IS THE GLOBAL ECONOMY ABOUT TO CONTRACT?

Takeaway: New data suggests the world economy could potentially experience an outright contraction in real GDP over the intermediate term.

SUMMARY BULLETS:

 

  • All told, new data suggests the world economy could potentially experience an outright contraction in real GDP over the intermediate term.
  • Specifically, the latest Singapore GDP report, rhetoric from Chinese policymakers and the latest occurrences involving the China/Japan territorial dispute are all in support of this view.
  • As such, we maintain our bearish TREND-duration bias on “risky assets”, broadly speaking. Like he did in mid-to-late 2007, Ben Bernanke has lulled international investors to sleep with his aggressive monetary easing – perpetuating systemic risk for a rude awakening across asset classes if and when the data fails to meet inflated expectations over the intermediate term.

 

If you look past what many are labeling as a desperate attempt domestically to embellish recent consumer-facing (i.e. voter-facing) economic data ahead of the NOV 6 election (Unemployment Rate; Jobless Claims; UMich Consumer Confidence), one would easily arrive at the conclusion that global growth continues to slow. We’ve been calling for this explicitly since mid-MAR, so this topic is nothing new for clients of our Macro research. What is new, however, are our increasing concerns that the global economic growth slowdown could morph into an outright economic contraction over the intermediate term. As we pointed out in our OCT 1 note titled, “ASIA’S NOT HELPING THE GROWTH BULLS”:

 

“The list of potential negative TREND-duration economic catalysts is long and their respective probabilities are all rising, not falling. To recap:

  1. Some combination of fiscal tightening in the US if the Fiscal Cliff is not completely skirted;
  2. An incremental slowdown in global industrial production activity due to continued weakness in the Chinese economy (i.e. Chinese demand fails to match hopeful expectations that anticipate some degree of large-scale stimulus);
  3. Outright tightening of Chinese monetary policy or incremental tightening in its property market;
  4. A resurgence of European sovereign debt and banking risk (that crisis is far from over);
  5. A meaningful acceleration of global geopolitical risk (Israel/Iran? Syria? US consulates?);
  6. An accelerated bout of protectionism due to the Sino-Japanese tensions and/or due to Obama/Romney China bashing.
  7. A potential Japanese sovereign debt scare; and
  8. A noteworthy deterioration in the US labor market as corporations reduce headcount amid cost-cutting initiatives in a desperate attempt to meet lofty consensus EPS forecasts in a slowing top line environment (2007-08 re-do?).”

 

We will continue to provide updates on each of those catalysts – specifically whether their respective probabilities are rising or falling – in our written work. For a collection of the recent, relevant notes or to engage in a deeper discussion with our team, feel free to reach out to us anytime.

 

Jumping ship, we thought we’d flag a few more noteworthy data points that came across our screens this AM during our daily Global Macro grind:

 

SINGAPORE’S SOUR 3Q12 GDP DATA SUGGESTS CONTINUED WEAKNESS ACROSS THE GLOBAL ECONOMY

Overnight we learned that Singapore’s Real GDP growth slowed to +1.3% YoY in 3Q12 from +2.3%; QoQ SAAR: -1.5% vs. +0.2% [revised up from -0.7%]. Excluding 2Q11’s +1.2% YoY pace, this is slowest rate of YoY Real GDP growth in Singapore since 2Q09.

 

A topic we’re written extensively on in recent years is the relationship between Singaporean economic growth and global economic growth – specifically in that Singapore is one of the better barometers out there (see our latest note: GLOBAL GROWTH UPDATE – WHAT GROWTH?):

 

  • At 211% and 223% of GDP, respectively, Singapore and Hong Kong are far and away the most export-oriented countries in Asia – far more levered to global demand than other noteworthy exporters (China: 29.6%; South Korea: 52.4%; Japan: 15.2%; Thailand: 71.3%; and Taiwan: 58.9%);
  • The ratio of Singapore and Hong Kong’s share of world exports to their individual shares of world GDP are 7.1x and 7.5x, respectively – besting the next closest economy in Asia (Malaysia) on this metric by at least 3.7 turns; and
  • Singapore and Hong Kong are home to the world’s second and third-busiest container ports, handling 28,431,100 and 23,669,242 TEUs, respectively, per the latest yearly data from the American Association of Port Authorities. 

