China?s View of China

I ran into Minxin Pei, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who imparted to me some iconoclastic, out of consensus views on China?s position in the world today.

He thinks that power is not shifting from West to East; Asia is just lifting itself off the mat, with per capita GDP at $5,800, compared to $48,000 in the US. We are simply moving from a unipolar to a multipolar world. China is not going to dominate the world, or even Asia, where there is a long history of regional rivalries and wars.

China can?t even control China, where recessions lead to revolutions, and 30% of the country, Tibet and the Uighurs, want to secede. China?s military is entirely devoted to controlling its own people, which make US concerns about their recent build up laughable.

All of Asia?s progress, to date, has been built on selling to the US market. Take us out, and they?re nowhere. With enormous resource, environmental, and demographic challenges constraining growth, Asia is not replacing the US anytime soon.

There is no miracle form of Asian capitalism; impoverished, younger populations are simply forced to save more, because there is no social safety net. Try filing a Chinese individual tax return, where a maximum rate of 40% kicks in at an income of $35,000 a year, with no deductions, and there is no social security or Medicare in return. Ever heard of a Chinese unemployment office or jobs program?

Nor are benevolent dictatorships the answer, with the despots in Burma, Cambodia, North Korea, and Laos thoroughly trashing their countries. The press often touts the 600,000 engineers that China graduates, joined by 350,000 in India. In fact, 90% of these are only educated to a trade school standard. Asia has just one world-class school, the University of Tokyo.

As much as we Americans despise ourselves and wallow in our failures, Asians see us as a bright, shining example for the world. After all, it was our open trade policies and innovation that lifted them out of poverty and destitution. Walk the streets of China, as I have done for nearly four decades, and you feel this vibrating from everything around you. I?ll consider what Minxin Pei said next time I contemplate going back into the (FXI) and (EEM).

FXI 4-24-13

EEM 4-24-13

China - Parade China: Not All it?s Cracked Up to Be

Rampant Wage Inflation Strikes China

I rely on hundreds of ‘moles’ around the world whose job it is to watch a single, but important indicator for the world economy. One of them checks for me the want ads in the manufacturing mega city of Shenzhen, China, and what he told me last week was alarming.

Wage demands by Chinese workers have been skyrocketing this year. The biggest increases have been at the low end of the spectrum, where migrant workers from the provinces are earning up to 40% more than a year ago. Wage settlements of 20% or more for trained workers are common. One factory that gave staff only a 10% increase saw many of them fail to return after the recent Chinese lunar New Year.

Of course China’s blistering 8% GDP growth is to cause, which has pushed inflation well beyond the government’s 4% target. So the cost of living in the Middle Kingdom is rising dramatically. The problem has been particularly severe with imported commodities, such as in food. Hence, the increased demands.

This is important for the rest of us because low wages have been the cornerstone of the Chinese economic miracle. In just the last decade, average monthly Chinese wages have climbed from the bottom rung to the middle tier. That seriously erodes the country’s cost advantage, which has gained such enormous shares in foreign markets, like the US. Take away the country’s price advantages, and demand will wither, slowing growth globally.

What will they be demanding next? Collective bargaining rights? In the meantime, keep checking those Craig’s List entries for Shanghai.

Average Monthly Salary

$3,099 Yokohama, Japan
$1,220 Seoul, South Korea
$888 Taipei, Taiwan
$235 Shenzhen, China
$148 Jakarta, Indonesia
$100 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
$47 Dhaka, Bangla Desh

FXI 3-12-13

Chinese Men

$1.25 an Hour? You Must Be Joking!

How U.S. Job Losses Will End

I was researching comparative Asian wage data the other day and was astounded with what I found. Textile workers earn $2.99 an hour in India (PIN), $1.84 in China (FXI), and $0.49 in Vietnam (VNM). This is an 18-fold increase in labor costs from $0.10 an-hour since Chinese industrialization launched in 1978.

This compares to the $8 an hour our much abused illegals get at sweat shops in Los Angeles, and $10 in some of the nicer places. What?s more, the Indian wage is up 17% in a year, meaning that inflation is casting a lengthening shadow over the sub-continent?s economic miracle. A series of strikes and a wave of suicides have brought wage settlements with increases as high as 20% in China.

