Don’t Believe the Hype: China’s North Korea Policy is All Smoke and Mirrors

Dr. Van Jackson is an Associate Professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, and author of the book Rival Reputations: Coercion and Credibility in US-North Korea Relations:

Social media is abuzz with news that China’s Ministry of Commerce announced it will suspend coal imports from North Korea as part of U.N. Security Council sanctions enforcement for the North’s most recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests in violation of prior Security Council resolutions. So China is finally standing arm-in-arm with the United States and international community to actually do something about North Korea. That’s great, right? Wrong.

China’s suspension of coal imports is smoke and mirrors; an act of geopolitical misdirection. The United States is being played, as it has in the numerous past instances when China supported sanctions resolutions against North Korea at the United Nations only to fail to implement them….

….China’s “emotions” toward North Korea don’t drive its policy. China has a long tradition of paying lip service toward cooperation with the United States and the international community while largely failing to apply any meaningful pressure on North Korea, and for good reason: It doesn’t want a nuclear-armed neighbor on its border to become a nuclear-armed enemy. We ignore China’s enduring strategic interests in North Korea at our peril.

Source: Don’t Believe the Hype: China’s North Korea Policy is All Smoke and Mirrors

The Catch-22 in U.S.-Chinese Relations | Carnegie-Tsinghua Center

Paul Haenle served as the director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolian Affairs on the National Security Council staffs of former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama prior to joining Carnegie:

When, at the no-necktie summit in California in 2013, Xi [Chinese President Xi Jinping] put forward the [strategic partnership] concept, he mentioned three foundational principles: no conflict and no confrontation; mutual respect, including for both countries’ core interests and major concerns; and win-win cooperation. The United States has long reiterated that the relationship should be based not on slogans but on the quality of the cooperation.

….But China’s call for respect for core interests has been a showstopper in Washington, seen as an indication that what China really seeks is U.S. concessions on areas of long-standing disagreement between the two countries.

Historically China has defined its core interests as including Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang (the Uyghur Autonomous Region) but these have lately expanded to include the South China Sea (9-dash line) and Diaoyu (Senkaku) islands administered by Japan.

Vladimir Lenin advocated: “Probe with a bayonet. If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

Any attempt at conciliation would encourage further expansion.

Source: The Catch-22 in U.S.-Chinese Relations – Carnegie-Tsinghua Center – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Australian miners and the PBOC

I mentioned on Friday that the ASX 300 Metals & Mining Index is falling, with declining Twiggs Money Flow warning of long-term selling pressure.

ASX 300 Metals & Mining

The reason is not hard to find. China’s PBOC is tightening monetary policy to force a slow-down in real estate and construction. Money supply (M1) growth contracted over the last 6 months, with a sharp drop in January 2017.

ASX 300 Metals & Mining

Bulk commodity prices are expected to ease.

Can Australia dodge the great deleveraging? | MacroBusiness

Interesting chart from UBS (via Macrobusiness). Movement between 2002 and 2016 for a number of Developed and Emerging Market (DM and EM) countries in the ratio of bank credit to GDP and bank debt to credit.

The good guys are in the top left corner and the bad guys bottom right.

Australia and China are testing record levels of bank credit to GDP, tracing a similar path to Spain. We all know how that ended.

Source: Can Australia dodge the great deleveraging? – MacroBusiness

Chinese real estate bubble “slows”

Elliot Clarke at Westpac reports that home price growth in tier-1 cities “slowed materially” in January 2017:

From 29%yr in September 2016, tier-1 new home price growth has slowed to 23%yr. Similarly for the tier-1 secondary market, price momentum has slowed from 33%yr to 26%yr since September.

Tier-2 and tier-3 cities have far lower annual growth rates: 12% and 9% respectively for new homes and 9% and 6% for existing dwellings.

When we compare tier-1 price growth to Sydney and Melbourne, the Chinese bubble is in a different league. From CoreLogic: “Sydney home prices surged 15.5 per cent and Melbourne’s 13.7 per cent over the year [2016]”.

It is hard to imagine a soft landing when property prices have been growing at 30% a year.

Even 15%….

China: Inflation on the rise

China’s Shanghai Composite Index is approaching resistance at 3300 after respecting its new support level at 3100. Twiggs Money Flow troughs above zero indicate long-term buying pressure. Breakout would provide further confirmation of the primary up-trend.