 

Since the turn of the century, Singapore has registered a positive correlation to World Real GDP growth of r² = 0.69. Per this polynomial regression model, Singapore’s incremental growth slowdown implies global growth could come in around +1.4% in 3Q12 on a YoY basis – roughly in line with our +1.3% forecast we initially published in our 3Q12 Macro Themes presentation back on JUL 11th (slide 6):

 

IS THE GLOBAL ECONOMY ABOUT TO CONTRACT? - 1

 

It’s worth noting that Bloomberg Consensus for 3Q12 World Real GDP was at +2.2% YoY then; it has since come down by -50bps to +1.7% YoY. Chaos theory/embracing uncertainty continues to be the most effective way to stay ahead of the Street on modeling the marginal deltas in GROWTH/INFLATION/POLICY. Our updated world GIP outlook is highlighted in the chart below:

 

IS THE GLOBAL ECONOMY ABOUT TO CONTRACT? - WORLD

 

Elsewhere in Singapore, the Monetary Authority of Singapore refrained from easing monetary policy today (out of line with our expectations for easing), citing a “build-up of inflationary pressures”. “Core prices will face upward pressure from higher food and services costs, while overall inflation will remain elevated for some time,” officials remarked.

 

With domestic economic growth slowing to near ~3YR lows and overseas demand for their exports continuing to soften, it’s interesting to see the MAS resist the urge to ease as Singapore continues to import the U.S.’s #1 export in recent years – commodity price inflation. This is 100% in line with what we have been forecasting in recent months – specifically in that the trend in global disinflation has concluded, with inflation poised to accelerate on a reported basis over the intermediate term. For more details on this topic, refer to our SEP 6 note titled: “GLOBAL INFLATION WATCH: ARE BERNANKE AND DRAGHI WEARING THE SAME JERSEY?”.

 

IS THE GLOBAL ECONOMY ABOUT TO CONTRACT? - 3

 

IS THE GLOBAL ECONOMY ABOUT TO CONTRACT? - 4

 

Perhaps the biggest red flag from Singapore’s latest economic data is that a country home to the world’s #1, #7 and #8 healthiest banks (per a Bloomberg index which takes into consideration comparisons of Tier 1 capital to risk-weighted assets and the share of nonperforming assets, among other factors) and which the World Economic Forum rates as the #2 most competitive economy in the world in its 2011-12 Global Competitiveness Index (behind #1 Switzerland and ahead of the U.S. at #5) is only growing at +1.3% YoY on an inflation-adjusted basis. That’s simply not good; nor does it bode well for places like Western Europe and the U.S., where the influence of and reliance upon central planning has accelerated to generational highs in recent months.

 

IN CHINA, “EXPECTATIONS ARE THE ROOT OF ALL HEARTACHE”

Overnight, China reported its SEP New Loans figure, which slowed to CNY632.2 billion MoM from CNY703.9 billion. On a YTD run-rate basis, new bank loan growth accelerated to +18% YoY from +16.8% in AUG. On an system-wide basis, total domestic financing growth (including bank loans, trust loans, corporate debt/equity issuance, etc.) accelerated to +19.5% YoY in the YTD through SEP from +7.4% YoY in the YTD through AUG.

 

IS THE GLOBAL ECONOMY ABOUT TO CONTRACT? - 5

 

While those certainly are headed in the right direction, we’d be remiss not to flag official concern over the pace of loan growth in mainland China. While Chinese playmakers haven’t officially announced a 2012 full-year target for lending to our knowledge, it is being floated around the press that they are eyeing a CNY7.5-8 trillion figure. That leaves roughly CNY1.5 trillion through year end (YTD through SEP = CNY6.7 trillion), which suggests the pace of loan growth in China is actually poised to slow in 4Q – a key risk to consensus forecasts that are calling for Chinese economic growth to v-bottom in the third quarter and accelerate well in to 2013.

