Posts Tagged ‘China’
by Tyler Durden
09/03/2011 17:22 -0400
Wondering why gold at $1850 is cheap, or why gold at double that price will also be cheap, or frankly at any price? Because, as the following leaked cable explains, gold is, to China at least, nothing but the opportunity cost of destroying the dollar’s reserve status. Putting that into dollar terms is, therefore, impractical at best, and illogical at worst. We have a suspicion that the following cable from the US embassy in China is about to go not viral but very much global, and prompt all those mutual fund managers who are on the golden sidelines to dip a toe in the 24 karat pool. The only thing that matters from China’s perspective is that “suppressing the price of gold is very beneficial for the U.S. in maintaining the U.S. dollar’s role as the international reserve currency. China’s increased gold reserves will thus act as a model and lead other countries towards reserving more gold. Large gold reserves are also beneficial in promoting the internationalization of the RMB.” Now, what would happen if mutual and pension funds finally comprehend they are massively underinvested in the one asset which China is without a trace of doubt massively accumulating behind the scenes is nothing short of a worldwide scramble, not so much for paper, but every last ounce of physical gold…
3. CHINA’S GOLD RESERVES
“China increases its gold reserves in order to kill two birds with one stone”
The China Radio International sponsored newspaper World News Journal
(Shijie Xinwenbao)(04/28): “According to China’s National Foreign
Exchanges Administration China ‘s gold reserves have recently
increased. Currently, the majority of its gold reserves have been
located in the U.S. and European countries. The U.S. and Europe have
always suppressed the rising price of gold. They intend to weaken
gold’s function as an international reserve currency. They don’t
want to see other countries turning to gold reserves instead of the
U.S. dollar or Euro. Therefore, suppressing the price of gold is
very beneficial for the U.S. in maintaining the U.S. dollar’s role
as the international reserve currency. China’s increased gold
reserves will thus act as a model and lead other countries towards
reserving more gold. Large gold reserves are also beneficial in
promoting the internationalization of the RMB.”
Perhaps now is a good time to remind readers what will happen if and when America’s always behind the curve mutual and pension fund managers finally comprehend that they are massively underinvested in the one best performing asset class.
You already know the basic reasons for owning gold – currency protection, inflation hedge, store of value, calamity insurance – many of which are becoming clichés even in mainstream articles. Throw in the supply and demand imbalance, and you’ve got the basic arguments for why one should hold gold for the foreseeable future.
All of these factors remain very bullish, in spite of gold’s 450% rise over the past 10 years. No, it’s not too late to buy, especially if you don’t own a meaningful amount; and yes, I’m convinced the price is headed much higher, regardless of the corrections we’ll inevitably see. Each of the aforementioned catalysts will force gold’s price higher and higher in the years ahead, especially the currency issues.
But there’s another driver of the price that escapes many gold watchers and certainly the mainstream media. And I’m convinced that once this sleeping giant wakes, it could ignite the gold market like nothing we’ve ever seen.
The fund management industry handles the bulk of the world’s wealth. These institutions include insurance companies, hedge funds, mutual funds, sovereign wealth funds, etc. But the elephant in the room is pension funds. These are institutions that provide retirement income, both public and private.
Global pension assets are estimated to be – drum roll, please – $31.1 trillion. No, that is not a misprint. It is more than twice the size of last year’s GDP in the U.S. ($14.7 trillion).
We know a few hedge fund managers have invested in gold, like John Paulson, David Einhorn, Jean-Marie Eveillard. There are close to twenty mutual funds devoted to gold and precious metals. Lots of gold and silver bugs have been buying.
So, what about pension funds?
According to estimates by Shayne McGuire in his new book, Hard Money; Taking Gold to a Higher Investment Level, the typical pension fund holds about 0.15% of its assets in gold. He estimates another 0.15% is devoted to gold mining stocks, giving us a total of 0.30% – that is, less than one third of one percent of assets committed to the gold sector.
Shayne is head of global research at the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. He bases his estimate on the fact that commodities represent about 3% of the total assets in the average pension fund. And of that 3%, about 5% is devoted to gold. It is, by any account, a negligible portion of a fund’s asset allocation.
Now here’s the fun part. Let’s say fund managers as a group realize that bonds, equities, and real estate have become poor or risky investments and so decide to increase their allocation to the gold market. If they doubled their exposure to gold and gold stocks – which would still represent only 0.6% of their total assets – it would amount to $93.3 billion in new purchases.
How much is that? The assets of GLD total $55.2 billion, so this amount of money is 1.7 times bigger than the largest gold ETF. SLV, the largest silver ETF, has net assets of $9.3 billion, a mere one-tenth of that extra allocation.
The market cap of the entire sector of gold stocks (producers only) is about $234 billion. The gold industry would see a 40% increase in new money to the sector. Its market cap would double if pension institutions allocated just 1.2% of their assets to it.
But what if currency issues spiral out of control? What if bonds wither and die? What if real estate takes ten years to recover? What if inflation becomes a rabid dog like it has every other time in history when governments have diluted their currency to this degree? If these funds allocate just 5% of their assets to gold – which would amount to $1.5 trillion – it would overwhelm the system and rocket prices skyward.
And let’s not forget that this is only one class of institution. Insurance companies have about $18.7 trillion in assets. Hedge funds manage approximately $1.7 trillion. Sovereign wealth funds control $3.8 trillion. Then there are mutual funds, ETFs, private equity funds, and private wealth funds. Throw in millions of retail investors like you and me and Joe Sixpack and Jiao Sixpack, and we’re looking in the rear view mirror at $100 trillion.
I don’t know if pension funds will devote that much money to this sector or not. What I do know is that sovereign debt risks are far from over, the U.S. dollar and other currencies will lose considerably more value against gold, interest rates will most certainly rise in the years ahead, and inflation is just getting started. These forces are in place and building, and if there’s a paradigm shift in how these managers view gold, look out!
I thought of titling this piece, “Why $5,000 Gold May Be Too Low.” Because once fund managers enter the gold market in mass, this tiny sector will light on fire with blazing speed.
My advice is to not just hope you can jump in once these drivers hit the gas, but to claim your seat during the relative calm of this month’s level prices.
Read the entire article HERE.
by Zhou Xin and Koh Gui Qing
Wed Jul 20, 2011 9:31am EDT
The urging from China’s currency regulator came as U.S. leaders tried to hammer out an 11th-hour deal to raise a $14.3 trillion debt ceiling for the United States before it runs out of money to cover all its bills on August 2.
“We hope the U.S. government will take responsible policies and measures to boost global financial market confidence and respect and protect the interests of investors,” the State Administration of Foreign Exchange said.
The remarks, published on its website, were carried as a response to queries on whether Beijing will cut its investment in U.S. Treasuries following through from rating agencies saying they may cut the United States’ credit rating.
The agency, which manages China’s $3.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, the world’s largest, said its buying and selling of Treasuries were part of normal investment operations.
