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Sunday, June 21, 2009 11:13 PM

Speculation In China Does Not Mean Inflation In The US

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Inflationists and even hyperinflationist are coming out of the woodwork. Even some people I highly respect have jumped on the hyperinflation bandwagon. Given that the Flow of Funds Report Offers Hard Evidence of Deflation, I am not changing my tune.

Some of the inflation fears stem from a falling US dollar that seems to me to be range bound. In addition, there has been a strong rebound in commodity prices. OK oil prices more than doubled from the December low to over $70. However that is a far cry from $140.

Even many deflationists (at least me) thought oil prices bottomed and Treasury yields may have. Yet, suddenly a snapback rally in commodity prices is supposed to mean a powerful surge in inflation, perhaps even hyperinflation?

WTIC - Light Sweet Crude Weekly

click on chart for sharper image

On a log chart the oil rebound looks impressive. On a retrace perspective, the story is different. The first Fibonacci retrace level at 38.2% has not even been reached. This is hyperinflation?

Fear the Dark Side of China's Lending Surge

The easy scapegoat for rising commodity prices is a collapsing US dollar, strong inflation or even hyperinflation in the us. Sadly, few seem to have noticed (except when it is convenient to their theories) that this is a global economy, peak oil is a factor, and so are happenings in China.

I had a bookmark of an interesting post by Andy Xie lined up for today to talk about. It's called "Fear the Dark Side of China's Lending Surge". Unfortunately the post is no longer available or the site is now restricted.

However, Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism posted it earlier this weekend. Please consider Xie: Chinese Banks Funding Commodities Speculation, Casting Doubt on Recovery

The current surge in commodity prices, for example, is being fueled by China's demand for speculative inventory.

Commodity prices have skyrocketed since March. The weak global economy can't support high commodity prices. Instead, low interest rates and inflation fears are driving money into commodity buying.

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) alone account for half of the activity on the oil futures market. ETFs allow retail investors to act like hedge funds. This product has serious implications for monetary policymaking. One consequence is that inflation fears could lead to inflation through massive deployment of money into inflation-hedging assets such as commodities.

Financial demand alone can't support commodity prices. Financial investors can't take physical delivery and must sell maturing futures contracts. This force can lead to a steep price curve over time.

There's little doubt that China's bank lending since last December has driven speculative inventory demand for commodities. Chinese banks lend for commodity purchases, allowing the underlying commodities to be used as collateral. These loans are structured like mortgages.

The international media has been following reports of record commodity imports by China. The surge is being portrayed as reflecting China's recovering economy. Indeed, the international financial market is portraying China's perceived recovery as a harbinger for global recovery. It is a major factor pushing up stock prices around the world.

What is happening in the commodity market is glaring proof that China's lending surge is hurting the country. Even more serious is that it is leading Chinese companies away from real business and further toward asset speculation – virtual business...

This lending surge proves China's economic problems can't be resolved with liquidity. China's growth model is based on government-led investment and foreign enterprise-led export. As exports grew in the past, the government channeled income into investment to support more export growth. Now that the global economy and China's exports have collapsed, there will be no income growth to support investment growth. The government's current investment stimulus is tapping a money pool accumulated from past exports. Eventually, the pool will dry up.

If exports remain weak for several years, China's only chance for returning to high growth will be to shift demand to the domestic household sector. This would require significant rebalancing of wealth and income. A new growth cycle could start by distributing shares of listed SOEs to Chinese households, creating a virtuous cycle that lasts a decade.

Putting money into speculative investments isn't totally irrational. It's better than expanding capacity which, without export customers, would surely lead to losses. Businesses currently lack incentive to invest. But many boom forecasters wrongly assume that recent asset appreciation, fueled by speculation, signaled an end to economic problems. That's an illusion. The lending surge may have created more problems than it resolved.
One Must Not Confuse

  • One must not confuse speculation in China for "green shoots"
  • One must not confuse speculation in China for hyperinflation in the US
  • One must not confuse increasing commodity prices for inflation while ignoring a massive collapse in credit and an even bigger collapse in credit marked to market.

Given there has never been a hyperinflation in history where home prices have crashed, I have one question: Where are the hyperinflationist's recommendations to buy houses? Where? Please don't be a wimp about it. Is any hyperinflationist recommending houses?

OK so inflationists like gold. So do I, as a deflationist. However, in housing, and only housing can one put down 10% and control and asset for decades. Housing is (or should be) a hyperinflationist's dream come true.

Falling home prices remain the nut that hyperinflationsts just cannot escape. Yes, home prices will bottom, perhaps years from now, perhaps even next year. Then what? If you truly believe hyperinflation is coming, then housing is a sure thing. Go for it.


The link Fear the Dark Side of China's Lending Surge is again working for me.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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