 

IS THE GLOBAL ECONOMY ABOUT TO CONTRACT? - 6

 

The following two quotes, sourced directly from the Chinese brass today, draw attention to the systemic risks embedded in the Chinese banking system that we have been flagging in recent months:

 

  • “China’s central bank is worried about a rebound in bad loans. Worsening bank loan quality is associated with the condition of the Chinese economy. [The] outlook for Chinese economic growth is full of uncertainties.” – PBOC Vice Governor Liu Shiyu
  • "Unsurprisingly, although Chinese banks' non-performing loans are at a low level of 0.9%, the potential risks are worse than the official data suggest.” – Chairman of the Board at Bank of China (and potential successor to Zhou Xiaochuan as PBOC Governor) warning of the risks associated with off-balance sheet assets for Chinese banks

 

For our detailed thoughts on this subject, refer to our latest notes on China:

 

 

Taken in conjunction, those two notes should help bring you up to speed with our extensive, long-held expectations for China’s murky long-term TAIL GROWTH, INFLATION and POLICY dynamics – specifically in that investors should not anticipate a meaningful rebound in rates of Chinese economic growth or a substantial fiscal and/or monetary stimulus package amid an oft-dismissed, policy-led drive to rebalance the Chinese economy:

 

“As of 2010, gross domestic capital formation contributed nearly half of all of China’s economic growth (48.6%) – 1,360bps higher than India, which we’d argue is a comparable country in both size and economic development. Additionally, at nearly half of GDP, modern-day China is more levered to gross domestic capital formation as a means of economic growth more so than Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea, and Hong Kong were in the years leading up to the 1997-98 Asian Financial crisis.

 

Given the long-term headwinds facing both China’s property market and banking sector (which we have quantified in recent notes; email us for copies), it’s likely that the peak in these ratios is in the rear-view or within reach. 

 

Whether China will be able to gracefully rebalance its economy towards a more consumer-driven growth model in the process – as outlined in the current 5yr plan which calls for only +7% economic growth rates – will go a long way towards determining the slope of global economic growth over the long-term TAIL – particularly given the debt, deleveraging, demographics, property market, and structural unemployment headwinds facing the U.S. and parts of the E.U. Obviously this has major implications for a great [number of] corporations and investor portfolios worldwide.

 

Indeed, that is a TAIL risk worth pondering for any long-term investor. As the law of large numbers reminds us, as China continues to grow larger (now the world’s second-largest single-nation economy), a structural downshift in rates of Chinese economic growth is not at all out of the band of probable outcomes over the long term.”

PUTTING CHINA INTO PERSPECTIVE (OCT  18, 2011)

 

It appears to us that Chinese policymakers are more or less content with the current pace of economic activity. For example, PBOC Board Member Yi Gang recently said full-year growth should come in around +7.8% YoY – equivalent to the 7.8% pace established in 1H12. That means no major reflation is likely to be pursued – in line with Gang’s view that recent “policy fine tuning” measures to support growth with begin to show in 4Q12.

 

It’s worth noting that only CNY275 billion of the CNY700 billion road and subway construction projects approved by the National Development & Reform Commission in the YTD has been accounted for; the rest needs to come front Chinese banks – institutions who appear hesitant, to say the least (Bloomberg reports they haven’t been taking advantage of the recently-announced 30% discount to official lending rates when extending credit, maintaining the previous up-to-10% discount on new loans underwritten).

 

In this light, it literally blows our mind that local governments in China have allegedly (according to JPMorgan) announced investment plans totaling CNY19 trillion (~37% of 2012E GDP) from MAY-SEP. If Chinese banks and Chinese banking regulators are officially concerned about the specter of rising NPLs and inflationary pressures emanating from the property market, where do local governments plan on getting the funding from? Local governments in China are only allowed to issue municipal debt on a trial basis in select municipalities and land sales are off -16.2% YoY (a key source of their revenues).

