1. The frustrated and aggressive central bank
If one wants to know how bad the health of China’s economy has gone, look no further than the PBOC‘s composure, which seems rather frustrated and aggressive as of late. On 5th July, the central bank cut benchmark interest rates for the 2nd time in less than a month. This happened right after the fact that in December 2011, PBOC cut the reserve requirement ratio(RRR) by a 50 bp to 21%, it followed up with another 50 bp in February and another 50 bp in May to 20% currently.
On top of all the rate cuts, PBOC also made its biggest injection of funds into the money market in nearly six months. The PBOC injected a net 225 billion yuan ($34.5 billion) through the reverse-repurchase operations(repo) on last Tuesday and Friday, following a combined injection of 291 billion yuan in the previous four weeks.
2. The systematic short-circuit of debt financing’s in order
So why PBOC is in such an urge to open the floodgate of liquidity? This economist will spare you the boredom of looking at the diagrams of China’s economic misery: HSBC PMI, etc, since you can find those eye candies everywhere else on the web. Let me cut to the chase: However high it aims, PBOC’s action in practice merely work as the band aid to the bleeding economy. But it won’t be able to fix it. The central bank’s aggressive pro-liquidity maneuvers at best serve to sustain the over-leveraged economy and avoid the systematic short-circuit of debt financing. Now allow me to divulge:
The main drivers of China’s debt financing,China’s state-owned banks, are starving for cash. According to Citigroup estimates, in 2011 seven of the biggest Chinese banks raised 323.8 billion renminbi ($51.4 billion) of new fund. Several financial firms are expected to raise another $17.7 billion in the next few months, with China’s fifth-biggest lender, the Bank of Communications, accounting for $9 billion. The unprecedented lending binge encouraged by the central government,increasingly rigorous requirement of regulatory capital and excruciating maintenance of excessive dividend payouts have rendered the most-profitable banks in the world–Chinese banks–in a rather precarious position.
GaveKal’s data will illustrate this is no exaggeration: In 2010, China’s five biggest banks — the Big Four plus the Bank of Communications — paid more than 144 billion yuan in dividends while raising more than 199 billion yuan on the capital markets. The ballooning balance sheet caused by the loan frenzy and strict capital requirement make China’s banks’ cash-craving burning at both ends:this march, China’s big four— Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the Bank of China, China Construction Bank and Agricultural Bank of China — have a combined 14 percent increase in total assets, to 51.3 trillion yuan, which is roughly the size of the German, French and British economies combined.
Meanwhile, under a new set of rules, the country’s biggest banks will need to increase their capital levels to 11.5 percent of assets by the end of 2013.Their core Tier 1 capital ratio will need to be at least 9.5 percent. These requirements are more stringent than the rules that apply to American and European banks. Hereby, we shouldn’t be surprised why the world’s most profitable banks are in the dire need of cash. It has to be PBOC who comes to the rescue.
But we can’t expect the alchemy of central banking to conjure miracles other than administrating monetary band aids when the economy is broken.
3. The over-leveraged economy and unsustainable bubbles
According to the great Ray Dalio’s principles, the credit-fueled China’s economy is so over-leveraged that a great de-leveraging is going to be the only way out. The pyramid of debt/credit is cracking and will collapse since the conditions of underlying economic agents are deteriorating.There’s no mount of monetary band aids that can alter that destiny.
According to Fitch’s data, the ratio of total financing/GDP in China rose from 124% at end‐2007 to 174% at end‐2010, and rose by another 5pp to 179% in 2011.In 2012 the growth of broad credit will slightly decelerate but still outpace GDP. Clearly China is not suffering a liquidity crisis but the diminishing economic return on credit. According to Fitch, in 2012, each CNY1 in new financing will yield ￥0.39 yuan in new GDP versus ￥0.73 yuan pre-crisis.Returns would have to rise above ￥0.5 yuan for domestic credit/GDP to stabilize at 2011’s 179%.
The dilemma is that business entities will need more and more credit to achieve the same economic result, therefore will be more and more leveraged, less and less able to service the debt, more and more prone to insolvency and bankruptcy. It will reach a turning point when the increasing number of insolvencies and bankruptcies initiate an accelerating downward spiral for underling assets prices and drive up the non-performing loan ratio for the banks.
And then the over-stretched banking system will implode. A full blown economic crisis will come in full force. The chain of reaction is clearly set in the motion now. The question is when we will reach that turning point. What PBOC has done is only adding fuel to the fire because it is unable to tackle the root causes of China’s economic ills.Dee woo