Due to the size of China’s reserves, Beijing has few choices but to invest the bulk of the stash in U.S. Treasuries, by far the world’s biggest and most liquid asset class.
About two-thirds of China’s reserves are estimated to be invested in dollar assets, ranking Beijing as the biggest creditor to the United States.
While China is keen to cut its reliance on the dollar by investing its reserves in other assets, its currency regulator acknowledged the crucial role of Treasuries by saying it is “an important investment product for both U.S. domestic and international institutional investors.”
The currency regulator also argued it cannot invest too much of China’s reserves in commodities such as oil, gold and silver these markets are too volatile and small.
“Chinese companies and households consume a large amount of gold and crude oil,” it said.
“If we use much of our foreign exchange reserves to invest in such areas, we could push up market prices, which may affect our people’s consumption and economic development.”
Read the entire article HERE.
By Aaron Task | Daily Ticker
Thu, Jun 9, 2011 8:02 AM EDT
There’s nothing new about pundits and authors warning about the thread posed by China’s rapid rise. In his upcoming book, Red Alert, Stephen Leeb tackles this hot-button issue from a slightly different viewpoint.
“Everything about China we have to pay attention to…but what really concerns me is their accumulation of all these commodities,” Leeb tells me in the accompanying video.
When you think of “commodities” you probably think about oil, gas, gold, corn, soybeans, and maybe copper or zinc. China has been on a global buying spree to gain access to many commodities, but Leeb’s focus is on so-called heavy rare earth materials, which China already owns in abundance.
“OPEC’s control of oil [is] dwarfed by China’s control of rare earths, which are probably just as vital as oil,” Leeb says. “It’s something we have to wake up to and wake up to very quickly.”
Back in 2005, the importance of rare earths became evident when Congress blocked China’s attempt to buy Molycorp’s Mountain Pass mine from Unocal, its owner at the time. China’s control of rare earth minerals made headlines again last September when the Communist nation imposed an unofficial ban on related exports to Japan.
But for the most part, rare earths are a backburner issue (at best) for most Americans, policymakers included. This is a big mistake, according to Leeb, who notes rare earth materials are used in high-tech weaponry and are “vital” to renewable energy production, notably wind turbines and hybrid cars.
“If you want to create a society reliant on renewable energy, you need a major transition that’s going to rely on critical commodities [like] heavy rare earths,” he says. “Silver too is totally vital.”
Yes, while most of us think of silver as an alternative currency, Leeb notes it has major industrial uses, both conventional and in the development of solar panels. As a result, he is extremely bullish on silver, for the long term. (See: Why Higher Oil Prices Are Good for Silver)
“I think silver is heading for $100 [and possibly] much, much higher numbers,” he says. “It could become so valuable that like gold in the Depression,” the government will confiscate individuals’ silver holdings.
For the moment, however, Leeb is far more concerned about what our government is failing to do to respond to China’s challenge.
“There’s no point in demonizing China for pursuing its own economic interests,” he writes in the preface to Red Alert. “But as a disciplined, fast-growing economic juggernaut, China poses a massive challenge to the United States and represents a major threat to our economic well-being. And we have only a limited window of time in which to respond to this challenge in any meaningful way.”
Failure to respond will result in “severe dislocations and an irreparable drop in our national income [and] our children will experience a decidedly lower standard of living,” he warns.
Read the entire article HERE.
By Terence P. Jeffrey
Friday, June 03, 2011
China has dropped 97 percent of its holdings in U.S. Treasury bills, decreasing its ownership of the short-term U.S. government securities from a peak of $210.4 billion in May 2009 to $5.69 billion in March 2011, the most recent month reported by the U.S. Treasury.
Treasury bills are securities that mature in one year or less that are sold by the U.S. Treasury Department to fund the nation’s debt.
Mainland Chinese holdings of U.S. Treasury bills are reported in column 9 of the Treasury report linked here.
Until October, the Chinese were generally making up for their decreasing holdings in Treasury bills by increasing their holdings of longer-term U.S. Treasury securities. Thus, until October, China’s overall holdings of U.S. debt continued to increase.
Since October, however, China has also started to divest from longer-term U.S. Treasury securities. Thus, as reported by the Treasury Department, China’s ownership of the U.S. national debt has decreased in each of the last five months on record, including November, December, January, February and March.
Prior to the fall of 2008, acccording to Treasury Department data, Chinese ownership of short-term Treasury bills was modest, standing at only $19.8 billion in August of that year. But when President George W. Bush signed legislation to authorize a $700-billion bailout of the U.S. financial industry in October 2008 and President Barack Obama signed a $787-billion economic stimulus law in February 2009, Chinese ownership of short-term U.S. Treasury bills skyrocketed.
By December 2008, China owned $165.2 billion in U.S. Treasury bills, according to the Treasury Department. By March 2009, Chinese Treasury bill holdings were at $191.1 billion. By May 2009, Chinese holdings of Treasury bills were peaking at $210.4 billion.
However, China’s overall appetite for U.S. debt increased over a longer span than did its appetite for short-term U.S. Treasury bills.
In August 2008, before the bank bailout and the stimulus law, overall Chinese holdings of U.S. debt stood at $573.7 billion. That number continued to escalate past May 2009– when China started to reduce its holdings in short-term Treasury bills–and ultimately peaked at $1.1753 trillion last October.
As of March 2011, overall Chinese holdings of U.S. debt had decreased to 1.1449 trillion.
Most of the U.S. national debt is made up of publicly marketable securities sold by the Treasury Department and I.O.U.s called “intragovernmental” bonds that the Treasury has given to so-called government trust funds—such as the Social Security trust funds—when it has spent the trust funds’ money on other government expenses.
The publicly marketable segment of the national debt includes Treasury bills, which (as defined by the Treasury) mature in terms of one-year or less; Treasury notes, which mature in terms of 2 to 10 years; Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS), which mature in terms of 5, 10 and 30 years; and Treasury bonds, which mature in terms of 30 years.
At the end of August 2008, before the financial bailout and the stimulus, the publicly marketable segment of the U.S. national debt was 4.88 trillion. Of that, $2.56 trillion was in the intermediate-term Treasury notes, $1.22 trillion was in short-term Treasury bills, $582.8 billion was in long-term Treasury bonds, and $521.3 billion was in TIPS.
At the end of March 2011, by which time the Chinese had dropped their Treasury bill holdings 97 percent from their peak, the publicly marketable segment of the U.S. national debt had almost doubled from August 2008, hitting $9.11 trillion. Of that $9.11 trillion, $5.8 trillion was in intermediate-term Treasury notes, $1.7 trillion was in short-term Treasury bills; $931.5 billion was in long-term Treasury bonds, and $640.7 billion was in TIPS.
Before the end of March 2012, the Treasury must redeem all of the $1.7 trillion in Treasury bills that were extant as of March 2011 and find new or old buyers who will continue to invest in U.S. debt. But, for now, the Chinese at least do not appear to be bullish customers of short-term U.S. debt.