This is how the employment drain in the US is going to end. When foreign labor costs reach half of those at home, manufacturers quit exporting jobs because the cost advantages gained are not worth the headaches and risk involved in managing a foreign language work force, the shipping expense, political risk, import duties, and supply disruptions, just to get lower quality goods. Chinese wage growth at this rate takes them up to half our minimum wage in only five years.

This has already happened in South Korea (EWY), where wage costs are 60% of American ones. As a result, Korea?s GDP growth is half that seen in China. These numbers are also a powerful argument for investing in Vietnam, where wages are only 27% of those found in the Middle Kingdom, and where Chinese companies are increasingly doing their own offshoring.

This is why I have pushed the Vietnam ETF (VNM) on many occasions. I know every time I do this I get torrents of emails from that country bitterly complaining how difficult it is to do business there, and how the hardwood trees are still full of shrapnel left over from the war, and why I shouldn?t buy a 50 acre industrial park there.? But, the numbers don?t lie.








The Next China Boom

The call was scratchy and barely audible. I was instructed to not mention any names. I should only use the prearranged code words when talking about political parties. You never know when the phones in China are tapped. I was just about to get a heads up that the People?s Bank of China was going to lower interest rates for the first time in four years.

Of course, we knew this was coming. Three relaxations of bank reserve requirements over the past six months telegraphed that the Middle Kingdom?s economy was slowing and that some serious monetary easing was on the way. But it appears that the things were now starting to get out of hand, possibly taking the GDP growth rate below the government?s 7% target.

Chinese companies were canceling contracts to buy imported commodities left and right, including for corn, sugar, copper, and iron ore, causing much distress among foreign counterparties. Now we learn that there are two dozen ships sitting off the Chinese coast fully loaded with coal, with no takers. The Chinese are walking away from contracted deliveries and refusing to pay, much as they did at the height of the 2008 financial crisis.

The really fascinating point that my friends in Beijing were trying to hammer home is that the current round of weakness is setting up the buying opportunity of the century. China is in the midst of changing government for the first time in a decade. The new president, Xi Jinping, is expected to take power in March, 2013, and will owe a broad range of constituents favors for his successful ascent. To solidify his position he will engineer a broad rise in the country?s standard of living that will benefit everyone in the country.

The first order of business will be to clean house and install loyal cadres across the upper tiers of the bureaucracy. Then he will launch a massive stimulus package designed to accelerate the growth of the domestic economy and wean the country off of its dependence on low waged export industries. The goal will be to move the Middle Kingdom?s economy inland, away from the coast where it is now concentrated.

That will enfranchise more of the 400 million of the rural population who have yet to participate in the modern economy and enjoy its benefits. The ultimate goal will be to raise Chinese per capita incomes from the current $3,000 to the $10,000-$20,000 range. A spin off advantage of this policy will be that it improves relations with the US, which until now has been drowning in Chinese exports in many politically sensitive industries. The economy will boom.

To finance this effort, the government will embark on a large scale privatization of state owned assets. Targeted is the government?s ownership of wide swaths of the banking, insurance, railroad, telecommunication, and energy industries. The effort will mirror the privatization policy that Margaret Thatcher imposed on the United Kingdom from the early 1980?s and the one the Japanese initiated a few years later. I participated in both, and the trading profits I took in were more than generous.

The funds that the Mandarins in Beijing will raise from this campaign will be used to pay off its enormous domestic debts. It will also be spent on repairing China?s badly tattered social safety net, with huge expenditures earmarked for health care and social security.

Stock markets will enjoy a major bull market for a decade, both in China (FXI), surrounding Asian emerging nations, like South Korea (EWY), Taiwan (EWT), Thailand (TF), Indonesia (IDX) and in Australia (EWA). Their currencies will rocket too, including The Australia (FXA), Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwanese dollars, as well as the Korean won.

The industry plays here won?t be the big infrastructure ones that worked so well in the last bull market, but instead will be focused on the country?s nascent consumer sector. I obviously need to do more work in this area, and when I get specific names, I will let you know.

Investments made near the current lows should see tenfold to twentyfold returns in coming years. This will also pave the way for full convertibility of the renminbi which could lead to the same sort of 300%-400% appreciation that we saw with the Japanese yen from the 1970?s to the 1990?s. That will create a double leveraged, hockey stick effect on the profits on Chinese investments.

