in the aftermath of Washington’s widely-derided sabotage of the six-party Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  On May 8, the former host of NBC’s “The Apprentice” blasted the agreement and said that the U.S. would reinstate nuclear sanctions on Iran and “the highest level” of economic bans on the Islamic Republic.

Speaking in Vienna at the ministerial meeting of the JCPOA, Lavrov blasted the U.S. move as “a major violation of the agreed-upon terms which actually made it possible to significantly alleviate tensions from the point of view of the military and political situation in the region and upholding the non-proliferation regime.”  He added that “Iran was meticulously fulfilling its obligations” at the time that Trump destroyed the U.S.’ end of the agreement.

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July 12, 2018

U.S. Consumers On An Unprecedented Debt Binge As Credit Card Debt Soars To An All-Time Record High

Americans are on an absolutely spectacular debt binge.  Does this mean that the economy is getting better, or does this mean that U.S. consumers are totally tapped out and are relying on borrowed money to make it from month to month?  On Monday, the Federal Reserve announced that total consumer credit in the United States increased by a whopping 24.6 billion dollars in May, which was far greater than the 12.4 billion dollar gain that economists were anticipating.  Total U.S. consumer credit has now hit a grand total of 3.9 trillion dollars, but it is the “revolving credit” numbers that are getting the most attention.  Revolving credit alone shot up by 9.8 billion dollars in May, and that was one of the largest monthly increases ever recorded.  At this point, total “revolving credit” has reached a brand new all-time record high of 1.39 trillion dollars, and credit card debt accounts for nearly all of that figure.

The optimists will tell us that this is yet another sign that the U.S. economy is booming, and hopefully they are correct.

But does it really make sense for U.S. consumers to go on a historic debt binge when much of the country is already drowning in debt and just barely scraping by from month to month?

In a previous article, I pointed out that U.S. consumers have been spending more money than they make for 28 months in a row.

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July 11, 2018

"We're In Uncharted Waters" - Stocks, Yuan, Commodities Slump As US-China Trade Wars Re-Escalate

Just when you thought it was safe to BTF Trade War Dip, a headline hits to remind you that President Trump is anything but done with China.

The new list marks the latest escalation of the trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.

And judging by the reaction in stocks and the yuan, it appears that the market's brilliant extrapolation of "no more trade wars" as a result of a 3 days silence (of which 2 was during the weekend) may have been wrong.

As Asia markets open, Dow Futs are down around 300 from the closing highs.

The US has released the list of $200 billion in Chinese products that could be subject to an additional 10% tariff, fulfilling President Trump's promises for further escalation of the burgeoning trade war between the US and China. Meanwhile, a senior US official reportedly told CNBC that China isn't seriously negotiating on trade, suggesting that the hoped-for negotiated settlement might not materialize - at least not anytime soon.

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July 10, 2018

The Root Of The Crisis: Every $1 Of Debt Generates Just 44c Of Economic Output

Exactly ten years ago, in the middle of the summer of 2008, the world was only two months away from the most severe financial crisis since the Great Depression.

At the time, the size of the US economy as measured by Gross Domestic product was around $14.8 trillion– by far the largest in the world.

And the US national debt back then was about 64% of GDP– roughly $9.5 trillion.

Fast forward a decade and take a snapshot of the same numbers:

US GDP has grown nearly 35% to $19.9 trillion.

But the national debt has soared 122% to over $21 trillion.

The debt-to-GDP ratio in the United States is now 106%, meaning that the national debt is larger than the size of the entire US economy. Yet the debt keeps growing. Rapidly.

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July 9, 2018

Chinese Refiner Halts US Oil Purchases, May Use Iran Oil Instead

With the US and China contemplating their next moves in what is now officially a trade war, a parallel narrative is developing in the world of energy where Asian oil refiners are racing to secure crude supplies in anticipation of an escalating trade war between the US and China, even as Trump demands all US allies cut Iran oil exports to zero by November 4 following sanctions aimed at shutting the country out of oil markets.

Concerned that the situation will deteriorate before it gets better, Asian refiners are moving swiftly to secure supplies with South Korea leading the way. Under pressure from Washington, Seoul has already halted all orders of Iranian oil, according to sources, even as it braces from spillover effects from the U.S.-China tit-for-tat on trade.

"As South Korea's economy heavily relies on trade, it won't be good for South Korea if the global economic slowdown happens because of a trade dispute between U.S and China," said Lee Dal-seok, senior researcher at the Korea Energy Economic Institute (KEEI).

Meanwhile, Chinese state media has unleashed a full-on propaganda blitzkrieg, slamming Trump's government as a "gang of hoodlums", with officials vowing retaliation, while the chairman of Sinochem just become China's official leader of the anti-Trump resistance, quoting Michelle Obama's famous slogan "when they go low, we go high." Standing in the line of fire are U.S. crude supplies to China, which have surged from virtually zero before 2017 to 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) in July.

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