Treasury bills carry lower interest rates than longer-term Treasury notes and bonds, but the longer term notes and bonds are exposed to a greater risk of losing their value to inflation. To the degree that the $1.7 trillion in short-term U.S. Treasury bills extant as of March must be converted into longer-term U.S. Treasury securities, the U.S. government will be forced to pay a higher annual interest rate on the national debt.
As of the close of business on Thursday, the total U.S. debt was $14.34 trillion, according to the Daily Treasury Statement. Of that, approximately $9.74 trillion was debt held by the public and approximately $4.61 trillion was “intragovernmental” debt.
Read the entire article HERE.
By Wu Yiyao
Updated: 2011-05-31 07:08
SHANGHAI – The impacts of China’s worst drought in 50 years have been served up on the nation’s dining tables as the price of rice and vegetables from drought-hit provinces have skyrocketed.
The average price of staple foods in 50 cities has increased significantly, and the price of some leaf vegetables has jumped 16 percent in one month, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics.
Decreased production because of the drought has been cited as the major reason for price increases, and the prices of rice and vegetables may not drop soon, according to a report by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Statistics from the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters show that an area of nearly 7 million hectares of arable land has been affected by the drought, with Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui and Jiangsu provinces most seriously affected.
“I didn’t buy many leaf vegetables in the last week because the price is getting crazy,” said Zhang Weirong, a 67-year-old Shanghai resident.
“Cabbage used to be as cheap as paper, and for 5 yuan (77 cents) you would get too many cabbages to carry home,” she said.
She has had to switch to melons and pumpkins, which are getting cheaper this year.
She also changed from eating porridge for breakfast to noodles.
“My grandson said he doesn’t like the dishes I cook these days, but what else can I do?” she said.
Shoppers at a supermarket in Shanghai’s Huangpu district complained that the price of rice produced in Hubei increased 20 percent in one month to 2.6 yuan a kg. Lotus root produced in Hunan also climbed 20 percent during the same period to 4.2 yuan a kg.
In Wuhan, capital of drought-hit Hubei, the average price of 20 monitored vegetables climbed 7.3 percent in one month. The price of cabbage almost doubled in May to 2.22 yuan a kg, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
The price of freshwater fish, crab and shrimp also witnessed a surge in the past week. Freshwater fish production in several provinces has reached bottom as lakes and rivers are drying up.
If food prices continue to soar during the summer, the increase may exceed 20 percent, which will push up inflation in the short term, Liu Ligang, an economist for the Greater China area with the ANZ Bank, said in his column for Financial Times.
On another note, Gao Wenqi, a researcher with the Shanghai Agricultural Technology Extension and Service Center, said the drought has provided better conditions for aphids to reproduce.
Aphids can produce a new generation in days with no rain, said Gao.
Read the entire article HERE.
May 19, 10:25 AM ET
By Matt Taibbi
Robert Green at Forbes has an interesting column today (titled “It’s Getting Harder to Defend Goldman Sachs”) in which he proposes an answer to a question I get asked a lot: Where’s the next scam? Green thinks it might be in the Far East:
What’s the next Goldman lemon trade? I’m guessing it may be brewing with China. Ex-CEO Hank Paulson opened many deals in China, moving many American businesses and jobs to China. Goldman pumped up China for great profit, without any regard for doing business with the CCP communists and corrupt parties. Goldman may be arranging its big-China short now to get “closer to home.” If and when the China’s financial-market bubble bursts, Goldman may make another fortune on the sell-off.
A lot of people aren’t aware of the role Wall Street investment banks had in moving American jobs overseas. Most of the major bailout recipients, in fact, helped finance the wholesale export of the American manufacturing sector by lending money to the Chinese to build the sophisticated industrial infrastructure it needed to take full advantage of its inexhaustible supply of cheap pseudo-slave labor. This has been one of Bernie Sanders’s pet peeves for years, that we not only provide financial assistance to companies who lay off American workers, we even spend taxpayer money to help finance the disappearance of American jobs.
Read the entire blog post HERE.
By Richard Mills
As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information
Pure gold deposits are increasingly difficult to find.
“What really bothers me is that in the 1980s or 1990s, we saw three to five discoveries of 5 to 20 million ounces each, and upwards of 30 to 50 million ounces a year. That is what makes or breaks the industry. There are no discoveries of that magnitude now.” Pierre Lassonde, veteran gold analyst, co-founder/chairman of Franco Nevada Mining Corp., former president of Newmont Mining Corp.
Each year the mining industry must come up with a major new gold discovery of five million ounces just to replace what one of the world’s top gold miner’s digs up. Because large pure gold deposits are so hard to find – the low hanging fruit has already been picked – gold miners are turning to deposits that contain other metals like copper.
“In the case of gold, the world is currently mining it faster than it is finding it. Furthermore the average size and grade of gold discoveries continues to decline.” Richard Schodde, Managing Director of MinEx Consulting
Mining is the story of depleting assets, that asset must be constantly replenished; miners that want to stay in business must replace every oz taken out of the ground and there isn’t a lot of the larger size gold deposits left to find or buy that would really affect most of these larger company’s bottom lines. Replacing what they’ve mined let alone finding more productivity/resources is getting harder and harder.
“It’s not a bad time to diversify if you are a gold miner. There are lots of reasons to be bullish on gold, at the same time copper has a stronger long-term outlook. Over the next five years I am by and large bullish and wouldn’t be surprised if copper saw an upper range between $10,000 to $12,000.” William Adams, analyst at FastMarkets.com
Porphyry Copper/Gold Deposits
Porphyry copper/gold targets are becoming increasingly important in the global quest to replace declining copper and gold production. These kinds of deposits yield about two-thirds of the world’s copper and are therefore the world’s most important type of copper deposit.
Porphyry copper deposits are copper orebodies which are associated with porphyritic intrusive rocks and the fluids that accompany them. Porphyry orebodies typically contain between 0.4 and 1 % copper with smaller amounts of other metals such as molybdenum, silver and gold.
There are two factors that make these kinds of deposits so attractive to the world’s major mining companies – firstly by focusing on profitability and mine life instead of solely on grade your other inputs of scale/cost can offset the lower grade and this results in almost identical gross margins between high and low grade deposits. Low grade can mean big profits for mining companies – Copper/gold porphyries offer both size and profitability.
The second factor affecting profitability of these often immense deposits is the presence of more than one payable metal ie for gold miners using co-product (copper) accounting the cost of gold production is usually way below the industry average.
So not only are the traditional miners of these scarce and often immense ore bodies in competition for them but increasingly yesterday’s gold only miners are becoming interested as well. These kinds of deposits are one of the few deposit types containing gold that have both the scale and the potential for decent economics that a major gold mining company can feel comfortable going after to replace and add to their gold reserves.