What all of this does is to keep the Chinese economy growing at a 6%-8% rate for the indefinite future. While this is a slower rate than seen in years past, it will be off a much larger base, so the impact on the global economy will be substantial. China now boasts the world?s second largest economy, with GDP at $5.5 trillion, still well behind the US at $14.5 trillion.

Needless to say, basic commodities, like copper (CU), coal (KOL), iron ore (BHP), (RIO), all the food plays (CORN), (WEAT), (SOYB), (POT), (MOS), soar in this scenario. Gold (GLD), silver (SLV), platinum (PPLT), and palladium (PALL) also do extremely well. This could be the base case for taking the yellow metal up to my long term target of $2,300 an ounce, or even to the gold bug levels of $5,000 to $10,000.

So when does my friend expect the greatest bull market of all time to begin? After the new government comes in next March you should allow six months for it to get settled and get its ducks lined up. That takes us out to October, 2013. Until then the stock market will continue to bump along the bottom, as we have seen for the past year. Of course, if the markets get a whiff of what?s coming, they could react much sooner. You can take the China crash scenario and throw it in the trash.

I asked my contact if the demographic wall that I expect China to hit in five years will cool his expectations. This will happen with the population pyramid inverts as a result of its 32 year old one-child policy, and a large aging population supported by a smaller generation of young workers creates a large economic drag. He said that demographic effects won?t really impact the financial market for ten years, and could well be what brings the next bull market to an end.





Buy the Next Low

The Weekly Jobless Claims Blockbuster

Traders were taken aback this morning when the Department of Labor announced a 50,000 drop in weekly jobless claims to 352,000. The street had been expecting a decline of only 19,000. It was the lowest report in almost three years, and the sharpest weekly decline in seven years.

I tell people that, if stranded on a desert island, this is the one weekly report I would want to call the direction of the economy. So I am up every Thursday morning at 5:30 am PST like an eager beaver awaiting the announcement with baited breath.

The impact will not be as great as the headline number suggests. Nearly half of the figure represents a take back of the 24,000 increase in claims for the previous week. But there is no doubt that it represents an upside surprise for the economy. And you have to put this in the context of a long steady stream of modestly positive economic data that has been printing since the summer.

The release was only able to elicit a small double digit response from the stock market. That?s because we are now up nine out of eleven days, taking the S&P 500 up 4.5% on the year, a far more blistering performance than many expected. That takes us right up to the level of 1,312, which many analysts predicted would be the high for the year.

Break this on substantial volume, and we could reach my own upside limit of 1,370. If you believe that we are trading to the top of a 300 point range from 1,070 to 1,370, as I do, then there is not a lot you want to do here when you are 81% into that move, unless you want to day trade.

At this point, I would like to refer you to my October 30, 2011 piece, ?The Stock Market?s Dream Scenario? by clicking here. Since then, two of my three predicted ?black swans? have occurred, progress on the European sovereign debt problem and the first interest rate cut by the People?s Bank of China in three years. The third, a multi trillion dollars budget and tax compromise in Washington, was dead on arrival. But hey, calling two out of three black swans is not bad!







Arriving on Schedule

China?s Rate Cut is a Game Changer

For the first time in three years, China (FXI) has cut its prime lending rate by 50 basis points. The timing caught many analysts by surprise, as such move was not expected until the lunar new year in early February. Perhaps recent data showing collapsing exports prompted the Mandarins in Beijing to hurriedly move up the timetable.

The Middle Kingdom?s action is one of the most important developments in financial markets this year, since it represents a major sea change, and is hugely positive for the global economy. It could signal a coming year of additional incremental interest rate cuts and bank reserve reductions designed to keep the country above the ?red line? GDP growth rate of 8%. Observers were also stunned by the magnitude of the cut, 50 basis points, compared to the usual 25 basis point move seen by the People?s Bank of China.

I have been comfortably out of Chinese equities for more than a year, vowing not to return to the mainland until interest rates fell. Now the worm has turned. It may be time to take another look at companies like Build Your Dreams (BYDDF), which has risen by 50% since my undercover visit there last month. Other names like China Telecom, China Mobile, and Baidu (BIDU), are also starting to look interesting.





We Want Lower Interest Rates!