The story is still Evergrande
Whose actions last night have now fanned
The flames of concern
‘Til bondholders learn
If coupons will be paid as planned
Though pundits have spilled lots of ink
Explaining there’s really no link
Twixt Evergrande’s woes
And fears of new lows
The truth is they’re linked I would think
It must be very frustrating to be a government financial official these days as despite all their efforts to lead investors to a desired outcome, regardless of minor details like reality, investors and traders continue to respond to things like cash flows and liquidity, or lack thereof. Hence, this morning we find ourselves in a situation where China Evergrande officially failed to pay an $83.2 million coupon yesterday and now has a 30-day grace period before they can be forced into default on the bond. The concern arises because China Evergrande has more than $300 billion in bonds outstanding and another $300 billion in other liabilities and it is pretty clear they are not going to be able to even service that debt, let alone repay it.
At the same time, the number of articles written about how this is an isolated situation and how the PBOC will step in to prevent a disorderly outcome and protect the individuals who are on the hook continue to grow by leaps and bounds. The true victims here are the many thousands of Chinese people who contracted with Evergrande to build their home, some of whom prepaid for the entire project while others merely put down significant (>50%) deposits, and who now stand to lose all their money. Arguably, the question is whether or not the Chinese government is going to bail them out, even if they allow Evergrande to go to the wall. Sanguinity in this situation seems optimistic. Remember, the PBOC has been working very hard to delever the Chinese property market, and there is no quicker way to accomplish that than by allowing the market to reprice the outstanding debt of an insolvent entity. As well, part of President Xi’s calculus will be what type of pain will be felt elsewhere in the world. After all, if adversaries, like the US, suffer because of this, I doubt Xi would lose any sleep.
But in the end, markets this morning are demonstrating that they are beginning to get concerned over this situation. While it may not be a Lehman moment, given that when Lehman was allowed to fail it was truly a surprise to the markets, the breadth of this problem is quite significant and the spillover into the entire Chinese property market, which represents ~25% of the Chinese economy, is enormous. If you recall my discussion regarding “fingers of instability” from last week (Wednesday 9/15), this is exactly the type of thing I was describing. There is no way, ex ante, to know what might trigger a more significant market adjustment (read decline), but the interconnectedness of Chinese property developers, Chinese banks, Chinese shadow financiers and the rest of the world’s financial system is far too complex to parse. However, it is reasonable to estimate that there will be multiple knock-on effects from this default, and that the PBOC, no matter how well intentioned, may not be able to maintain control of an orderly market. Risk should be off, and it is this morning.
It ought not be surprising that Chinese shares were lower last night with the Hang Seng (-1.3%) leading the way but Shanghai (-0.8%) not that far behind. Interestingly, the only real winner overnight was the Nikkei (+2.1%) which seemed to be making up for their holiday yesterday. European shares are having a rough go of it as well, with the DAX (-0.8%), CAC (-1.0%) and FTSE 100 (-0.3%) all under the gun. There seem to be several concerns in these markets with the primary issue the fact that these economies, especially Germany’s, are hugely dependent on Chinese economic growth for their own success, so signs that China will be slowing down due to the Evergrande mess are weighing on these markets. In addition, the German IFO surveys were all released this morning at weaker than expected levels and continue to slide from their peaks in June. Slowing growth is quickly becoming a market meme. After yesterday’s rally in the US, futures this morning are all leaning lower as well, on the order of -0.3% or so.
The bond market this morning, though, is a bit of a head-scratcher. While Treasuries are doing what they are supposed to, rallying with yields down 2.6bps, the European sovereign market is all selling off despite the fall in equity prices. So, yields are higher in Germany (Bunds +1.4bps) and France (OATs +2.2bps), with Italy (BTPs +5.0bps) really seeing some aggressive selling. Gilts are essentially unchanged on the day. But this is a bit unusual, that a clear risk off session would see alleged haven assets sell off as well.
Commodity markets are having a mixed day with oil unchanged at this hour while gold (+0.75%) is rebounding somewhat from yesterday’s sharp decline. Copper (+0.1%) has edged higher, but aluminum (-1.4%) is soft this morning. Agricultural prices are all lower by between 0.25% and 0.5%. In other words, it is hard to detect much signal here.
As to the dollar, it is broadly stronger with only CHF +0.1%) able to rally this morning. While the euro is little changed, we are seeing weakness in the Antipodean currencies (AUD, NZD -0.4%) and commodity currencies (CAC -0.2%, NOK -0.15%). Granted, the moves have not been large, but they have been consistent.
In the EMG bloc, the dollar has put on a more impressive show with ZAR (-1.3%) and TRY (-0.9%) leading the way, although we have seen other currencies (PHP -0.6%, MXN -0.4%) also slide during the session. The rand story seems to be a hangover from yesterday’s SARB meeting, where they left rates on hold despite rising inflation there. TRY, too, is still responding to the surprise interest rate cut by the central bank yesterday. In Manila, concern seems to be growing that the Philippines external balances are worsening too rapidly and will present trouble going forward. (I’m not sure you remember what it means to run a current account deficit and have markets discipline your actions as it no longer occurs in the US, but it is still the reality for every emerging market economy.)
On the data front, we see only New Home Sales (exp 715K), a number unlikely to have an impact on markets. However, we hear from six different Fed speakers today, including Chairman Powell, so I expect that there will be a real effort at fine-tuning their message. Three of the speakers are amongst the most hawkish (Mester, George and Bostic), but of this group, only Bostic is a voter. You can expect more definitive tapering talk from these three, but in the end, Powell’s words still carry the most weight.
The dollar remains in a trading range and we are going to need some exogenous catalyst to change that. An Evergrande collapse could have that type of impact, but I believe it will take a lot more contagion for that to be the case. So, using the euro as a proxy, 1.17-1.19 is still the right idea in my view.
Good luck, good weekend and stay safe