The Vancouver Sun newspaper said high copper demand combined with limited new supplies have made copper the new gold as far as profit margins are concerned.
Copper boasts a higher profit margin than gold – at US$4.29 (U.S.) per pound copper has a 68-per-cent profit margin over industry average break even costs, compared with gold’s 52 per cent.
“As 2011 unfolds, we expect copper to touch $5, yielding an extraordinary 70 per cent profit margin over average world break-even costs including depreciation.” Patricia Mohr Scotiabank economist
Supply and Demand
Copper is supported by:
The growth in demand from Africa, China, India and other emerging markets
Global infrastructure deficit
A low interest rate environment bodes well for the whole resource sector
The overall weakness in the U.S. dollar translates into support for dollar denominated metal prices
In the Scotiabank Commodity Price Index report for April Mohr said “Copper could still retest the previous US$4.60 record of February 14. Chinese copper fabricators destocked copper and produced 2.1% fewer copper semis in January and February due to credit restrictions and high prices. However a big seasonal pick-up in consumption in the second quarter will lift prices.”
“We see renewed strength in the second half and you’ve got to be bullish copper for the next few years. The global recovery is becoming more broad-based and you’re not going to see any new mines coming on stream for at least this year.” Christin Tuxen, analyst at Danske Bank A/S
Australian equity research firm Resource Capital Research (RCR) said it expects the copper market to move from a small surplus in 2010 to a deficit of around 400,000 tonnes by 2011.
According to JPMorgan Securities Ltd, the world refined copper market will have a 500,000-metric-ton deficit in 2011.
BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP), the world’s largest mining company, said in January that output from their Escondida mine in Chile, the world’s largest copper mine, would drop by as much as 10 percent in the year ending in June because of lower ore grades.
Codelco, based in Santiago and the world’s largest copper producer, said on March 25 that supply from its mines fell for the fifth time in six years.
London based Anglo American Plc and Kazakhmys Plc reported lower output this year.
Michael Jansen, metals strategist at JPMorgan Securities Ltd, predicts a deficit of 500,000 tons to 600,000 tons this year.
Macquarie expects a shortfall of 550,000 tons.
Morgan Stanley projects copper prices will average $4.45 a pound in 2011, up 24 percent from an earlier estimate.
Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd expects copper to average $4.57 a pound this year, up 12.5 percent from a previous estimate.
European copper producer Aurubis said that the global economy continues to recover, according to the IMF, and should achieve a growth rate of 4.4% in 2011 followed by 4.5% in 2012. This indicates sustainably high copper demand that cannot even be harmed by China’s restrictive interest rate policy or the economic weakness of certain countries.
The market will see a wider deficit because of steady demand growth in emerging markets, including China and Brazil, a gradual economic recovery in the US and Europe and tight mine supplies. This year’s deficit will be the most since 2004, according to company data. Hidenori Kamoo, general manager of the marketing department at Pan Pacific Copper Co
Tom Albanese, CEO Rio Tinto Group, the world’s second largest mining company, said that the industry has struggled to maintain supply because of declining ore grades, delays to mine expansions and disruption from strikes.
Ore grades averaged 0.76 percent copper content in 2009, compared with 0.9 percent in 2002. CRU, a London based research company.
Chile mined 6.6 percent less copper in February than a year earlier, the fifth decline in the last six months. National Statistics Institute
“There are still reasons to be bullish on copper into next year. The market is still going to be tight.” David Wilson, analyst Societe Generale SA
Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., the world’s largest publicly traded copper producer, said in January that it would produce less metal than forecast this year.
Barclays Capital says copper demand growth will slow to 4.1 percent this year, down from 9.6 percent in 2010 – still more than twice the anticipated 1.7 percent expansion in supply. Barclays forecasts an 889,000 ton shortfall for 2011.
“We’re still seeing an incredibly tight market. China has to buy copper. They can’t find substitutes.” Kevin Norrish, managing director, Barclays Capital
RBS forecast average prices between $10,000 and $11,500 in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Barclays Capital saw copper trading on average at $12,000 in 2012.
StanChart’s Zhu saw prices at just under $12,000 in 2014.
Christine Meilton, chief consultant at CRU Group said there was a risk some copper projects, expected to come on stream in 2012 and 2013, will be delayed because of red tape, poor infrastructure and funding difficulties.
“We suggest the upcoming summer period could be a very exciting time for LME copper prices. The market is positioning for declining LME copper inventories during the June-July-August period. In response, we believe copper prices should move higher.” John Redstone, analyst Desjardins Securities Inc.
Redstone is maintaining his average copper price forecast of $4.50 per pound in 2011 and $5 in 2012.
“For at least the next three years we are still very bullish on copper as the market will remain in deficit over that period, even under the most conservative global demand forecasts, and there is a possibility that this deficit could be more prolonged if demand grows faster than expectations. Copper is highly exposed to Asia, and urbanization in China and India will provide upside momentum for at least the next 10 years and perhaps as long as 20 years.” Judy Zhu, analyst Standard Chartered Bank
Urbanization is a macro-trend, in 1800 two percent of the global population was urban, by 1950 it was 30%. The UN projects that by the year 2030 there will be 1.5 billion more people living in cities. China has one fifth of the world’s population, India has another 1.2 billion people and Africa adds another billion. China and India consume a lot of copper, so increasingly will Africa.
Urbanization and the accompanying necessary infrastructure build out – power, construction, energy and transportation – needed to accomplish developing countries urbanization/industrialization plans are obviously key drivers in increased copper consumption.
Equally as important is the fact we have a global crisis in existing infrastructure. The demand this crisis is going to place on copper might very well be more than the demand coming from developing countries to build new infrastructure.
The amount of money, commodities and effort required is going to be massive:
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimated, in 2005, US infrastructure investment needed to be $1.6 trillion dollars over the following five years
European Union Energy Sector alone requires – $1.2T over 20 years
In a 2007 report, Booz Allen Hamilton estimated that investment needed to “modernize obsolescent systems and meet expanding demand” for infrastructure worldwide between 2005 and 2030 was about US$ 41 trillion.
Infrastructure spending by sector:
Water and wastewater $22.6 trillion
Power $9.0 trillion
Road and rail $7.8 trillion
Airports/seaports $1.6 trillion
Infrastructure spending geographically:
Middle East $0.9 trillion
Africa $1.1 trillion
US/Canada $6.5 trillion
South America/Latin America $7.4 trillion
Europe $9.1 trillion
Asia/Oceania $15.8 trillion
In January of 2009 CIBC World Markets issued a study that said a sharp deterioration in existing infrastructure could lead to as much as $35 trillion in public works spending over the next 20 years.
Infrastructure spending geographically:
North America $180 billion/year
Europe $205 billion/year
Asia $400 billion/year
Africa $10 billion/year
The World Economic Forum’s report, Positive Infrastructure, released in May 2010 finds that the world faces a global physical, hard asset, infrastructure deficit of US$ 2 trillion per year over the next 20 years.
