I read a fantastic article on Zerohedge this morning about the world ending as per usual. However, this morning’s article “The ‘Game Over’ Redux” had something that I have been trying to explain to some friends/family regarding China for awhile but never really could. This is because I could never fully explain myself due to limited a understanding. That being, I know how it works and how it will collapse in the grand scheme of things but not necessarily all of the triggers and inner workings of the extremely complicated Chinese economy. The quoted text from Knight Research firm Mark Lapolla does a much better job with this.
I think the China situation, however, is profoundly obvious and profoundly simple. The idea that the free world is placing its hope in a repressive, communist regime employing command and control economic management while violating trade protections and human rights everywhere is absolutely astounding, amazing. I would suggest that, in itself, should be a sufficient warning flag. But let’s be a lot more specific. I actually see the situation in China as very analogous to the U.S. in 1929 and Japan in the 1980s….I’ll just tick off eight similarities between China circa 2011 and the U.S. before the Depression. 1) Massive disparity of wealth, income, and education. 2) Rapid industrialization and displacement of labor. 3) Opaque and misleading economic and financial data. 4) Massive build-up of leverage across the “rising” class. 5) Bubbles in both residential real estate and fixed asset/infrastructure development. 6) Accelerating and uncontrolled growth in disintermediated credit. 7) Expected transference of economic growth to domestic demand. And, finally, an accelerating price/wage spiral. Nonetheless, to China’s credit, they have a booming economy which has drawn the attention, admiration and certainly the economic aspirations of the world. The irony is, despite its hubris, China appears to have lost control — and has done so by doing everything it could to avoid that. Essentially, in its own zeal to placate its masses with rapid growth, China has created a tide of inflation that threatens it with wide-spread social unrest. But if it crushes speculation and clamps down on credit, it risks a deflationary collapse that would also threaten social harmony. The upshot is that China no longer controls its own destiny. The free markets do. As an aside, I would suggest that in the not-too distant future, when this all unravels, there will be downside as well as upside for the U.S., particularly as it relates to what we were talking about before, the way the U.S. has benefited from the value of intellectual property versus scale.
On China’s Lewis Point (discussed extensively here):
If there was one thing that pushed us over the edge to publish it last November, it was our belief, now confirmed, that China and an increasing number of other emerging markets are caught in a price/wage spirals that they’re not going to be able to control through monetary, fiscal or legislative policy. These are an inevitable result, not only of the credit boom, but of the manufacturing engine they’re living by. This is the great differentiator between the U.S. and China. The reason a systemic inflation cannot happen here for a long time and why it is happening in China is simply this: When labor is in the business of manufacturing goods (as opposed intellectual property or services), labor has a call on rising finished goods prices. When commodities prices begin to increase and manufacturers attempt to raise finished goods prices, wage rates must go up or labor’s value is necessarily diminished. This is the dynamic traditional U.S. manufacturing businesses faced decades ago, and now, in China, it has reached epic proportions. We’ve seen 20% to 30% wage increases by the government on the low end and by contract manufacturers such as Foxconn (FXCNF), which does the Apple (AAPL) iPhone, on the high end. It has raised wage rates, almost 30%. China bulls believe this wage inflation is good for workers and so ultimately is going to help China accelerate consumer demand as an engine of their growth. Nonetheless, it hasn’t and won’t, for a couple of reasons. 1) Savings rates actually are rising in the major city centers. 2) China’s consumer confidence numbers and research on the ground in China both show that labor has never been less secure than they are now, which seems paradoxical. One would think that China’s new¬found international power, along with higher incomes, would make Chinese workers feel all is right with the world. The problem is that the cost of living is growing even faster. Without getting too technical, China has probably crossed over what’s called, in academic theory, the Lewis Point, where the movement of labor from agriculture into manufacturing reaches a peak and begins to taper off as manufacturing labor begins to reconsider whether life in fact wasn’t better back on the farm.
In short, it’s a bubble. A giant one. Historically every bubble ever blown has popped. I don’t see this going any differently. China can talk and threaten the US, it’s people, it’s intellectual property, it’s monetary system all they want. THEY are in the bubble and are continuously trying to juggle it. It comes down to wages. Sustainability in China will only be possible if the wages increase, paradoxical because low wages are the very thing that attracts so much business to China in the first place.
…USA USA USA USA USA!
Moot point though considering the world ends this weekend.