 

IS THE GLOBAL ECONOMY ABOUT TO CONTRACT? - 7

 

All told, Chinese stimulus talk remains just that – talk. When expectations on the sell-side and at the corporate level worldwide are for Chinese policymakers to act, the lack of meaningful action could be a negative catalyst in and of itself as incremental orders and backlogs start to dry up amid rising inventories for industrial equipment and/or industrial commodities. Some ~400YRS since William Shakespeare’s death, expectations remain the root of all heartache.

 

HAT ALMOST IN HAND, JAPAN ATTEMPTS TO STAVE OFF RECESSION

A day after Noda publically called for diplomatic talks to assuage Sino-Japanese tensions, Japan and China agreed to talks aimed at reducing tensions a day after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda warned that the world’s #2 and #3 largest economies would incrementally slow amid rising protectionism. Specifically, Japan's foreign ministry said last night that officials from both countries agreed to hold vice-ministerial level discussions at an unspecified date.

 

The dispute is playing out exactly as we had anticipated in our SEP 19 note tiled: “ARE CHINA AND JAPAN HEADING FOR WAR?”, specifically in that the clash has caused a severe amount of economic hardship – mostly experienced by Japan, which we outlined as having more to lose on that front. The SEP China sales figures from the large Japanese auto manufacturers were all down YoY in the range of -35% to -45%. Moreover, Japan’s Cabinet Office earlier today downgraded its assessment of the economy for the third-consecutive month – the longest streak since 2009.

 

SEP Vehicle Sales in China (per StreetAccount):

  • Toyota: -49% YoY
  • Nissan: -35%YoY
  • Honda: -41% YoY
  • Suzuki: -43% YoY
  • Mazda: -35% YoY
  • Mitsubishi: -63% YoY

 

After seeing the ratty China sales numbers from each of the Japanese auto manufacturers, Noda is likely feeling political pressure to ease up and acquiesce to China’s stern position on the  islands. It’s important to note that the automotive industry remains an important part of Japan's economy; data from Research and Markets shows carmakers and automotive suppliers together employ over 5.3 million workers, which is equivalent to 8.5% of the country's total workforce and that the industry generates 10% of the country's tax revenues and makes up 15% of the manufacturing sector, which, in total, generates roughly 20% of Japan's GDP.

 

That said, however, Noda bowing down to China ahead of a parliamentary election (by AUG ’13) could spell political disaster for the DPJ. Bloomberg data shows Noda’s approval rating was a lowly 34% in a Yomiuri newspaper poll published OCT 3, compared with 65% when he took office 13 months ago. Support for his DPJ was at 18%, while that of the LDP was 28%. Almost 45% had no party preference.

 

As such, we continue to believe that the uncertainty over the future leadership of both countries (pending Japanese parliamentary elections; Chinese leadership transition) is contributing to what we’d highlight as a delayed response to diplomacy – in spite of the recently agreed-upon talks (i.e. “vice-ministerial discussions at an unspecified date” are probably not going to cut it)! Moreover, we continue to envision accelerating protectionism (either de facto or de jure – same result) and further economic pain as leaders from both nations are in a bind both culturally and politically – at least for now. Weakness likely won’t be tolerated by either populace and, from a behavioral perspective, pride often trumps economic logic in the decision-making process of most men.

 

To this tune, Japan’s new Economy Minster Seiji Maehara, proclaimed that “Japan has no intention of backing down in a damaging spat with China over the disputed islands regardless of the negative impact it might have on economic ties with its largest trading partner.” The FT article, from which the aforementioned quote was sourced, said Maehara's comments reflect the determination of a handful of hard-line Japanese policymakers to stand firm against pressure from China to acknowledge its claim to the string of islands. Growth Slows as Pride Accelerates?

 

PARTING THOUGHTS

All told, new data suggests the world economy could potentially experience an outright contraction in real GDP over the intermediate term. As such, we maintain our bearish TREND-duration bias on “risky assets”, broadly speaking. Like he did in mid-to-late 2007, Ben Bernanke has lulled international investors to sleep with his aggressive monetary easing – perpetuating systemic risk for a rude awakening across asset classes if and when the data fails to meet inflated expectations over the intermediate term.

 

Have a wonderful weekend with your respective families,

 

Darius Dale

Senior Analyst


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