In 2009 the ASCE updated their 2005 report on US infrastructure – no area rates higher than a C+. Roads, aviation, and transit declined in score while dams, schools, drinking water, and wastewater held at D or lower. One category, energy, improved, from a D to a D+. Below are the 2009 grades and new spending requirement:
Drinking Water D-
Hazardous Waste D
Inland Waterways D-
Public Parks and Recreation C-
Solid Waste C+
America’s Infrastructure GPA: D
Estimated 5 Year Investment: $2.2 Trillion
The 2009 fiscal stimulus package – the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) – included $72 billion for infrastructure upgrades – enough to cover six percent of the 5 year infrastructure deficit estimated by the ASCE. Half a percentage point in maintenance cost will cut the life span of an infrastructure asset by 10 years.
ASCE’s Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gives the US Electric Grid a rating of D, its summary:
“The U.S. power transmission system is in urgent need of modernization. Growth in electricity demand and investment in new power plants has not been matched by investment in new transmission facilities. Maintenance expenditures have decreased 1% per year since 1992. Existing transmission facilities were not designed for the current level of demand, resulting in an increased number of “bottlenecks,” which increase costs to consumers and elevate the risk of blackouts.”
“Our grids today are more stressed than they have been in the past three decades. If we don’t expand our capacity to keep up with an increase in demand of 40 percent over the next 25 years, we’re going to see healthy grids become increasingly less reliable.” Today, with the grid operating flat-out, any disruption—like the downed transmission line that sparked the 2003 blackout in the Northeast—can cripple the network.” Kevin Kolevar, assistant secretary for electricity delivery and energy reliability at the Department of Energy
April 15th 2011 the International Copper Study Group (ICSG) said “global growth in copper demand for 2011 is expected to exceed global growth in copper production and the annual production deficit, estimated at about 250,000 metric tons of refined copper in 2010, is expected to be about 380,000 t in 2011. In 2012, refined usage is again expected to increase in all major world markets, with global demand expected to rise by more than 4%.”
The ICSG does not forecast copper production catching up with demand anytime soon, certainly not in 2011 or 2012.
“The global economy is running a major infrastructure deficit as the cost of decades of under-investment is now surfacing.” Benjamin Tal, analyst CIBC World Markets
High Speed Rail (HSR)
To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information — from high-speed rail to high-speed internet. Excerpt from US President Obama’s recent State of the Union address
Obama is calling for eighty percent of Americans to have access to high speed rail by 2036 – currently no American has access to high speed rail.
A projection from rail proponents FourBillion.com indicates that building the 9,000 miles of high speed corridors identified by the U.S. Department of Transportation would:
Create 4.5 million permanent jobs and 1.6 million construction jobs
Save 125 million barrels of oil
Eliminate 20 million pounds of CO2 per mile per year
Reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing
Generate $23 billion in economic benefits in the US Midwest alone
These new lines also require massive support infrastructure: stations, metro transport links in cities and modern signaling/safety systems.
Copper is the key to the increased speed of modern high speed trains. Today’s high speed trains do not have a motor located in the locomotive, instead they use a series of motors and transformers located under the length of the train. New high-speed trains with their electric traction engines use from 3 to 4 tonnes of copper per train.
An additional 10 tonnes is used in the power (catenary system – overhead cable made of copper or copper-alloy that is suspended horizontally above the track and supplies the trains electricity) and communications cables per kilometer of track.
China’s already found an area where it could rapidly increase public investment to stimulate growth – rail construction.
China’s total investment in high speed rail was first reported to be about US$300 billion – the Chinese planned a 12,000km high speed passenger network supplemented by 20,000km of mixed traffic lines capable of 200-250kph.
Recent reports indicate that over US$600 billion will be spent on rail construction during the 2011-2015 Five Year Plan. By 2020 there would be at least 16,000 km of passenger dedicated high speed rail. The total rail network by 2020 would be 120,000 km – 80% of it electrified.
By early fall 2010, the Ministry of Railways announced that China had more than doubled the length of high speed track to over 7000km.
China has plans to construct its high speed rail line through Asia and Eastern Europe in order to connect to the existing infrastructure in the European Union (EU). Additional rail lines are planned into South East Asia as well as Russia – this will likely be the largest infrastructure project in history.
The project will include three major high speed lines:
UK/Europe to Beijing (8,100 km) and then extend south to Singapore
A second line will connect into Vietnam, Thailand, Burma and Malaysia
The third line will connect Germany to Russia, cross Siberia and then back into China
Financing and planning for this monumental project is being provided by China – who is already in negotiations with 17 countries to develop the project. In return the partnering nation will provide natural resources to China.
“We will use government money and bank loans, but the railways may also raise financing from the private sector and also from the host countries. We would actually prefer the other countries to pay in natural resources rather than make their own capital investment.” Wang Mengshu, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a senior consultant on China’s domestic high-speed rail project.
The exact route of the three lines has yet to be decided, but construction for the South East Asian line had already begun in the Chinese southern province of Yunnan and Burma is about to begin building its link. China offered to bankroll the Burmese line in exchange for the country’s rich reserves of lithium, a metal widely used in batteries.
Russia and China have announced plans to build a new trans-Siberian link. Iran, Pakistan, and India are each negotiating with China to build domestic rail lines that would link into the overall transcontinental system.
China has mastered the art of building high speed rail lines quickly and inexpensively. “These guys are engineering driven — they know how to build fast, build cheaply and do a good job.” John Scales, the lead transport specialist in the Beijing office of the World Bank.
China hopes to complete this massive infrastructure project within 10 years.
Major infrastructure projects typically boost productivity throughout the economy. Massive stimulus packages that focus on creating jobs at home – through public works projects – will, in this authors opinion, become very popular with governments looking to generate massive employment and restart the global economy.
Interest in the junior mining space is going to become intense but there is still time for investors to capitalize on the coming infrastructure boom.
Are junior resource companies, run by quality management teams with outstanding projects, on your radar screen?
If not maybe they should be.
Read the entire article HERE.
By SHAI OSTER
MAY 9, 2011
Wall Street Journal
HONG KONG—Wages are rising in China, heralding the possible end of an era of cheap goods.
For the past 30 years, customers would ask William Fung, the managing director of one of the world’s biggest manufacturing-outsourcing companies, to make his products—whether T-shirts, jeans or dishes—cheaper. Thanks to China’s seemingly limitless labor force, he usually could.
Now, the head of Li & Fung Ltd. says the times are changing. Wages for the tens of thousands of workers his Hong Kong-based firm indirectly employs are surging: He predicts overall, China’s wages will increase 80% over the next five years. That means prices for Li & Fung’s goods will have to rise, too.
“What we will have for the next 30 years is inflation,” Mr. Fung said. “A lot of Western managers have never coped with inflation.”