Shanghai Composite Index

* Target medium-term: 3100 + ( 3100 – 2800 ) = 3400

The rising market is primarily a result of central bank stimulus so investors need to consider the result if this is withdrawn. Rising producer prices warn that underlying inflation is growing. If this continues the PBOC will be forced to retreat.

China: Producer Prices Annual Change

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index is also testing resistance, at 24000. A Twiggs Money Flow trough that respects zero would signal long-term buying pressure but that looks uncertain at present.
Hang Seng Index

Gold breaks through $1250

10-Year Treasury Yields are testing support at 2.30%. Expect this to hold. Breach of the rising trendline would warn of a correction but this seems unlikely with the Fed intent on normalizing interest rates. Breakout above 2.50% would offer a target of 3.0%.

10-Year Treasury Yields

The Dollar Index rally remains muted since finding support at 100. Rising long-term yields would fuel the advance, with bearish consequences for gold.

Dollar Index

China’s Yuan is consolidating. Resistance on USDCNY at 7 Yuan is likely to be tested soon.

USDCNY

The PBOC has been burning through its foreign reserves to slow the rate of depreciation against the Dollar, to create a soft landing. A sharp fall would destabilize global financial markets and fuel capital flight from China.

China Foreign Reserves

Spot Gold broke through resistance at $1250, signaling an advance to $1300.

Spot Gold

How to survive the next four years

Donald Trump

We are entering a time of uncertainty.

Donald Trump started his presidency with a continuation of the confrontational approach that he exhibited throughout his campaign, with scant regard to unifying the country and governing from the middle. Instead he has signed off on two controversial oil pipelines that, while they would create jobs, have met fierce opposition and are likely to polarize the nation even further.

Subtlety is not Trump’s strong point. Expect a far more abrasive style than the Obama years.

Trump also signed off on constructing a wall along the border with Mexico. Again, this will create jobs and slow illegal immigration — two of his key campaign promises — while harming relations with the Southern neighbor.

Another key target is the trade deficit. The US has not run a trade surplus since 1975. Expect major revision of current trade agreements like NAFTA, which could further damage relations with Mexico, and a slew of actions against trading partners such as China and Japan who have used their foreign reserves in the past to maintain a trade surplus with the US. Floating exchange rates are meant to balance the flow of imports and exports on current account, minimizing trade surpluses/deficits over time. But this can be subverted by accumulating excessive foreign reserves to suppress appreciation of your home currency. Retaliation to US punitive actions is likely and could harm international trade if not carefully managed.

Apart from wars, Trump and chief strategist Steve Bannon also seem intent on provoking a war with the media, baiting the press in a recent New York Times interview:

Bannon delivered a broadside at the press…. saying, “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.” Bannon also said, “I want you to quote me on this. The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States…..”

Trump and Bannon’s strategy may be to provoke retaliation by the media. One-sided reporting would discredit the press as an objective source of criticism of the new presidency.

On top of the Trump turmoil in the US, we have Brexit which threatens to disrupt trade between the UK and European Union. If not managed carefully, this could lead to copycat actions from other EU member states.

Increasingly aggressive steps by China and Russia are another destabilizing factor — with the two nations asserting their global power against weaker neighbors. Iran is another offender, attempting to establish a crescent of influence in the Middle East against fierce opposition by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and their Sunni partners. Also, North Korea is expanding its nuclear arsenal.

We live in dangerous times.

But these may also be times of opportunity. Trump has made some solid appointments to his team who could exert a positive influence on the global outlook. And confrontation may resolve some long-festering sores on both the economic and geo-political fronts.

How are we to know? Where can we get an unbiased view of economic prospects if confrontation is high, uncertainty a given — the new President issuing random tweets in the night as the mood takes him — and a distracted media?

There are two reliable sources of information: prices and earnings. Stock prices reflect market sentiment, the waves of human emotion that dominate short- and medium-term market behavior. And earnings will either confirm or refute market sentiment in the longer term.

As Benjamin Graham wrote:

“In the short term the stock market behaves like a voting machine, but in the long term it acts like a weighing machine”.

In the short-term, stock prices may deviate from true value as future earnings and growth prospects are often unclear. But prices will adjust closer to true value as more information becomes available and views of earnings and prospects narrow over time.

