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Saturday, October 25, 2014 12:25 PM


Home Prices Drop in 69 of 70 Chinese Cities; Did the Pool of Greater Fools Run Out?


China eased purchase restrictions last month ending its four-year campaign to contain home prices. And what a ridiculous campaign it was. Prices are down less than 1% this month and less then 1% year-over-year.

Bloomberg reports China Home-Price Drop Spreads as Easing Doesn’t Halt Fall.

Prices dropped in 69 of the 70 cities in September from August, the National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement today, the most since January 2011 when the government changed the way it compiles the data. They fell in 68 cities in August.

The central bank on Sept. 30 eased mortgage rules for homebuyers that have paid off existing loans, reversing course after a four-year campaign to contain home prices as Premier Li Keqiang seeks to prevent economic growth from drifting too far below the government’s 7.5 percent annual target. Home sales slumped 11 percent in the first nine months of this year.

Developers will keep prices attractive as they open more projects toward the end of the year to meet sales targets, boosting supply and increasing competition, Ping An Securities Co. Shenzhen-based analyst Yang Kan wrote in an Oct. 14 report.

New-home prices fell 0.7 percent from August in Beijing and 0.9 percent in Shanghai, according to the government. The port city of Xiamen in southern Fujian province was the only city where prices didn’t fall, remaining unchanged from the previous month.

Prices in Shanghai fell 0.8 percent from a year earlier, the first annual decline since December 2012, compared to a 17.5 percent jump in January this year. Hangzhou, the capital of southeastern Zhejiang province, had the biggest decline among all cities, with 7.6 percent.

The average new-home price in 100 cities tracked by SouFun Holdings Ltd. fell 0.9 percent in September from August, dropping for the fifth consecutive month. The price rose 1.1 percent from a year earlier, narrowing for a ninth month in a row, China’s biggest real estate website owner said.

The People’s Bank of China’s new rules give homeowners who have paid off their mortgages and want a second property the same advantages as first-time buyers, including a 30 percent minimum down payment, compared to at least 60 percent previously, and interest-rate discounts of as much as 30 off the central bank’s benchmark. The PBOC also eased a ban on mortgages for people without home loan debt who want to buy a third home, allowing banks determine down payments and rates.

Home sales in September jumped 40 percent from August, the biggest increase this year, according to Bloomberg News calculations, based on a government report earlier this week.
Did the Pool of Greater Fools  Run Out?

All it took for china to reverse course was a .8% year-over-year decline.

Home sales are down 11% this year, but that may not last long if September is any indication. Then again, the easing of restrictions may have suckered in the last remaining greater fools.

Either way, I laugh at the assessment analyst Yang Kan who says "developers will keep prices attractive as they open more projects toward the end of the year to meet sales targets".

The only thing that will make prices attractive is a 50% decline in price. That's how big China's property bubble is. 

Even in China the pool of greater fools will eventually run out. Perhaps it already has.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com

Friday, October 24, 2014 2:54 PM


Hyperventilation Charade: EU Demands Another €2.1 Billion from UK, "We Won't Pay," Says Furious Cameron


Things are about to get more interesting in the EU as a review of budget procedures shows the UK, Greece, and Italy owe more money, but Germany and France will get money back.

Curiously, this came about following a review of non-profit organizations from churches and universities to trade unions, charities and sports clubs. The time period is 2002-2009.

Cameron's Obvious Bluff

UK prime minister David Cameron is already battling French President Francois Hollande abroad, and UKIP at home.

Thus, Cameron's limited choice is to bluff as usual: "We Won't Pay," Says Furious Cameron.

In a vivid display of public fury at European Union technocrats, British Prime Minister David Cameron refused to pay a surprise 2.1-billion-euro bill on Friday as EU leaders ordered an urgent review of how the budget figures were arrived at.

"It's an appalling way to behave," Cameron said. "I'm not paying that bill on Dec. 1. If people think I am they've got another thing coming. It is not going to happen."

EU ministers will hold an emergency meeting on the issue next month. Cameron said he wanted to understand the technical calculations and was also ready to mount a legal challenge.

EU officials insisted the revision, which also saw Italy and even crisis-hit Greece asked to pay more while France and Germany would get rebates, was part of an annual statistical exercise handled by civil servants, not politicians.