The issue is likely to hover behind talks Monday, between Chinese and U.S. leaders in Washington at their annual Strategic Economic Dialogue. Currency and debt issues are expected to dominate the agenda. But there are signs that the low labor costs—and cheap currency—that led to China’s huge trade surplus with the U.S. could be reaching a tipping point. This comes amid pressure from rising wages as China’s working-age population begins to decline.
For decades, plentiful Chinese labor kept down costs of a range of goods bought by Americans. Even as politicians in Washington accused China of hollowing out the American manufacturing sector, cheap DVD players, sweaters and barbecue sets were a silver lining for consumers who grew accustomed to ever-lower prices. China also kept down the value of its currency, giving domestic exporters a competitive edge.
“Inflation has been damped pretty dramatically in the U.S. because it exported work to China and other places at 20% or 30% of the cost,” said Hal Sirkin, a consultant at Boston Consulting Group. The years of dramatic reductions in costs are over, the firm says.
Li & Fung traces the start of rising wages to the “Foxconn Effect.” Foxconn is the trade name of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., maker of iPads for Apple Inc., and computers for Hewlett-Packard Co., among others. After a string of worker suicides last year at one of its China plants spurred Foxconn to defend its treatment of employees, the company raised wages 30% or more in a bid to improve worker conditions. That raise came as workers at other factories, including staff at a Honda Motor Co. parts plant, went on strike for higher pay.
Since then, the Chinese government has supported higher wages in part to address labor unrest, but also as way to boost domestic consumption and reduce reliance on exports to expand the economy. The rising wages affect both foreign and domestic companies.
Other factors besides rising wages are pushing up the price of goods. Chinese workers, for one, are starting to buy more with their higher salaries. That’s contributing to higher prices for commodities such as cotton and oil, which are already climbing in part because of a weaker dollar. Rising living standards in developing economies like China will keep prices of natural resources high as demand outpaces supply.
China’s move to let the yuan slowly appreciate in value—something eagerly sought by its Western trading partners—adds fuel to the fire. A stronger yuan makes it cheaper for China to import the raw materials it needs, such as iron and soybeans, helping tame domestic inflation. But it makes its exported goods more expensive for other countries to buy.
“This idea that we have moved from an era of easy deflationary environment to one of inflation is correct,” said Jeffrey Sachs, economist and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
During China’s 30 years of economic growth, hundreds of millions of factory and urban jobs soaked up surplus rural farm labor. In the past three or four years, he says, that extra labor has been exhausted.
Many analysts predict that China’s vast labor force will begin declining in the next year or two, the result of family-planning policies. Others say there’s already a shortage of the most active members of the factory floor, workers aged 15 to 34. That group has been steadily declining since 2007, according to Jun Ma, Deutsche Bank’s chief economist for Greater China. A shrinking work force will need higher salaries to support an expanding population of elderly.
There’s some debate about the impact and extent of these wage increases on foreign markets. The pace of inflation for U.S. imports is running around 7% this year, but it doesn’t account for a big enough portion of spending to significantly affect overall low inflation rates of about 1.6%, Morgan Stanley’s China strategist Jonathan Garner said. Still, with real wages stagnant for decades, many Americans who have grown dependent on cheap imported goods such as polo shirts or power tools could see their purchasing power decrease.
China still has cheap labor in its interior, away from its developed coastal cities, and productivity gains could mitigate higher wage costs. For example, Foxconn announced it was expanding operations to inland areas near Chengdu, Wuhan, and Zhengzhou, away from its coastal base.Li & Fung is encouraging its suppliers to invest more in their factories to increase worker productivity and raise the quality of goods.
There are limits to what those measures will achieve. Some analysts say that the wage increases will sharply outpace any productivity gains. Moving inland means lower wages, but higher transportation costs on China’s crowded highways and railroads. Furthermore, locating the factories in China’s hinterland puts them in a better position to service China’s growing domestic consumer market instead of exporting to consumers in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Faced with rising wages within China, some companies are shifting resources elsewhere to keep costs down. Yue Yuen Industrial (Holdings) Ltd., the world’s biggest shoe maker, has started moving manufacturing of low-cost shoes from China to countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia. Li & Fung has been hired a prominent Chinese sneaker brand, Li Ning Co., to help it search for cheap production outside China.
But the wage gap between China and other developing countries will shrink, said Mr. Fung, echoing views shared by Boston Consulting Group, because “China was the thing that kept the price low,” he says. “China was the benchmark. With the China price rising, everyone else wants to raise prices.”
As factories relocate to other countries, local wages will rise faster than they did in China because the potential pools of surplus labor are smaller. In addition, because no other country can replicate the massive scale of China, logistics will become a larger part of costs as companies are forced to slice up their manufacturing over several countries, analysts say.
“Things will be more expensive and people will buy less,” Mr. Fung warns. That means that the West will have to adopt new consumption trends.
Read the entire article HERE.
Friday, April 29, 2011
By Terence P. Jeffrey
Mainland China has decreased its holdings of U.S. Treasury securities since last October, according to a report updated today by the U.S. Treasury Department.
Since September 2008, when they eclipsed Japan, entities in mainland China have been the largest foreign owners of U.S. government debt. But, as indicated by the Treasury Department chart linked here, Chinese ownership of U.S. Treasury securities peaked in October 2010 and has declined in each of the four most recent months reported by the Treasury Department.
At the end of October 2010, China owned 1.1753 trillion in U.S. Treasury securities. That dropped to $1.1641 trillion by the end of November, $1.1601 trillion by the end of December, $1.1547 trillion by the end of January, and $1.1541 trillion by the end of February 2011.
February is the latest month for which the Treasury has estimated foreign holdings of U.S. debt.
Back in February 2001, according to historical data reported by the Treasury, the mainland Chinese owned only $63.7 billion in U.S. debt. In the ensuing decade, the Chinese massively increased their holdings of U.S. Treasury securities, and especially in the past five years. In February 2006, China owned $318.4 billion in U.S. debt and Japan owned $656.4 billion.
In September 2008, the Chinese moved ahead of the Japanese in their U.S. debt holdings. At the end of that month, the mainland Chinese owned $618.2 billion in U.S. government debt and the Japanese owned $617.5 billion.
In the two years between September 2008 and September 2010, China increased its U.S. government debt holdings by $533.7 billion—from $618.2 billion to 1.1519 trillion. By the end of October 2010, China’s holdings of U.S. government debt had increased to their peak of 1.1753 trillion.
After that, mainland Chinese holding of U.S. government debt declined for four straight months.
Entities in Hong Kong have also been decreasing their ownership of U.S. government debt. Hong Kong ownership of U.S. Treasury securities peaked at $152.4 billion in February 2010. By the end of February 2011, that had dropped to $124.6 billion.
In fiscal 2010—which ended on Sept. 30, 2010—the U.S. Treasury needed to redeem $7.206965 trillion in maturing U.S. Treasury securities. In order to cover the principle on those securities and borrow the money needed to cover government expenses that exceeded government revenues, the Treasury needed to turn around and sell $8.649171 trillion in U.S. Treasury securities during that fiscal year.
