Economic Crash in China, What Do you Think???

#1

Contrarian Investor Sees Economic Crash in China
by David Barboza
Friday, January 8, 2010
provided by

James S. Chanos built one of the largest fortunes on Wall Street by foreseeing the collapse of Enron and other highflying companies whose stories were too good to be true.

Now Mr. Chanos, a wealthy hedge fund investor, is working to bust the myth of the biggest conglomerate of all: China Inc.

As most of the world bets on China to help lift the global economy out of recession, Mr. Chanos is warning that China’s hyperstimulated economy is headed for a crash, rather than the sustained boom that most economists predict. Its surging real estate sector, buoyed by a flood of speculative capital, looks like “Dubai times 1,000 – or worse,” he frets. He even suspects that Beijing is cooking its books, faking, among other things, its eye-popping growth rates of more than 8 percent.

“Bubbles are best identified by credit excesses, not valuation excesses,” he said in a recent appearance on CNBC. “And there’s no bigger credit excess than in China.” He is planning a speech later this month at the University of Oxford to drive home his point.

As America’s pre-eminent short-seller – he bets big money that companies’ strategies will fail – Mr. Chanos’s narrative runs counter to the prevailing wisdom on China. Most economists and governments expect Chinese growth momentum to continue this year, buoyed by what remains of a $586 billion government stimulus program that began last year, meant to lift exports and consumption among Chinese consumers.

Still, betting against China will not be easy. Because foreigners are restricted from investing in stocks listed inside China, Mr. Chanos has said he is searching for other ways to make his bets, including focusing on construction- and infrastructure-related companies that sell cement, coal, steel and iron ore.

Mr. Chanos, 51, whose hedge fund, Kynikos Associates, based in New York, has $6 billion under management, is hardly the only skeptic on China. But he is certainly the most prominent and vocal.

For all his record of prescience – in addition to predicting Enron’s demise, he also spotted the looming problems of Tyco International, the Boston Market restaurant chain and, more recently, home builders and some of the world’s biggest banks – his detractors say that he knows little or nothing about China or its economy and that his bearish calls should be ignored.

“I find it interesting that people who couldn’t spell China 10 years ago are now experts on China,” said Jim Rogers, who co-founded the Quantum Fund with George Soros and now lives in Singapore. “China is not in a bubble.”

Colleagues acknowledge that Mr. Chanos began studying China’s economy in earnest only last summer and sent out e-mail messages seeking expert opinion.

But he is tagging along with the bears, who see mounting evidence that China’s stimulus package and aggressive bank lending are creating artificial demand, raising the risk of a wave of nonperforming loans.

“In China, he seems to see the excesses, to the third and fourth power, that he’s been tilting against all these decades,” said Jim Grant, a longtime friend and the editor of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, who is also bearish on China. “He homes in on the excesses of the markets and profits from them. That’s been his stock and trade.”

Mr. Chanos declined to be interviewed, citing his continuing research on China. But he has already been spreading the view that the China miracle is blinding investors to the risk that the country is producing far too much.

“The Chinese,” he warned in an interview in November with Politico.com, “are in danger of producing huge quantities of goods and products that they will be unable to sell.”

In December, he appeared on CNBC to discuss how he had already begun taking short positions, hoping to profit from a China collapse.

In recent months, a growing number of analysts, and some Chinese officials, have also warned that asset bubbles might emerge in China.

The nation’s huge stimulus program and record bank lending, estimated to have doubled last year from 2008, pumped billions of dollars into the economy, reigniting growth.

But many analysts now say that money, along with huge foreign inflows of “speculative capital,” has been funneled into the stock and real estate markets.

A result, they say, has been soaring prices and a resumption of the building boom that was under way in early 2008 – one that Mr. Chanos and others have called wasteful and overdone.

“It’s going to be a bust,” said Gordon G. Chang, whose book, “The Coming Collapse of China” (Random House), warned in 2001 of such a crash.

Friends and colleagues say Mr. Chanos is comfortable betting against the crowd – even if that crowd includes the likes of Warren E. Buffett and Wilbur L. Ross Jr., two other towering figures of the investment world.