Cameron noted that annual revisions to the payments had never been so great - an effect, EU officials said, of a once-in-a-generation review of how national incomes are calculated that found Britain was richer than it had previously declared.

Officials at EU statistics office Eurostat said that was a result mainly of taking more account of money flowing in 2002-09 to non-profit organizations - from churches and universities to trade unions, charities and sports clubs.

Cameron has demanded reforms and plans a referendum on EU membership if he manages to secure re-election next May.

His Eurosceptic opponents, gaining ground fast on his Conservative Party, accused the premier of misleading voters.

"David Cameron once claimed that he had reduced the EU budget -- but the UK contribution went up and now, quite incredibly, our contribution goes up a second time. It's just outrageous," said UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

"The EU is like a thirsty vampire feasting on UK taxpayers' blood. We need to protect the innocent victims who are us."
Hyperventilation Charade

It's easy to see through Cameron's hyperventilation charade.

Cameron did not really say "We won't pay" as the Reuters headline states. Rather, Cameron stated "I'm not paying that bill on Dec. 1".

The latter statement would be true if Cameron paid the bill on any date before or after December 1, or the amount changed by a penny.

This is the kind of wishy-washy nonsense that Cameron pulls all the time. Unfortunately, conservative believers fall for it every time.

Similarly, Cameron promises an up-down vote on UK membership in the EU, but only if he is reelected. Would he even keep that promise? Who the hell knows?

Cameron's pledge is to first get the EU to change its rules more to the UK's liking. If he succeeds, then and only then will he offer the vote (and of course he has to win reelection on top of it).

Odds Cameron gets the rule changes he seeks are approximately 0%. You know it, I know it, the world knows it, and even Cameron knows it.

The promise of a 2017 up-down vote is nothing more than an election ploy coupled with blatant arrogance.

Liar, Not a Conservative

As I have stated before, Cameron is a liar, not a conservative. He is in a coalition bed with the Liberal-Democrats, a pro-euro, pro-Labour, pro-climate-change, free education, and progressive tax party.

With that set of bed-mates, no conservative in their right mind should believe a damn thing he claims to stand for.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com

12:05 PM


Japanese Style Deflation Coming? Where? Fed Falling Behind the Curve? Which Way?


There's some interesting discussion points in the UK-based Absolute Return Partners October 2014 Letter, by Niels C. Jensen, most of which I agree with, others not.

Japan-Style Deflation in Our Backyard?

It is no secret that we have been long-standing believers in deflation being a more probable outcome of the 2008-09 crisis than high inflation. What has changed over the past six months is that the world has begun to move in different directions. Whereas rising unit labour costs in the U.S. make outright deflation in that country quite unlikely, the same cannot be said of the Eurozone.



Japan-style deflation across the Eurozone is no longer an outrageous thought. As you can see from chart 1, there is a close link between CPI and demographics. That has certainly been the case in Japan and I don’t see any reasons why it should be any different in Europe. The negative demographic trends are perhaps not as acute in Europe as they were in Japan in the early to mid 1990s, so one might expect a less dramatic outcome here, but the writing is on the wall. Furthermore, Japan’s problems were multiplied due to an almost complete lack of political recognition and willingness to take drastic action. At least, with Mario Draghi in charge of the ECB, there seems to be a willingness to do something.
Deflation and "Willingness To Do Something"

Jensen is mistaken about Japan's willingness to take action. Japan has a debt-to-GDP ratio of 250%, highest of any major developed country, as a direct consequence of fighting deflation.

Japan piled on debt, built bridges to nowhere, and engaged in other wasteful spending, all of which made matters worse. Taking on debt to fight deflation is insane. Yet that is exactly what France and Italy want now!

Japan's QE certainly did not help either. Both policies addicted Japan to 0% interest rates forever (until of course Japan blows up).

To suggest that the ECB can do something meaningful with European demographics being what they are, the flaws in the euro being what they are, and lack of willingness for France and Italy to initiate badly-needed structural reforms, is simply wrong.

Holding down interest rates and state-sponsored stimulus will have the identical result as in Japan.