So far in fiscal 2011—which began on Oct. 1, 2010—the U.S. Treasury has needed to redeem $4.176308 trillion in maturing Treasury securities and sell $4.769522 in new Treasury securities.
At the end of February, according to the Treasury, the total U.S. debt was $14.194764 trillion of which $9.565541 trillion was publicly traded Treasury securities. Of those $9.565541 trillion in public Treasury securities, foreigners owned $4.4743 trillion—or almost 47 percent.
The $1.1541 trillion in U.S. debt owned by the mainland Chinese as of the end of February equaled about 12 percent of the publicly held portion of the U.S. debt and almost 26 percent of the publicly held portion of the U.S. debt that was owned by foreign interests.
CNSNews.com is not funded by the government like NPR. CNSNews.com is not funded by the government like PBS.
Read the entire article HERE.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011, 12:22 pm,
by Chris Martenson
Things are certainly speeding up, and it is my conclusion that we are not more than a year away from the next major financial and economic disruption.
Alas, predictions are tricky, especially about the future (credit: Yogi Berra), but here’s why I am convinced that the next big break is drawing near.
In order for the financial system to operate, it needs continual debt expansion and servicing. Both are important. If either is missing, then catastrophe can strike at any time. And by ‘catastrophe’ I mean big institutions and countries transiting from a state of insolvency into outright bankruptcy.
In a recent article, I noted that the IMF had added up the financing needs of the advanced economies and come to the startling conclusion that the combination of maturing and new debt issuances came to more than a quarter of their combined economies over the next year. A quarter!
I also noted that this was just the sovereign debt, and that state, personal, and corporate debt were additive to the overall amount of financing needed this next year. Adding another dab of color to the picture, the IMF has now added bank refinancing to the tableau, and it’s an unhealthy shade of red:
(Reuters) – The world’s banks face a $3.6 trillion “wall of maturing debt” in the next two years and must compete with debt-laden governments to secure financing, the IMF warned on Wednesday.
Many European banks need bigger capital cushions to restore market confidence and assure they can borrow, and some weak players will need to be closed, the International Monetary Fund said in its Global Financial Stability Report.
The debt rollover requirements are most acute for Irish and German banks, with as much as half of their outstanding debt coming due over the next two years, the fund said.
“These bank funding needs coincide with higher sovereign refinancing requirements, heightening competition for scarce funding resources,” the IMF said.
When both big banks and sovereign entities are simultaneously facing twin walls of maturing debt, it is reasonable to ask exactly who will be doing all the buying of that debt? Especially at the ridiculously low, and negative I might add, interest rates that the central banks have engineered in their quest to bail out the big banks.
Greece’s Public Debt Management Agency paid a high price to sell €1.625 billion of 13-week Treasury bills at an auction Tuesday, amid persistent speculation that the country will have to restructure its debt.
The 4.1% yield paid by Greece, which means it now pays more for 13-week money than the 3.8% Germany currently pays on its 30-year bond, is likely to increase concern over the sustainability of Greece’s debt-servicing costs.
Greek debt came under heavy selling pressure Monday after it emerged that the country had proposed extending repayments on its debt, pushing yields to euro-era highs.
Greek two-year bonds now yield more than 19.3%, up from 15.44% at the end of March.
With Greek 2-year bonds now yielding over 19%, the situation is out of control and clearly a catastrophe. When sovereign debt carries a rate of interest higher than nominal GDP growth, all that can ever happen is for the debts to pile up faster and faster, clearly the very last thing that one would like to see if avoiding an outright default is the desired outcome. How does more debt at higher rates help Greece?
It doesn’t, and default (termed “restructuring” by the spinsters in charge of everything…it sounds so much nicer) is clearly in the cards. The main question to be resolved is who is going to eat the losses — the banks and other major holders of the failed debt, or the public? I think we all know the most likely answer to that one.
“Contagion” is the fear here. With Ireland and Portugal already well down the path towards their own defaults, it is Spain that represents a much larger risk because of the scale of the debt involved. Spain is now officially on the bailout watch list, because it has denied needing a bailout, which means it does.
Spain is now at the ‘grasping at straws’ phase as it pins its hopes on China riding to the rescue:
European officials are hoping that the bailout for Portugal will be the last one, and debt markets have broadly shown both Spain and Italy appear to be succeeding in keeping investors’ faith.
Madrid is hoping for support from China for its efforts to recapitalize a struggling banking sector and there were also brighter signs in data showing its banks borrowed less in March from the European Central Bank than at any point in the past three years.
If Spain is hoping for a rescue by China, it had better get their cash, and soon. As noted here five weeks ago in “Warning Signs From China,” a slump in sales of homes in Beijing in February was certain to be followed by a crash in prices. I just didn’t expect things to be this severe only one month later:
BEIJING (MNI) – Prices of new homes in China’s capital plunged 26.7% month-on-month in March, the Beijing News reported Tuesday, citing data from the city’s Housing and Urban-Rural Development Commission.
Average prices of newly-built houses in March fell 10.9% over the same month last year to CNY19,679 per square meter, marking the first year-on-year decline since September 2009.
Home purchases fell 50.9% y/y and 41.5% m/m, the newspaper said, citing an unidentified official from the Housing Commission as saying the falls point to the government’s crackdown on speculation in the real estate market.
Housing transactions in major Chinese cities monitored by the China Index Research Institute (CIRI) dropped 40.5% year-on-year on average in March, a month when home buying typically enters a seasonal boom period.
Transactions rose month-on-month in 70% of the cities monitored, including five cities where transactions were up by more than 100% on a month earlier, secutimes.com reported on Wednesday, citing statistics from the CIRI. [CM note: month-on-month not useful for transactions as volumes have pronounced seasonality]
Beijing posted a decrease of 48% from a year earlier; cities including Haikou, Chengdu, Tianjin and Hangzhou saw drops in their transaction volumes month-on-month, according to the statistics.
Meanwhile, land sales fell 21% quarter-on-quarter to 4,372 plots in 120 cities in the first quarter of 2011; 1,473 plots were for residential projects, the statistics showed.
The average price of floor area per square meter in the 120 cities dropped to RMB 1,225, down 15% m-o-m, according to the statistics.
Real estate is easy to track because it always follows the same progression. Sales volumes slow down, and people attribute it to the ‘market taking a breather.’ Then sales slump, but people say “prices are still firm,” trying to console themselves with what good news they can find in the situation. Then sales really drop off, and prices begin to move down. That’s where China currently is. What happens next is also easy to ‘predict’ (not really a prediction because it always happens), and that is mortgage defaults and banking losses, which compound the misery cycle by drying up lending and dumping cheap(er) properties back on the market.
In that report back in March, I also wrote this:
If China enters a full-fledged housing crash, then it will have some very serious problems on its hands.
