Thursday, July 30, 2009

Daily Sources 7/30

1. DEBATE OVER SUSTAINABILITY OF CHINESE FISCAL STIMULUS HEATS UP: CHINA SHUTTERS LARGE NUMBER OF SMALL COAL SOURCED POWER PLANTS, ONE ARGUES THAT CHINA'S STRENGTH VIS-A-VIS US FISCAL SITUATION OVERSTATED, ANOTHER SAYS CHINESE ARE COMPLAINING OF THEIR OWN BEHAVIOR IN OTHERS, AND YET ANOTHER SAYS TRADE CONFLICTS ARE INEVITABLE

Vitaliy Katsenelson in Morningstar opines:
"Despite everything, the Chinese economy has shown incredible resilience recently. Although its biggest customers--the United States and Europe--are struggling (to say the least) and its exports are down more than 20%, China is still spitting out economic growth numbers as if there weren’t a worry in the world. The most recent estimate put annual growth at nearly 8%.

Is the Chinese economy operating in a different economic reality? Will it continue to grow, no matter what the global economy is doing?

The answer to both questions is no."
I interrupt Katsenelson's point to note that the Associated Press reports that
"[Chinese a]uthorities have closed [small coal-fired] power plants with a total of 7,467 generating units, meeting a previously announced goal 18 months ahead of schedule, said Sun Qin, deputy administrator of the Cabinet's National Energy Administration.

'This couldn't be done when power demand was very intense,' Sun said at a news conference. 'Due to this financial crisis, the power generation has slowed down, so we took this opportunity to accelerate the shutdown.'"
OK, but China depends on coal for about 70% of its electricity generation. As many have noted before, the GDP growth numbers published by China don't seem to be consistent with having taken so much power generation off line--see Daily Sources 5/14 #2. In late May, the China Electricity Council, or association, announced it would stop publishing electricity consumption numbers--see Daily Sources 6/8 #6. Back to Katsenelson:
"Millions of people have migrated to its cities, and now they’re hungry and unemployed. People without food or work tend to riot. To keep that from happening, the government is more than willing to artificially stimulate the economy, in the hopes of buying time until the global system stabilizes. It’s literally forcing banks to lend--which will create a huge pile of horrible loans on top of the ones they’ve originated over the last decade.

But don’t confuse fast growth with sustainable growth. Much of China’s growth over the past decade has come from lending to the United States. The country suffers from real overcapacity. And now growth comes from borrowing--and hundreds of billion-dollar decisions made on the fly don’t inspire a lot of confidence. For example, a nearly completed, 13-story building in Shanghai collapsed in June due to the poor quality of its construction.

This growth will result in a huge pile of bad debt--as forced lending is bad lending. The list of negative consequences is very long, but the bottom line is simple: There is no miracle in the Chinese miracle growth, and China will pay a price. The only question is when and how much."
In this vein, Robert Flint at the Wall Street Journal reports:
"Since the beginning of this week, things have happened quickly on the bubble front. China's banking regulator issued rules Monday governing loans for fixed-asset investments in its latest attempt to ensure bank lending boosts the real economy and isn't funneled into markets.

On Tuesday, two of China's major lenders were quoted as saying they would sharply slow credit growth in the second half. This prompted fears of a sudden tightening of credit that could choke off the loans which have so far eased the effects of the world recession. Shanghai equity prices plunged as much as 7.7% at one point Wednesday and closed 5.0% down on the day.

Later on Wednesday, the PBOC said it will emphasize market-based systems, rather than administrative controls, in guiding the appropriate growth of credit. PBOC Vice Governor Su Ning's comments appeared to signal the PBOC wasn't about to set loan curbs in the second half of this year to cool explosive lending growth, as it had done in 2008."
Meanwhile, David Pilling argues in the Financial Times:
"If anything, it is Beijing--some of whose officials now privately boast they have nothing at all to learn from the Great Spendthrift--that has the upper hand. China’s seeming financial hold over the US has been brought into sharp relief. Beijing has become prone to lecture Washington on the need to safeguard its $2,000bn reserves, the bulk of which are parked in US dollars.

It is wholly appropriate that Washington accords due attention to China, the most important emerging power since America itself. But there is also a danger of taking China too seriously. In compensating for past neglect, things could swing too far the other way. For all the euphoria about the G2--the Sino-US axis that, according to some breathless reckoning, is the only meaningful global forum--it is worth pausing to survey the facts.

For a start, China’s financial grip over the US is not as tight as many suggest. Far from a sign of strength, Beijing’s accumulation of vast foreign reserves is the side-effect of an economic model too reliant on exports. The enormous trade surplus is the product of an undervalued renminbi that has allowed others to consume Chinese goods at the expense of Chinese people themselves.

Beijing cannot dream of selling down its Treasury holdings without triggering the very dollar collapse it purports to dread. Nor are its shrill calls for the US to close its twin deficits--which would inevitably involve buying fewer Chinese goods--entirely convincing. Rather than exposing the superiority of China’s state-led model, the global financial crisis has laid bare the compromising embrace in which the US and China find themselves."
And Brad Setser at Follow the Money notes that Chinese policy makers complaining of US government profligacy might fairly be asked if they aren't the pot calling the kettle black.
"Before the crisis, the Fed’s balance sheet was around 6% of US GDP. Right now, it is around 15% of US GDP. A big increase no doubt. But the balance sheet of the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) is around 70% of China’s GDP. Foreign assets make up about 80% of the PBoC’s balance sheet--or around 55% of China’s GDP. And the PBoC’s estimated holdings of US treasuries and agencies are about equal to 30% of China’s GDP--a level that is far higher, relative to China’s GDP, than the US Fed is ever likely to achieve. The Fed expects its balance sheet to peak at roughly $2.5 trillion, or between 15% and 20% of US GDP."
His colleague Paul Swartz provides a graph of the annual change in PBoC and Fed holdings of treasuries and agencies as a percentage of GDP:



Michael Pettis at China Financial Markets notes that trade lawyers are reporting that they expect a slew of industries to ask the EU for protective tariffs next month.
"As I have been arguing for over a year, as unemployment around the world rises and as the necessary contraction in US net demand picks up pace, there was inevitably going to be a conflict with China as Chinese policymakers responded to the collapse in trade in the only way they could, by substantially stepping up investment. The result is that China’s trade surplus has contracted very slowly--much more slowly than the contraction in the US trade deficit--and the result was a huge squeeze on the tradable goods sectors around the world.

