Facebook Blogging

Edward Hugh has a lively and enjoyable Facebook community where he publishes frequent breaking news economics links and short updates. If you would like to receive these updates on a regular basis and join the debate please invite Edward as a friend by clicking the Facebook link at the top of the right sidebar.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Facebook Links

Quietly clicking my way through Bloomberg last Sunday afternoon, I came across this:

Facebook Members Register Names at 550 a Second

Facebook Inc., the world’s largest social-networking site, said members registered new user names at a rate of more than 550 a second after the company offered people the chance to claim a personalized Web address.

Facebook started accepted registrations at midnight New York time on a first-come, first-served basis. Within the first seven minutes, 345,000 people had claimed user names, said Larry Yu, a spokesman for Palo Alto, California-based Facebook. Within 15 minutes, 500,000 users had grabbed a name.

Mein Gott, I thought to myself, if 550 people a second are doing something, they can't all be wrong. So I immediately signed up. Actually, this isn't my first experience with social networking since I did try Orkut out some years back, but somehow I didn't quite get the point. Either I was missing something, or Orkut was. Now I think I've finally got it. Perhaps the technology has improved, or perhaps I have. As I said in one of my first postings:

Ok. This is just what I've always wanted really. A quick'n dirty personal blog. Here we go. Boy am I going to enjoy this.
Daniel Dresner once broke bloggers down into two groups, the "thinkers" and the "linkers". I probably would be immodest enough to suggest that most of my material falls into the first category (my postings are lo-o-o-ng, horribly long), but since I don't really fit any mould, and I am hard to typecast, I also have that hidden "linker" part, struggling within and desperate to come out. Which is why Facebook is just great.

In addition, on blogs like this I can probably only manage to post something worthwhile perhaps once or twice a month, and there is news everyday.

So, if you want some of that up to the minute "breaking" stuff, and are willing to submit yourself to a good dose of link spam, why not come on in and subscribe to my new state-of-the-art blog? You can either send me a friend request via FB, or mail me direct (you can find the mail on my Roubini Global page). Let's all go and take a long hard look at the future, you never know, it might just work.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

China's Imports and Global Recovery - Brad Setser Need Be Curious No Longer

Earlier this week Brad Setser was opining on his blog:

“Like everyone else, I am curious to see what China’s May trade data tells us. If China truly is going to lead the global recovery, China needs to import more – and not just import more commodities for its (growing) strategic stockpiles.”

Well Brad need restrain his curiosity no longer, since just this very morning we have learnt that:
China’s exports fell by a record in May as the global recession cut demand for goods produced by the world’s third-largest economy. Overseas sales dropped 26.4 percent in May from a year earlier. That compares with the median estimate for a decline of 23 percent in a Bloomberg News survey of 15 economists, and a 22.6 percent contraction in April.

The decline was the biggest since Bloomberg data began in 1995. And more to the point as far as Brad is concerned China’s imports dropped 25.2 percent last month, compared with a 23 percent fall in April. Hence China just one more time ran an increased trade surplus (up to $13.4bn in May from $13.1bn in April), and it is no clearer to me than it is to Brad how a country running a trade surplus can be leading a surge in global demand. Indeed this months data, far from prodiving evidence of an accelerating "recovery" continues to point towards ongoing weakness in global demand, just like the evidence we are receiving from Germany, and from Japan.

Of course, these are year on year numbers. Month on month, exports seem to have stabilised since the start of the year, while imports are undoubtedly up. As Danske Bank put it in a research note today:

The development in China’s exports was weaker than expected. According to our own seasonally adjusted data, exports edged up slightly and the overall picture remains that China’s exports have stabilised in recent months. However, the rebound in China’s exports since early this year has been weaker than in most other Asian countries, suggesting that the Chinese recovery story has been a major driver in Asian countries’ export recovery in recent months.

This is confirmed by the continued strong growth in China’s imports. According to our own seasonally adjusted figures, China’s imports soared ahead 5.8% m/m in May following an 4.9% m/m impressive jump in imports in the previous month. China’s imports of commodities such as iron ore, coal and crude oil have been extraordinarily strong, increasing speculation that China is currently building strategic inventories of the most important commodities (see chart on next page). For that reason, Latin America (not least Brazil) and the ASEAN countries have benefited recently from China’s strong import volumes.

What matters is not so much the fact that imports are rising, but what exactly the imports are. There is substantial evidence accumulating that - as Brad suggests - China is simply stockpiling commodities as a hedge against future inflation. Some of the best evidence for this came here, yesterday. If this picture is correct, then the situation is unsustainable, as is the run up in commodity prices and stocks which have accompanied it. I note Forex Blog draws similar conclusions this morning:
I would argue that the sustainability of this rally (both in stocks and in currencies) hinges on a return to GDP growth in emerging markets. [The IMF forecasts 1.6% growth in 2009 and 4% in 2010]. But given the gap between share prices and earnings, I’m frankly not convinced that investors actually care about whether the rally is supported by actual data. Instead, investors have complacently been swept up by the same herd mentality that produced the bubble of 2008, and could potentially lead to a rapid and painful collapse in what looks to be the bubble of 2009.

