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PostPosted: Mon Aug 10, 2015 5:28 am 
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The really worrying financial crisis is happening in China, not Greece
By Jeremy Warner
9 July 2015

While all Western eyes remain firmly focused on Greece, a potentially much more significant financial crisis is developing on the other side of world.

In some quarters, it’s already being called China’s 1929 – the year of the most infamous stock market crash in history and the start of the economic catastrophe of the Great Depression. In any normal summer, a 30pc fall in the Chinese stock market – a loss of value roughly equivalent to the UK’s entire economic output last year – after an ascent which had seen share prices more than double within the space of a year would have been front page news across the globe.

The dramatic series of government interventions to stem the panic – hitherto unsuccessful, it should be added – would similarly have been up there at the top of the news agenda. Yet the pantomime of the Greek debt talks, together with the tragi-comedy of will they, won’t they leave the euro, has relegated the story to little more than a footnote - even though 940 companies, more than a third, have now suspended trading on China’s two main indices.

The parallels with 1929 are, on the face of it, uncanny. After more than a decade of frantic growth, extraordinary wealth creation and excess, both economies – America in 1929 and China today – are at roughly similar stages of economic development. Both these booms, moreover, are in part explained by extremely rapid credit growth. Indeed, China’s credit boom dwarfs that of even the “roaring Twenties”. Borrowed money, or margin investing, played a major role in both these outbreaks of speculative excess.

True, the Chinese stock market bubble is only a one-year wonder, whereas the build-up to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 was more sustained. Even so, the comparison still holds. As noted by JK Galbraith in his classic account, The Great Crash 1929, even as late as 1927 it was possible to argue that American stocks represented fair value.

It was only in the final year that the “escape into make-believe” happened in earnest, when the stock market rose by nearly 50pc. This applies to the Shanghai Composite, too. Stripping out the lowly-rated banking sector, valuations for just about everything else have rocketed, making those that ruled on Wall Street in the run-up to October 24, 1929, look relatively modest. Nor do the similarities end there. As in 1920s America, China’s stock market boom has ridden in tandem with an equally speculative real estate bubble.

The macro-economic backdrop is also surprisingly similar. Then, as now in China, rural workers had emigrated to the cities in vast numbers in the hope of finding a more prosperous life in fast-growing industrial sectors. In 1920s America, virtually all these sectors – from steel to automobiles and the new technologies of radio and consumer durables – grew like Topsy, inspiring households to invest in them and chase the apparently bountiful profits they were generating.

A similar explosion in industrial activity has taken place in China, only more so. China has packed more development into a few short decades than any country in recorded history before, creating a worldwide glut in industrial capacity that even global demand, let alone domestic Chinese demand, is struggling to accommodate.

Already, there are warning signs of a slowdown, similar to those that front-ran the 1929 crash – depressed commodity prices and a virtual hiatus in global trade growth. The Chinese economy is like one of those cartoon characters who manages to keep running long after leaving the edge of the cliff, only belatedly to look down and plunge into the abyss.

Naturally, there are many dissimilarities too, not least that China is still essentially a planned and centrally-controlled economy which has so far managed to defy the usual rules of economics. The consensus is that this time will be no different, that even if the stock market does continue to crash, the impact will be no worse than 2007-08, when the Shanghai Composite fell by two-thirds. Yet after a massive fiscal and monetary stimulus, the wider economy barely lost a beat. Have no fear, the Chinese authorities have it all under control. Believe it if you will.

I don’t buy it. Indeed, I can see very little evidence for China’s technocratic elite having things under control. The firebreaks that China put in place over the weekend to mitigate the panic are, in practice, not much different from those applied during the Great Crash of 1929, only this time it’s public rather than private money that promises to quell the fire. They failed spectacularly in 1929. This time around, they’ve thrown the kitchen sink at the problem, but so far it has produced only a mild, and wholly unconvincing, rebound. The fire still smoulders, threatening to break out anew.

Besides, China cannot forever, Greenspan-like, keep answering each successive bubble by creating another. First it was gold, then housing, and when cooling measures threatened an all-out bust in the property and construction markets, the taps were turned on afresh, producing a further flood of money into the stock market. The authorities were happy to tolerate the bull market at first, hoping it might encourage a switch from debt to equity financing, but there seems little chance of that now. The stock market boom has only succeeded in adding to the debt.

Whether any of this turns into a calamitous economic meltdown obviously depends on the rest of the response. Policymakers have learned a thing or two since 1929; we now know that the real damage in financial crises is done not by the crash itself, but by a collapsing banking sector. Stock markets are only a signal of credit contraction to come. Even so, I doubt China has as much of a handle on its banks, and more particularly its shadow banking sector, as it pretends.