We are bound to experience periods of intense volatility over the next four years as hopes and fears rise and fall. These periods represent both a threat and an opportunity. A threat if you have invested on hopes and expectations rather than on solid performance. And an opportunity if intense volatility causes prices to fall below true value.

It will pay to keep a close watch on technical signals on the major indexes. As well as earnings growth in relation to index performance.

Also, keep a close eye on long-term indicators of market risk such as the Treasury yield curve and corporate bond spreads. These often forewarn of coming reactions and will be reviewed on a regular basis in future newsletters.

Best time to short commodities since 2012

From Vesna Poljak:

….China’s stimulus is finite and demand for raw materials will collapse without it.

Australian Atul Lele, the Bahamas-based chief investment officer of private wealth manager Deltec, says all monetary and fiscal stimulus has a natural conclusion – “it just ends” – and traditional indicators of commodity prices such as global growth and liquidity conditions have been outrun by prices already.

“Right now, commodity prices are consistent with 8 per cent global industrial production. If we saw that, ex of the financial crisis recovery, it would be the strongest rate of global industrial production growth since 1981, at least. Now I’m bullish global growth and more bullish than most people, but it’s not going to happen and even if it does happen, all you’ve done is justify current commodity prices. So why would you buy a resource stock now?”

China continues to inject stimulus to revive its economy but that is making its financial system increasingly unstable. Credit growth in excess of 30% of annual GDP warns of a banking crisis according to the BIS. And shrinking foreign reserves flag that the currency is under pressure.

China faces the impossible trinity. According to David Llewellyn-Smith at Macrobusiness, a country pegged to the Dollar can only achieve two out of the following three:

  • a stable exchange rate
  • independent monetary policy
  • free and open international capital flows

At present all three are under pressure.

Source: Best time to short commodities since 2012 says Deltec’s Atul Lele

China’s Day of Reckoning | The Market Oracle

From Michael Pento:

Therein lies China’s dilemma: Allow the yuan to intractably fall, which will increase capital flight and destroy its asset-bubble economy. Or, raise interest rates to stabilize the currency and risk collapsing asset bubbles that will crumble under the weight of rising debt carrying costs.

China embodies a Keynesian dystopia that results from central planning gone mad. It’s mirage of prosperity should soon be coming to an unpleasant end. The misguided belief any government can print unlimited amounts of money and issue a massive amount of new credit; while providing the conditions that are the antitheses necessary for viable growth, has one significant Achilles heel: eventually, it will destroy your currency. Currency is always the pressure valve that explodes in an economy that has reached the apogee of dysfunction. The Red nation isn’t the only offender on this front, but is certainly one of the worst. Therefore, China and the yuan may have finally run out of time.

Source: Chinese Yuan’s Day of Reckoning :: The Market Oracle ::

Will China’s Financial Bust Ever Come?

From Paul Panckhurst and Adrian Leung at Bloomberg:

China’s reading is the nation’s highest on record in the gauge released by the Bank for International Settlements. It’s the single most reliable indicator of looming financial crises, according to the BIS, which found in a 2011 analysis of 36 countries that a majority of banking crises followed readings higher than 10 percent.

The credit-to-gross domestic product “gap” focuses on the amount of credit provided to households and businesses as a share of gross domestic product. It shows when the ratio of credit to GDP is blowing out – suggesting a credit boom and the risk of trouble brewing.

It isn’t advisable to place total reliance on a single indicator, but the rate of credit growth in China is alarming — and unsustainable in the long-term.

Source: Will China’s Financial Bust Ever Come?

Asia: Japan surges while China ebbs

Japan is surging ahead, with the Nikkei 225 index headed for a test of 20000* after its breakout above 17500 four weeks ago.

Nikkei 225 Index

* Target medium-term: 17500 + ( 17500 – 15000 ) = 20000

India’s Sensex found support at 26000, but narrow consolidation and declining Twiggs Money Flow both warn of selling pressure. Breach of 26000 would indicate another decline, with a target of 23000*.

Sensex Index

* Target medium-term: 26000 – ( 29000 – 26000 ) = 23000

Shanghai Composite Index is undergoing another correction. Respect of support at 3100 would indicate a healthy up-trend, while breach of 3000 would warn of a reversal. Declining Twiggs Money Flow indicates medium-term selling pressure.