A contrarian by nature, Mr. Chanos researches companies, pores over public filings to sift out clues to fraud and deceptive accounting, and then decides whether a stock is overvalued and ready for a fall. He has a staff of 26 in the firm’s offices in New York and London, searching for other China-related information.

“His record is impressive,” said Byron R. Wien, vice chairman of Blackstone Advisory Services. “He’s no fly-by-night charlatan. And I’m bullish on China.”

Mr. Chanos grew up in Milwaukee, one of three sons born to the owners of a chain of dry cleaners. At Yale, he was a pre-med student before switching to economics because of what he described as a passionate interest in the way markets operate.

His guiding philosophy was discovered in a book called “The Contrarian Investor,” according to an account of his life in “The Smartest Guys in the Room,” a book that chronicled Enron’s rise and downfall.

After college, he went to Wall Street, where he worked at a series of brokerage houses before starting his own firm in 1985, out of what he later said was frustration with the way Wall Street brokers promoted stocks.

At Kynikos Associates, he created a firm focused on betting on falling stock prices. His theories are summed up in testimony he gave to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in 2002, after the Enron debacle. His firm, he said, looks for companies that appear to have overstated earnings, like Enron; were victims of a flawed business plan, like many Internet firms; or have been engaged in “outright fraud.”

That short-sellers are held in low regard by some on Wall Street, as well as Main Street, has long troubled him.

Short-sellers were blamed for intensifying market sell-offs in the fall 2008, before the practice was temporarily banned. Regulators are now trying to decide whether to restrict the practice.

Mr. Chanos often responds to critics of short-selling by pointing to the critical role they played in identifying problems at Enron, Boston Market and other “financial disasters” over the years.

“They are often the ones wearing the white hats when it comes to looking for and identifying the bad guys,” he has said.

Source: http://finance.yahoo.com/retirement/article/108534/contrarian-investor-sees-economic-crash-in-china?mod=retire-planning

#2

Bah… ridiculous contrarianism. Not necessarily a bad thing, but he is taking it too far. China may not be everyone’s cup of tea or the vehicle to save the world, but it certainly isn’t going to crash in the very near future.

#3

It will crash in the next three to five years… A lot of asset managers may not admit it but they are actively looking for ways in shorting Chinese Stocks. For further information just do some thorough research on some of the London based asset managers.

#4

What I don’t understand is what are the signals of a bubble/crash??? Because there are some clear conflicting views about China. Can anyone explain what are the basic signs of a future crash???

#5

@Baba

Fantastic Post!!! I mentioned in one of my previous threads about the next problem will rise from the emerging markets. I am a big fan of Jim Chanos and have followed him closely for years. One could state without much hesitation that he is the “best short seller” in the world.

Regarding China, the problem will be from the HOUSING MARKET, how ironic!!! I basically advice a former Fidelity Investment Trader who now invests his own money. Usually, I generate the ideas and he explores methods to execute the trade. With China, we have been on it for a few months now and the best way to trade is using ETF, which is FXP ETF which mostly comprises of the financial industry, which undoubtedbly will be affected if the so called bubble in the housing market will burst. We, already are long the FXP Ultrashort, which basically is the inverse i.e. we are shorting the index.

The following extract is from bloomber regarding the housing market there;

Millions of Chinese are pursuing property with a zeal once typical of house-happy Americans. Some Chinese are plunking down wads of cash for homes. Others are taking out mortgages at record levels. Developers are snapping up land for luxury high- rises and villas, and the banks are eagerly funding them. Some local officials are even building towns from scratch in the desert, certain that demand won’t flag. And if families can swing it, they buy two apartments: one to live in, one to flip when prices jump further.

And jump they have. In Shanghai, prices for high-end real estate were up 54 percent through September, to $500 per square foot. In November alone, housing prices in 70 major cities rose 5.7 percent, while housing starts nationwide rose a staggering 194 percent. The real estate rush is fueling fears of a bubble that could burst later in 2010, devastating homeowners, banks, developers, stock markets, and local governments.

“Once the bubble pops, our economic growth will stop,” warns Yi Xianrong, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Finance Research Center. On Dec. 27, China Premier Wen Jiabao told news agency Xinhua that “property prices have risen too quickly.” He pledged a crackdown on speculators.

