Edward here. The overall gist of Jim Chanos’ comments on Bloomberg the other day were that China has off-balance sheet contingent liabilities due to its implicit commitment to state-owned enterprises which are knee-deep in land and property speculation. This speculative excess will lead to credit writedowns. Chanos repeated his contention from CNBC last week that he is net short China as a result, a bet Hugh Hendry has also been making – with spectacular results recently. See Michael Pettis piece on The debt-financed investments of Chinese state-owned enterprises for a comprehensive analysis of this problem.
I should also add that these are the same arguments that are used regarding why Spain and its sick banking sector are having problems in Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. It is also one reason Claus Vistesen has given for being cautious in Denmark. And it is the reason Fannie and Freddie’s nationalisation in the US should have been expected. The point is one needs to consider not just the sovereign, but quasi-sovereign debt that creates contingent liabilities which the sovereign could be reasonably expected to cover in the event of crisis. In France, we may well see this problem crystallized next due to the liquidity crisis affecting French banks.
Bottom line: expect a slow down in China – how much of one is still up for debate. Anything above 7% y-o-y GDP growth should be considered a soft landing though. Below that 7% number, analysts would consider that a hard landing. That is lower, but not necessarily dire. The west would love numbers like that.
Bloomberg Television sent me the following partial transcript:
On the Chinese government’s balance sheet:
"The Chinese government’s balance sheet directly does not have a lot of debt. The state-owned enterprises of the local governments and all the other ancillary borrowing vehicles have lots of debt and its growing at a very fast rate. The assumption is that the state stands behind all this debt. We see that the debt in China, implicitly backed by the Chinese government, probably has gone from about 100% of GDP to about 200% of GDP recently. Those are numbers that are staggering. Those are European kind of numbers if not worse."
On how a Chinese property bubble will play out:
"I think that will be the surprise going into this year, and into 2012 – that it is not so strong. The property market is hitting the wall right now and things are decelerating. The CEO of Komatsu said last week that he is having trouble getting paid for his excavator sales in China. Developers are being squeezed. They’re turning to the black market for lending, this shadow banking system that is growing by leaps and bounds like everything in China.
"Regulators over there are really trying to get their hands around the problem. In the meantime, local governments have every incentive to just keep the game going. So they will continue with these projects, continuing to borrow as the central government tries to rein it in."
Chanos on his long and short positions:
"We are short Chinese banks, the property developers, commodity companies that sell into China, anything related to property there is still a short."
"We are long the Macau casinos. It’s our long corruption, short property play. We feel that there’s American management and American accounting. They are growing at a faster rate even than the property developers."
On the IMF lowering growth estimates for China:
"A lot of people are assuming that half of all new loans in China are going to go bad. In fact, the Chinese government even said that last year relating to the local governments. If we assume that China will grow total credit this year between 30% to 40% of GDP, and half of that debt will go bad, that is 15% to 20%. Say the recoveries on that are 50%. That means that China, on an after write off basis, may not be growing at all. It may be having to simply write off some of this stuff in the future so its 9% growth may be zero."
Source: Bloomberg Televison
video below (click here if you are using Google Chrome)