Investors are starting to feel
That China has lost its appeal
So, capital flees
From all stocks, Chinese
As Xi brings exploiters to heel
While, thus far the impact’s been small
On markets elsewhere, please recall
That history shows
A small crisis grows
Quite quickly with each margin call
Giving credit where it is due, the Chinese have successfully distracted almost every market participant from tomorrow’s FOMC meeting. The ongoing rout in Chinese equity markets (Shanghai -2.5%, Hang Seng -4.2%) has been fueled by the government’s hardline stance against several different industries that had become investor favorites. If you think of the progression of events, it began with private financial firms (remember the Ant IPO that was squashed when Jack Ma was disappeared for a while?) and has continued as the evolution of the DC/EP (China’s digital yuan or CBDC) has forced the two big private payment firms, Alipay and WeChat Pay to fall into line and restrict their offerings going forward.
We have also seen the government address concerns over other tech companies and their capitalist intentions and actions, which has taken the form of questions over data security in Didi Global, the ride hailing app, and Meituan, the food service company. After all, both of these companies are clarion calls for people to be independent, choosing their work schedule and effort, as opposed to toiling for a proper, state-owned firm. Naturally, this is anathema to President Xi as he continues to remold the nation into his preferred view.
The latest attack has been on the private education industry, which while nominally teaching the approved curriculum, were clearly seen as an impediment to government control, and more importantly, the appropriate spread of communism. Remember, the CCP rules the roost in China and President Xi is General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. It was certainly dichotomous that an area of such immense social importance, that preached communism, would be offered by capitalist firms.
The takeaway here, though, is not that things are getting tougher for investors in China, but that history has shown that most financial crises start small and gather momentum. While many of you may not remember the Asia crisis of 1997, it started as an issue solely confined to Thailand and the Thai baht. Questions over the country’s ability to repay its creditors, especially as its USD reserves had shrunk and the dollar’s rally was becoming a major problem locally. But Thailand is not a very large country from an economic perspective, and so it was initially thought this would amount to very little. Within a month or two of the initial concerns, however, the entire region was in turmoil as it turned out virtually none of the countries there had sufficient USD reserves, and all had borrowed heavily in dollars and were having difficulty repaying those loans. There was a huge swoon in markets, which ultimately led to Russia defaulting on its debt while Long Term Capital, a famed hedge fund of the time, wound up on the brink and was only saved by the Fed forcing the entire Wall Street community to put up money to save it. (Ironically, Bear Stearns is the one bank that wouldn’t participate in that rescue and we know what happened to them 10 years later!)
Speaking of the GFC, this too, was seen as a minor problem at the start. As the housing bubble inflated, the working assumption was that the entire national housing market could never fall all at once, so all of those mortgage-backed derivatives were created and sold as low risk, high return investments throughout the world. When the first concerns were raised, none other than Fed Chair Bernanke explained that “…the troubles in the subprime sector on the broader housing market will likely be limited.” We know how that worked out and of course, the problems quickly became global in nature and forced the first invocation of a new emergency program known as QE.
One last example of the ability of seemingly distant events to impact the entire global financial structure comes from China in 2015. That summer, just 6 years ago, the PBOC surprised markets with a mini-devaluation of the yuan, about 2%, as a relief valve for an equity market that had started to come under pressure several months previously. But once the PBOC acted, risk appetite disappeared and we saw a severe contraction in global equity markets, a huge bond rally and strength in the dollar as the haven of choice.
The point is that while you may consider the fact that the Chinese government is cracking down on companies that it considers to be ideologically impure, and that it will have nothing to do with your investments in the FANGMAN group of stocks, there is every chance that this action serves as the catalyst for, at the very least, a short-term price adjustment in equity indices around the world. After all, China’s growth has been a key pillar of the global growth scenario. If that is slipping, there are likely to be problems everywhere. Be warned and wary.
OK, on to today’s activity where the Chinese rout continues to be ignored by Japan (Nikkei +0.5%), but continues to pressure European indices lower (DAX -0.4%, CAC -0.3%, FTSE 100 -0.4%) as well as US futures, all of which are down around -0.2% at this hour.
Bond markets are a bit more uniform this morning, led by Treasury yields (-2.9bps) although European sovereigns have not rallied as much, with most seeing yield declines of roughly 1 basis point. (As an aside, yesterday’s price action, which saw US equity markets ultimately rebound, saw Treasuries give up their early gains and close with slightly higher yields on the day.)
In the commodity space, oil is essentially unchanged on the day, as is gold, with neither moving even 0.1%. Copper is the biggest mover, falling 1.0%, although there is lesser weakness in other base metals. Agricultural products are mixed with both Soybean and Corn higher by 1.0% while Wheat has slipped 0.4%.
As to the dollar, on this broadly risk-off day, it is broadly higher. In the G10 bloc, the commodity currencies are the worst performers (NZD -0.7%, NOK -0.5%, AUD -0.4%) while the rest of the bloc has seen less pressure. Naturally, JPY (+0.25%) is bucking the dollar trend in this type of session. In the emerging markets, ZAR (-0.7%) is the laggard as traders digest the post-riot relief act from the government and give it two thumbs down. The next biggest loser is CNY (-0.35%), although at this point, I’ve already described the reasons capital is leaving the country. Otherwise, most of these currencies are lower, but the movement has been on the order of -0.1% to -0.2%, so not very dramatic. There is one outlier on the plus side, KRW (+0.4%) which seems to have been on the back of exporters selling dollars after yesterday’s won decline to its lowest level in almost a year. However, if CNY continues to weaken, I believe KRW will ultimately follow it.
On the data front this morning we see Durable Goods (exp 2.2%, 0.8% ex transport) as well as Case Shiller House Prices (16.33%) and Consumer Confidence (123.8). The real information overload starts tomorrow with the FOMC and on through the rest of the week with Q2 GDP and Core PCE.
The dollar is back in risk mode. If equities continue to suffer, look for the dollar to remain bid. If they rebound, the dollar is likely to soften by the end of the day.
Good luck and stay safe