Although parallels with other bubble markets, the China bubble is not quite so easy to understand. In some places, demand for upper middle class housing is so hot it can’t be satisfied. In others, speculators keep driving up prices for land, luxury apartments, and villas even though local rents are actually dropping because tenants are scarce. What’s clear is that the bubble is inflating at the rich end, while little low- cost housing gets built for middle and low-income Chinese.

In Beijing’s Chaoyang district, which represents a third of all residential property deals in the capital, homes now sell for an average of almost $300 per square foot. That means a typical 1,000-square-foot apartment costs about 80 times the average annual income of the city’s residents.

Koyo Ozeki, an analyst at U.S. investment manager Pimco, estimates that only 10 percent of residential sales in China are for the mass market. Developers find the margins in high-end housing much fatter than returns from building ordinary homes.

How did this bubble get going? Low interest rates, official encouragement of bank lending, and then Beijing’s half-trillion- dollar stimulus plan all made funds readily available. City and provincial governments have been gladly cooperating with developers: Economists estimate that half of all local government revenue comes from selling state-owned land.

Chinese consumers, fearing inflation will return and outstrip the tiny interest they earn on their savings, have pursued property ever more aggressively. Companies in the chemical, steel, textile, and shoe industries have started up property divisions too: The chance of a quick return is much higher than in their primary business.

To discourage speculation, the State Council, China’s cabinet, is extending, from two years to five, the period during which a tax is levied on the resale of apartments. Tighter rules on mortgages may follow. Beijing also plans to build apartments for 15 million poor families.

The government is reluctant to crack down too hard because construction, steel, cement, furniture, and other sectors are directly tied to growth in real estate. In November, for example, retail sales of furniture and construction materials jumped more than 40 percent. At the December Central Economic Work Conference, an annual policy-setting confab, officials said real estate would continue to be a key driver of growth.

The worst scenario is that the central authorities let the party go on too long, then suddenly ramp up interest rates to stop the inflationary spiral. Without cheap credit, developers won’t be able to refinance their loans, consumers will no longer take out mortgages, local banks’ property portfolios will sour, and industrial companies that relied on real estate for a chunk of profits will suffer.

It’s not encouraging that the Chinese have been ham-handed about stopping previous real estate frenzies. In the 1990s the government brutally ended a bubble in Shanghai and Beijing by cutting off credit to developers and hiking rates sharply. The measures worked, but property prices plunged and economic growth slowed.

Analysts are divided over the probabilities of such a crash, but even real estate executives are getting nervous. Wang Shi, chairman of top developer China Vanke Co., has warned repeatedly in recent weeks about the risk of a bubble. In his most recent comments he expressed fear that the bubble might spread far beyond Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen.

One difficulty in handicapping the likelihood of a nasty pullback is the opacity of the data. As long as property prices stay high, the balance sheets of the developers look strong. And no one knows for sure how much of the more than $1.3 trillion in last year’s bank loans funded real estate ventures.

#6

@ Einhorn VS Buffet,

I sent you a PM

#7

@ Einhorn VS Buffet,

I sent you a PM

#8

Hey Einhorn VS Buffet,

You are sharing too much information lol. Remember there should be an information arbitrage to be able to make a gain! There are some in the markets who knows the information but do not share it; and there are some who don’t know anything or knows very little. These are the one who provides us with the opportunity to make money lol. You are good though; keep it up.

Aj

#9

Hi Einhorn VS Buffet,

First of all, what positions are you applying for or what’s your job title? because I think buy-side research analyst might be your thing :).

From your analysis it looks like what some say is quite right: people don’t learn from the past. BTW did you read Shiller & Ackerlof “Animal Spirit”. I’ve heard they talk about these things in it (I haven’t read it yet). Anyway fantastic post, as AJ said keep it up.

#10

@Baba

My current job: Full Time Education
I study Economics and approached my lecturers last year regarding my apprehensions with the rational expectation models used in the subject. Subsequently, I was advised to read “Animal Spirit”, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

@AJ

Absolutely, I need to curb my enthusiasm when it comes to my investment ideas. Self-fulfilling prophecy, is something that often intrigues me. I was hoping people would disagree with my analysis but that unfortunately didn’t happen. Hence, I’m confident that if one manages to pull a contrarian investment coup, his job is subsequently made much easier. Haha!!