Investment Bonanza?

On the other hand there was a 38.7 percent year on year rise in fixed asset investment in May. This was an even larger increase than the one registered in April, when FAI rose 33.9 per cent. For the first five months of this year, investments increased 32.9 per cent from the same period in 2008, compared with 30.5 per cent in the first four months of the year and against an estimate of 31 per cent. According to Alaistair Chan, at Moody’s Economy.com.

“Fixed asset investment in China continues to increase on the back of state-directed projects ... This will help keep the economy growing but there are increasing concerns about the amount of lending that has been required to fund the projects"

Quite. And as a Chinese economist friend wrote me to say: "just how much of the current property demand is speculative? I also have my doubts whether even official inventory levels accurately reflect all the inventory out there, especially when I read anecdotes like this ... "

As a Beijing homeowner myself, I’ve experienced this puzzling phenomenon firsthand. We have been told that the value of the condo we bought last year has gone up 30% based on sales of new nearby developments, but it’s impossible to confirm since there is no secondary market. Originally we tried to rent the place, but we couldn’t find takers at any price that could remotely cover the mortgage, despite a prime location. When we decided to move in instead, we discovered that while the building was sold out long ago, hardly anyone actually lives there. Same with another 800-unit project down the street: every unit went for top dollar well before completion, but now the lights are off and nobody’s home.

In fact the volume of empty apartments across the country hit 91million sq metres at the end of last year, up 32.3 per cent from a year earlier, according to official figures. But those numbers included neither the huge volumes of completed real estate projects whose owners are waiting for market conditions to improve before they put them on the market, nor the estimated 587 million sq m of apartments sold in the past five years but left empty by their owners.

And that part of fixed investment which is ending up, not in flats for inventory, but in productive capacity. Well, as MacroMan says this morning:
But as capex growth keeps humming along..(we could ask)..does the world really need more manufacturing capacity at this juncture? .....(it all)...of course, begs the question of who the Chinese plan on selling to. It's all well and good continuing to build factories and export capacity, but the real world isn't like Field of Dreams; just because you build it doesn't mean that customers will come. Yesterday's US trade figures were telling in that regard. Imports declined again in April; while an inveterate "second derivative" believer may find reasons for optimism in the slight lessening of the pace of import decline in yesterday's data, Macro Man is rather more sceptical. And the fact that US exports declined as well suggests that domestic demand in the rest of the world remains flaccid at best.

So, and finishing up where I started, with the trade balance, as Brad said: "China needs to import more – and not just import more commodities for its (growing) strategic stockpiles". However, to quote again my Chinese economist friend: Macroman's data on China's imports of commodities is surreal too. To which Claus Vistesen responded: "Yep, this was what I thought, and we should expect Brad Setser to be all over this". We certainly should, we certainly should. On you go Brad.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

China's Prices Continue To Decline As Industry Recovers (Updated)

Consumer prices fell again in China in May, although less sharply than they did in April. This lead some to hope that deflationary pressures are begining to ease, but I think it is far too early to start drawing this kind of conclusion. Indeed, like Brad Setser:

"I am curious to see what China’s May trade data tells us. If China truly is going to lead the global recovery, China needs to import more – and not just import more commodities for its (growing) strategic stockpiles.”
The consumer price index fell 1.4 per cent from a year earlier, compared with a 1.5 per cent decline in April, marking the fourth straight month of falling prices. On a month-on-month basis, the National Bureau of Statistics said the CPI dropped 0.3 per cent from April’s level.

The decline in food prices eased significantly, from 1.3 per cent in April to 0.6 per cent in May. Prices of non-food items, however, fell 1.7 per cent last month, more than April’s 1.5 per cent. However, the producer price index, which measures prices paid at the factory gate, fell 7.2 per cent in May. This was sharper than the 6.6 per cent fall in April.

Manufacturing On The Rebound?

The CLSA China Purchasing Managers Index rose to 51.2 in May from 50.1 in April, making May the second consecutive month the CLSA PMI was above 50.0, after eight months of being below the critical line. The rate of destocking increased in May, which was encouraging given there is some anecdotal evidence that production may be running ahead of orders. On aggregate the reverse seems to be true. The CLSA China PMI is compiled by U.K.-based research firm Markit Economics. The export order index increased to 50.1, the first expansion in 11 months. The output index fell to 56.9 from 57.4 and the new order index dropped to 56.2 from 56.6.