One further thought on these parallels. Now that the export-led model of economic of growth seems to have reached its natural end, at least for China, president Xi Jinping pins his hopes on internal consumer demand to drive growth, and he’s vowed to continue with the free-market reforms of predecessors to help achieve this. Unfortunately, it’s proving a difficult transition. Part of the problem with free markets is that by definition they cannot be controlled. Busts are as much part of their DNA as the wealth-enhancing properties of their booms. As China is about to discover, bad downturns come with the territory.

Source: Telegraph UK

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 10, 2015 5:52 am 
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China stock market freezing up as sell-off gathers pace
By Samuel Shen and Brenda Goh
8 July 2015

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's tumbling stock market showed signs of seizing up on Wednesday, as companies scrambled to escape the rout by having their shares suspended and indexes plunged after the securities regulator warned of "panic sentiment" gripping investors.

Beijing, which has struggled for more than a week to bend the market to its will, unveiled yet another battery of measures to arrest the sell-off, and the People's Bank of China said it would step up support to brokerages enlisted to prop up shares. The CSI300 index of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen closed down 6.8 percent, while the Shanghai Composite Index dropped 5.9 percent.

With nearly half the market on a trading halt and another round of margin calls forcing leveraged investors to dump whatever shares could find a buyer, blue chips that had been supported by stabilization funds earlier in the week bore the brunt. "I've never seen this kind of slump before. I don't think anyone has. Liquidity is totally depleted," said Du Changchun, an analyst at Northeast Securities. "Originally, many wanted to hold blue chips. But since so many small caps are suspended from trading, the only way to reduce risk exposure is to sell blue chips."

More than 30 percent has been knocked off the value of Chinese shares since mid-June, and for some global investors the fear that China's market turmoil will destabilize the real economy is now a bigger risk than the crisis in Greece. "Also, the ripple effect from the market correction has yet to show up," wrote Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts in a note. "We expect slower growth, poorer corporate earnings, and a higher risk of a financial crisis."

Commodities markets reflected growing concerns about the broader health of the world's second largest economy, with copper prices falling to a six-year low, Shanghai nickel futures sliding by their 5 percent daily limit, and oil falling toward $56 a barrel, near a three month-low.

TRADING HALTS

More than 500 China-listed firms announced trading halts on the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges on Wednesday, taking total suspensions to about 1,300 - 45 percent of the market or roughly $2.4 trillion worth of stock - as companies scuttled to sit out the carnage. With so many small-cap companies sheltering on the sidelines, the ChiNext growth board, which has seen some of the biggest swings in valuations, fell a modest 0.8 percent.

The plunge in China's previously booming stock markets, which had more than doubled in the year to mid-June, is a major headache for President Xi Jinping and China's top leaders, who are already grappling with slowing growth. Beijing's interventionist response has also raised questions about its ability to enact the market liberalization steps that are a centerpiece of its economic reform agenda.

China has orchestrated brokerages and fund managers to promise to buy billions of dollars' worth of stocks, helped by a state-backed margin finance company which the central bank pledged on Wednesday to provide sufficient liquidity. The securities regulator said the Securities Finance Corp had provided 260 billion yuan ($41.8 billion) to 21 brokerages, though that sum is only 40 percent of the amount of leveraged positions that investors have cut since June 18.

RETAIL INVESTORS

Unlike other major stock markets, which are dominated by professional money managers, retail investors account for around 85 percent of China trade, which exacerbates volatility. "It's uncommon to see so many shares posting consecutive daily limit falls, and the index futures swinging so wildly," said Wang Feng, CEO and founder of hedge fund firm Alpha Squared Capital Co and a former Wall Street trader. "It's a stampede. And the problem of the market is that all the players move in the same direction, and are too emotional."

A surprise interest-rate cut by the central bank at the end of June, relaxations in margin trading and other "stability measures" have done little to calm investors.

The barrage of official commentary and new support measures continued throughout Wednesday's trading session, without visible effect. Deng Ge, a spokesman for the China Securities Regulatory Commission, said in remarks posted on its official channel on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, that there had been a big increase in "irrational selling" of stocks.

Government agencies also announced that insurers would be allowed to by more blue chips and urged major shareholders and top executives to buy their own shares. But the market sell-off has extended beyond the mainland, with Chinese stocks on U.S. exchanges falling as much as 6.1 percent on Tuesday, according to the Bank of New York Mellon index of such securities.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell 5.8 percent, with shares of Chinese brokerages taking a heavy beating. "Investors are extremely unimpressed with their sudden conscription into national service, and you can see that in their share prices," said Matthew Smith, a strategist who covers the China financials sector for Macquarie.

(Additional reporting by Pete Sweeney, Kazunori Takada and Adam Jourdan in Shanghai, Shu Zhang and Nicholas Heath in Beijing and Umesh Desai, Saikat Chatterjee and Michelle Chen in Hong Kong; Writing by Alex Richardson; Editing by Will Waterman)
Source: Reuters

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