Shanghai Composite Index

* Target medium-term: 3100 + ( 3100 – 2800 ) = 3400

Sharply falling Money Flow warns of strong selling pressure on Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index. Breach of support at 22000 would signal a primary down-trend with an initial decline to 20000.

Hang Seng Index

China hits turbulence

Shanghai Composite Index is retracing from its recent high at 3300. A test of support at 3100 is likely. Rising Twiggs Money Flow indicates long-term buying pressure but this may be distorted by state intervention in the stock market earlier this year.

Shanghai Composite Index

* Target medium-term: 3100 + ( 3100 – 2800 ) = 3400

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index found support at 22000 but falling Money Flow warns of strong selling pressure. Breach of 22000 would signal a primary down-trend with an initial target of 20000.

Hang Seng Index

The best summary I have seen of China’s dilemma is from David Llewellyn-Smith at Macrobusiness:

…China’s choices are limited here by the “impossible trinity”, that a country [pegged to the Dollar] can only choose two out of the following three:

  • control of a fixed and stable exchange rate
  • independent monetary policy
  • free and open international capital flows

China has been trying to run this gauntlet by sustaining an overly high growth rate via loose monetary policy and recently liberalised capital markets plus exchange rate. But it can’t have stability in all three and so is in full reverse on the last two to prevent a currency rout and/or monetary tightening.

Rising interest rates in the US are likely to bedevil China’s monetary policy. A falling Yuan would encourage capital flight. Capital flight would damage the Yuan, encouraging further outflows. Support of the Yuan would deplete foreign reserves and cause monetary tightening. Loose monetary policy would encourage speculative bubbles which could damage the banking system. A falling Yuan and loose monetary policy would fuel inflation. Inflation would further weaken the Yuan and encourage capital flight. Restriction of capital outflows would end capital inflows.

I am sure that there are some very smart people working on the problem. But they are probably the same smart people who created the problem in the first place.

Trump the biggest positive and negative risk for growth, survey finds

From Zac Crellin:

The policies of a Trump administration are both the biggest downside and upside risks to the global economy, an international survey of companies by Oxford Economics has found.

While 38 per cent of respondent companies were hopeful for US growth to surge thanks to President-elect Donald Trump’s fiscal stimulus program, 27 per cent feared Mr Trump would instigate a trade war between the US and China….

Source: Trump the biggest positive and negative risk for growth, survey finds

Japan & China rally

Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index broke resistance at 17500 while rising Money Flow indicates buying pressure. Target for the rally is the November 2015 high of 20000*.

Nikkei 225 Index

* Target medium-term: 17500 + ( 17500 – 15000 ) = 20000

Shanghai Composite Index followed through after a brief consolidation at 3200, offering a target of 3400*. Expect retracement to test the new support level at 3100 but rising Money Flow suggests respect is likely.

Shanghai Composite Index

* Target medium-term: 3100 + ( 3100 – 2800 ) = 3400

Shanghai rally runs out of steam

Shanghai Composite Index ran into resistance at 3200 after its recent breakout. Expect retracement to test the new support level at 3100. Respect would confirm the target of 3400* for the advance.

Shanghai Composite Index

* Target medium-term: 3100 + ( 3100 – 2800 ) = 3400

Platinum’s Kerr Neilson slams ‘naive’ Western-centric view of the world

[Kerr Neilson, the founder of $23 billion Platinum Asset Management] said China “absolutely smashes America” when measured by physical goods, producing more motor cars, eight times more steel and 10 times more cement.

“We’re just comatose. We have no idea, particularly in the West, what’s really changing. So we have all this debate, that’s the politicians’ hard sell. You can no longer make these silly promises and say ‘we’ve got to be more equitable’,” he said.

“Sure, it’s a great idea, but in fact the place we’re competing against, these other teams … they play a very hard game. It’s no good complaining about the referee.”

Source: Platinum’s Kerr Neilson slams ‘naive’ Western-centric view of the world

China: Shanghai breakout

Shanghai Composite Index broke through resistance at 3100, signaling a primary up-trend. Rising Twiggs Money Flow confirms strong buying pressure. Target for the advance is 3400*.

Shanghai Composite Index

* Target medium-term: 3100 + ( 3100 – 2800 ) = 3400