In fact in China there are two indexes, a fact which has lead to some controversy. The second index produced by the government-backed Federation of Logistics & Purchasing has repeatedly shown slightly higher readings, a feature which may be the result of giving a slightly larger weighting to the state enterprises, which are more oriented towards the domestic market. The May PMI saw the CFLP benchmark reading fall to 53.1 in May from 53.5 in April. This was the third consecutive month this index has held above 50.

So despite a good deal of controversy about what exactly is happening in China, and how sustainable what is happening actually is, it does seem that, for whatever reason, manufacturing industry is expanding at this point.

China’s Industrial Production Figures Press Leaked

The 21st Century Business Herald have reported China’s industrial production ahead of the official release date. The report says fixed-asset investments for May, due out Thursday, will show a 32.9% rise, while the month's industrial production and retail sales, due Friday, will post gains of 8.9% and 15.2%, respectively.

The figures were apparently derived from data circulating within government days ahead of public announcement. Reports in the mainland Chinese "21st Century Business Herald" and in Hong Kong's "Ming Pao" had already managed to predict the above consumer and producer price results ahead of today's official release, which raises questions about what exactly is going on here.

The accuracy of these newspaper forecasts is better than those of most economists, raising more than just eyebrows. Merrill Lynch said the results, rather than being a lucky coincidence, show that the "whispered numbers" referred in the reports are reliable. "Today's release confirms those whispered inflation numbers, meaning other whispered numbers are likely to be highly credible," Merrill Lynch analysts said in a research note today.

Retail Sales, Industrial Output and New Lending Data

China’s new lending doubled in May and industrial output and retail sales climbed pretty much in line with the data which was leaked earlier in the week by 21st Century Business Herald (see above).

New loans jumped to 664.5 billion yuan ($97 billion) from 318.5 billion yuan a year earlier. Industrial-output growth accelerated to 8.9 percent year on year and sales rose 15.2 percent.

Today’s data add to accelerating fixed-asset investment and surging auto and property sales in signaling that rapidly growing bank lending is succesfully countering the exports slump - for the time being anyway. But this very same record lending is stoking concern that China’s recovery may come at the expense of inflating asset bubbles and adding to the bank bad loan books.

M2, the broadest measure of money supply, rose 25.7 percent in May from a year earlier, according to central bank data, following a record 26 percent gain in April. Fitch Ratings said last month that it’s “increasingly wary” of China’s banking industry as it expects an increase in bad debts, and the nation’s banking regulator has urged lenders to ensure they don’t loosen management of loans.

Societe Generale note the following in today's research report:

China’s growth moving into dangerous territory

To describe the economic support measures in place in the Chinese economy as expansionary fiscal policy is not entirely correct. For the money is not being handed out from the public purse. It is being handed out by the Banks. Sure, they are acting as fiscal agents for Beijing, but the point highlights how China is enjoying a heady liquidity boom. It has been these liquidity booms that have always tripped China up....... and requires liquidity drainage that often overshoots. Given Chinese banks extended nearly CNY5trn of lending in the first quarter alone, this was equivalent to 70% of GDP, These liquidity booms are the types that China has always gotten into...... The sheer size of lending in the first quarter was equivalent to around 70% of that quarters GDP. Full-year lending is now likely to be close to CNY10trn – equivalent to nearly 30% of 2008 GDP.

On the face of it, China's car industry is among the winners from government efforts to spur growth, as China extends its lead over the U.S. as the world’s biggest auto market this year, with output climbing 29 percent in May. But is this as simple as it seems. As they say here, perhaps not:

At the same time, though prices vary from city to city, it is fair to say
China’s housing market which is said to have dropped 20% since this time last
year has largely made that back up this year as prices have rebounded.

All in all China looks in robust health and set to resume its place as
the engine of world growth just as soon as the rest of the world gets its act
together – right? Well we hate to be Doubting Thomas’s but well we have our
doubts. Those house sales have been supported by easy loans and reduced interest
rates. That is a phenomenon that the government could keep in place for some
time, years possibly providing the housing market doesn’t begin to overheat
again. But exports are still down, by 20% year over year according to the well
respected Brad Setser, ignoring the fact the market added another 30% in Q3 2008.

There are some apparently contradictory numbers coming out of China at
the moment. Take those car sales as an example. Our man on the ground tells us
BYD, a noted Chinese car maker, reported 30,000 car sales of one model by end of
last year, but the number plate agency recorded only 10,000 new cars of that
model registered for use on the road. What happened to the other 20,000 are they
running around without number plates? In a police state, I don’t think so. Our
understanding is auto sales are recorded in China when they leave the factory,
not when they are registered on the road, so dealers can build up inventory
while car “sales” are rising.