As for wages, they are actually rising not only in the US, but also in Europe as I pointed out in European Service Prices Plunge at Steepest Rate Since January 2010; Reflections on Keynesian Stupidity.

In the US, the Fed did stave off for now, another round of price deflation. However, that came at the expense of creating monstrous asset bubbles.

The bursting of asset bubbles is inherently deflationary, and much more damaging than falling prices because of the impact asset prices have on asset-based loans.

I propose falling prices should be welcome across the board.

Behind the Curve?
Is the Fed Falling Behind the Curve?

As mentioned earlier, the picture in the U.S. – and to a degree also in the UK - is quite different. The Fed increasingly looks like it is behind the curve with the Fed Funds rate remaining unchanged despite a significant rise in unit labour costs.



Not only does that suggest a meaningful rise in the U.S. policy rate over the next couple of years – and therefore also possibly a further rise in longer term rates - but it also suggests a relatively strong U.S. dollar. Forward rates on the Fed Funds rate suggest it will reach 1.50% by June of next year; however, if the latest estimates for unit labour costs are painting a true picture of inflation in the pipeline, one could argue that the Fed Funds rate could go substantially higher.
Behind the Curve? Which Way?

Curiously, St. Louis Fed Governor James Bullard says Fed Should Consider Delay in Ending QE because "Inflation expectations are declining in the U.S."

That's nonsense of course because of the asset bubbles the Fed spawned. With interest rates so low across the world, the chase for yield is on.

Opportunity in Japan
Which Equity Markets Offer Most Potential?

One area I have not elaborated on yet is Japan. There are strong indications that Japan has finally turned the corner economically. At the same time, return on equity has returned to pre-crisis levels in Japan, but valuations have not.

Japanese return on equity is back to an all-time high



With a more or less fully priced U.S. equity market and a Federal Reserve Bank at risk of falling seriously behind the curve, and a Europe where it is hard to see where growth is going to come from (ex. U.K.), Japan looks remarkably interesting, and I expect it to be one of the better performing mature equity markets over the next few years. Just don’t forget to hedge your currency risk. I am not saying that the Yen will fall, but there is enough uncertainty surrounding the Yen that I would rather not have to worry about that aspect.
Japanese Equities and the Yen

It's certainly debatable whether Japan has turned the corner economically. Nonetheless, on a valuation basis alone, I have been recommending a yen-hedged position in Japanese equities.

Whether or not the Yen plunges will have to do with Abenomics, and how Japan eventually handles (or doesn't) zero percent rates.  

Jensen's comment that US equities are "more or less fully priced" is silly. US equities are priced well beyond perfection in one of the biggest valuation bubbles in history.

Pension Fund Piling On

Jensen concludes with an interesting chart and comments about piling on.
Investors (well, most investors) continue to pile in to equities, as if they are the solution to their return challenge.

   

Pension funds are one example of such investors. If such pension funds have fixed obligations (called defined benefit plans in the UK), they currently struggle to generate the level of re turns they need to meet their obligations.

Even if there are good reasons to believe that the prolonged rally can continue for a little longer, there are equally good reasons to believe that the current equity bull market may end in tears. Such is the disconnect between stock valuations and economic fundamentals in some markets.
Disconnects

I agree with Jensen on Japanese equities, hedging the Yen, and the prospects of deflation in Europe.

The chart on asset allocations is particularly interesting. Investors are overweight equities just as they were were in 2000 and 2007, and I believe with dire consequences.

Jensen says "Statistically, equity markets fall 40-50% (as they did in 2008-09) only a couple of times in a life time, so why somebody is forecasting the next bloodbath to be around the corner is quite frankly beyond me."

It seems to me that equities plunged in 2000 and again in 2007. So that was twice in a seven year timespan. Given valuations are equally extreme now, caution is more than in order.

Japan prove stocks can stay depressed for decades. And that can happen again, someplace else, besides Japan.

Central Bank Action

I disagree with Jensen on the need for the ECB to do anything about falling prices. For discussion, please see Challenge to Keynesians "Prove Rising Prices Provide an Overall Economic Benefit".

Inquiring minds may also wish to consider James Grant Conference Video: Inflation Expectations, Growth, Policy Problems; Europe Has Become Japan.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com 

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