Saturday, August 08, 2009

Andy Xie on China as a Ponzi scheme 

The Big Picture links to an excellent piece by Andy Xie on China's recovery building up to a Ponzi scheme. He first sets the scene with the dollar.
Like in the 1970s the Fed is denying the inflation risk due to its loose monetary policy. The longer the Fed waits, the higher the inflation will peak. When inflation starts to accelerate, it would cause panic in financial markets. To calm the markets, the Fed has to tighten aggressively, probably excessively, which would lead to a massive dollar rally. This would be the worst possible situation: a strong dollar and a weak US economy. China’s asset markets and the economy would almost surely go into a hard landing.
He then looks at the Chinese market today.
Chinese stock and property markets have bubbled up again. It was fueled by bank lending and inflation fear. I think that Chinese stocks and properties are 50-100% overvalued. The odds are that both will adjust in the fourth quarter. However, both might flare up again sometime next year. Fluctuating within a long bubble could be the dominant trend for the foreseeable future. The bursting will happen when the US dollar becomes strong again. The catalyst could be serious inflation that forces the Fed to raise interest rate.

Chinese asset markets have become a giant Ponzi scheme. The prices are supported by appreciation expectation. As more people and liquidity are sucked in, the resulting surging prices validate the expectation, which prompts more people to join the party. This sort of bubble ends when there isn’t enough liquidity to feed the beast.
Add demographics to this mix.
The most serious damage that a property bubble inflicts is in changing demographics. High property prices bring down birth rates. When property prices decline after a bubble bursts, the low birth rate culture cannot be changed. Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan all went through property bubbles during their development. Their birth rates dropped during the bubbles and didn’t recover afterwards despite government providing incentives. China’s one-child policy alone will lead to a demographic catastrophe in two decades. The property bubble makes the trend irreversible: when the government abandons the one-child policy, there wouldn’t be meaningful impact on birth rate.
The trouble is I see something very similar happening in India vis-a-vis asset bubbles. I think the current *recovery* in the equity markets and real estate is more likely to be linked to the weaker dollar rather than any fundamental change; corporate earnings, for example remain weak.