A collapse in GDP would surely follow, and all the things that China currently imports by the cargo-shipload would certainly slump in concert.
This is another possible risk to the global growth story that deserves our close attention. How this will impact things in the West remains unclear, but we might predict that China would cut way back on its Treasury purchases if it suddenly needed those funds back home to soften the blow of an epic housing bust.
If a more normal ratio for a healthy housing market is in the vicinity of 3x to 4x income, then China’s national housing market is overpriced by some 60% and certain major markets are overpriced by 80%.
Which means that the entire banking sector in China is significantly exposed.
The reason we care if China experiences a housing bust is the turmoil that will result in the global commodity and financial markets as a result. Everything is tuned to a smooth continuation of present trends, and China experiencing a housing bust would be quite disruptive.
If Spain is hoping for a big cash infusion from China and/or Chinese banks, it had better get its hands on that money quick. China is barreling toward its own full-fledged real estate crisis, which will drain its domestic liquidity just as surely as it did for the Western system, and probably even more quickly, given the stunning drop-offs in volumes in prices.
However, I should note that the United States housing market hit its peak (according to the Case-Shiller index) in July of 2006, and it was a year and a month before the first cracks appeared in the financial system, so perhaps there’s some time yet for Spain to cling to its hopes.
The larger story here is how a real estate slump in China will impact global growth, which absolutely must continue if the debt charade is to continue.
Who Will Buy All the Bonds?
With Japan now focusing on rebuilding itself, and China seemingly now in the grips of a housing bust that could prove to be one for the record books, given the enormous price-to-income gap that was allowed to develop, it would seem that the financing needs of the West will not be met by the East.
One important way to track how this story is unfolding is via the Treasury International Capital (TIC) report that comes out every month. The most recent one came out on April 15th and was quite robust, with a very large $97.7 billion inflow reported for February (the report lags by a month and a half).
On the surface things look ‘okay,’ although not especially stellar, given a combined US fiscal and trade deficit that is roughly twice as high as the February inflow. But digging into the report a bit, we find some early warning signs that perhaps all is not quite right:
Net foreign purchases of long-term securities totaled a lower-than-trend $26.9 billion in February, reflecting $32.4 billion of foreign purchases offset by $5.5 billion of domestic purchases of foreign securities. Inflows slowed for both Treasuries and equities with government agency bonds and corporate bonds posting outflows.
When including short-term securities, the February data tell a different story with a very large $97.7 billion inflow. Country data show little change in Chinese holdings of U.S. Treasuries, at $1.15 trillion, and a slight gain for Japanese holdings at $890 billion. It will be interesting to watch for change in Japanese Treasury holdings as rebuilding takes hold.
Only $26.9 billion, or 28%, of that $97.7 billion, was in long-term securities, reflecting a trend first outlined for us in our recent podcast interview with Paul Tustain of BullionVault whereby fewer and fewer participants are willing to lend long. Everybody is piling into the short end of things, not trusting the future. The concern here is that when interest rates begin to rise, financing costs will immediately skyrocket, because too much of the debt is piled up on the short end.
Also in the TIC data cited above, we need to reiterate that it is for February, and the Japanese earthquake hit on March 11. The next TIC report will be somewhat more telling, but even then only partially, and so it is the report for April (due to be released on June 15) that we’re really going to examine closely. Our prediction is for a rather large dropoff due to Japan’s withdrawal of funds.
With the Fed potentially backing away from the quantitative easing (QE) programs in June, the US government will need someone to buy roughly $130 billion of new bonds each month for the next year. So the question is, “Who will buy them all?”
Right now, that is entirely unclear.
Sadly, the budget ‘cuts’ proposed so far in Washington DC are too miniscule to assist in any credible way, and they practically represent a rounding error, given the numbers involved. The Obama administration has proposed $38 billion in spending reductions. (I hesitate to call them ‘cuts’ because in many cases they are merely lesser increases than previously proposed).
April 14, 2011
WASHINGTON – Congress sent President Barack Obama hard-fought legislation cutting a record $38 billion from federal spending on Thursday, bestowing bipartisan support on the first major compromise between the White House and newly empowered Republicans in Congress.
The Environmental Protection Agency, one of the Republicans’ favorite targets, took a $1.6 billion cut. Spending for community health centers was reduced by $600 million, and the Community Development Block Grant program favored by mayors by $950 million more.
The bipartisan drive to cut federal spending reached into every corner of the government’s sprawl of domestic programs. Money to renovate the Commerce Department building in Washington was cut by $8 million. The Appalachian Regional Commission, a New Deal-era program, was nicked for another $8 million and the National Park Service by $127 million more.
For the record, these ‘cuts’ work out to ~$3 billion less in spending each month, or less than the amount the Fed has been pouring into the Treasury market each business day for the past five months.
The fact that a major write-up on the budget finds it meaningful to tell us about specific $8 million cuts (that’s million with an “m“) tells us that we are not yet at the serious stage in these conversations. After all, $8 million is only 0.0005% of the 2011 deficit, and even the entire $38 billion is just 2.3% of the deficit and slightly under 1% of the total 2011 budget.
How much is $38 billion?
- Less than 2 weeks of new debt accumulation (on average)
- About 2 weeks of Fed thin-air money printing, a.k.a. QE II
In other words, it’s a drop in the ocean.
It is this lack of seriousness that is driving the dollar down and oil, gold, silver, and other commodities up. It is the reason we will be watching the TIC report for clues that foreign buyers and holders of dollars are getting nervous about storing their wealth with a country that is increasingly seen as unable or unwilling to live within its means. It explains why the IMF has been finger-wagging so much of late.
Somehow the US federal government managed to increase its expenditures by 30% from 2008 to 2011, but is now struggling to reduce the total amount by just 1%.
That, my friends, is an out-of-control process, and the 1% in ‘cuts’ is simply not a credible response to a very large problem.
There are two entirely, completely, utterly different narratives at play here. One of them is that the economy is recovering, policies are working, and the vaunted consumer is either back in the game or close to it. The other is that the world is saturated with debt, there’s no realistic or practical model of growth that could promise its repayment, and the level of austerity required to balance the books is so far beyond the political will of the Western powers that it borders on fantasy to ponder that outcome.
If we believe the first story, we play the game and continue to store all of our wealth in fiat money. If we believe the second, we take our money out of the system and place it into ‘hard’ assets like gold and silver because the most likely event is a massive financial-currency-debt crisis.
The IMF, the World Bank, the BIS, and numerous other institutions with access to $2 calculators have finally arrived at the conclusion that there’s still ‘too much debt’ and that it cannot all be paid back. And they are now alert to the idea that the predicament only has two outcomes: either the living standards of over-indebted countries will be allowed to fall, or the global fiat regime will suffer a catastrophic failure.
China is unlikely to ride to the rescue of the West, although it may have some time yet to help out a few of the smaller and mid-sized players, such as Spain.
Read the entire article HERE.