The fact that policymakers in Europe, China, Japan and the US seem to have no clue as to how difficult the transition for each of the other countries is likely to be, and so are doing not nearly enough to coordinate their response (in fact lecturing and finger waggling seem to the favorite forms of policy coordination), makes trade conflict almost a dead certainty. I don’t think there are necessarily any bad guys here--each country is desperately doing what it can to get itself out of this mess--but there is a lot of failed opportunity and I am pretty sure that the trade environment will continue to decline."
Pettis notes that China's share of the US trade deficit (excluding oil) has grown from 26% in 2000 to 83% so far in 2009.
"Perhaps as a consequence of a fiscal stimulus aimed at boosting investment and production, China’s share of the US trade deficit has grown significantly. Since the US trade deficit is shrinking quickly, this means that other exporters are getting killed. As I have argued for a while, this is not sustainable and will almost certainly cause trade tensions to erupt.

Does this mean China is behaving in a predatory way? I don’t thinks so. I have warned for a long time that it would be very difficult for China to make the necessary transition to a consumption-led economy quickly enough to accommodate the global adjustment taking place. Unless it is willing to see its economy collapse, there is simply no way China can reduce its negative net demand quickly enough to match the contraction in US demand and so avoid squeezing the hell out of the global tradable goods sectors. That is why policy coordination is so important, especially between China and the USD, and of course that is why I continue to be a pessimist. I do not think this policy coordination is taking place."
Well worth reading in full.

2. JAPANESE INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION UP 2.4% IN JUNE FROM MAY, JAPEX TO BID ON DEVELOPING 400 KB/D IRAQI FIELD, AND JAPAN TO START BURNING CRUDE JATROPHA OIL FOR POWER GENERATION

Yoshiaki Nohara at Bloomberg reports that the Japanese Trade Ministry announced that industrial production increased by 2.4% in June from May.
"Output gained 8.3% last quarter from the first three months of 2009, the most since 1953. Companies said they also planned to increase manufacturing by 1.6% in July and 3.3% in August, the report showed.

The heads of the Finance Ministry’s regional bureaus yesterday raised their assessment of the economy for the first time in five years, based on a recovery in exports and industrial production."
Meanwhile, Ashutosh Joshi and Taiga Uranaka at Reuters report that Japan Petroleum Exploration Co (Japex) has entered into negotiations with Iraq to develop the East Baghdad field, according to Nikkei Business Daily.
"Japex has proposed developing the southern portion of the field, with initial output forecast at 400 kb/d, enough to satisfy about 10% of Japanese demand, the newspaper said.

It also said that rival companies are expected to submit bids as well."
Meanwhile, Takeo Kumagai at Platts reports that Biomass Japan, a biodiesel supplier, will begin supplying power companies with crude jatropha oil for direct burning.
"Biomass Japan is scheduled to start receiving some 700 mt/month of crude jatropha oil in Okinawa from August, mainly from its pilot plants in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and India, the source said."
"Biomass Japan declines to officially disclose exact costs for its crude jatropha oil, but according to the source production from the foreign pilot projects will cost less than Yen 50-60/liter (53-63 cents/liter) on a CIF basis, less than equivalent domestic production.

Biomass Japan is currently expanding its overseas jatropha production capacities beyond Southeast Asia, with new operations in Africa due to come on stream in the next few months, the source said.

From December it will be receiving a total of 5,000 mt/month of crude jatropha oil from Africa, said the source, declining to give details of the projects."
Some power plants in Japan directly burn crude oil to generate electricity--generation from jatropha should reduce net greenhouse gas emissions. However, jatropha has recently been abandoned by some producers, in part because it turns out that it is a water hog--see Daily Sources 7/17 #5.

3. SOUTH KOREAN HOUSEHOLD SAVINGS DOWN FROM 25.2% IN 1998 TO PROJECTED 3.2% IN 2010

Blaine Harden at the Washington Post reports that
"The household savings rate in South Korea will have plummeted from a world-beating 25.2% in 1988 to a projected world low of 3.2% in 2010, according to the OECD. Government policies have encouraged borrowing, while Korea's aggressive culture has supercharged spending on signifiers of success, whether they be Ivy League degrees or Louis Vuitton handbags.

'It is not recognized as a virtue to save, not anymore,' said Lee Sun-uk, an investment adviser for an office of Samsung Securities that is located in a wealthy neighborhood of Seoul. 'To maintain a certain status, people are willing to spend, even if their incomes have declined.'

In the past decade, average savings per household have plunged from about $3,300 to $525. On a percentage basis, it is the steepest savings decline in the developed world. Meanwhile, household debt as a percentage of individual disposable income has risen to 140%, higher than in the United States (136%), according to the Bank of Korea."


4. UK HOME PRICES UP 1.3% IN JULY FROM JUNE IN THIRD CONSECUTIVE MONTHLY INCREASE, UK WORRIED ABOUT OIL PRICE EFFECT ON RECOVERY

Real Time Economics reports that the UK Nationwide Building Society said the average home price rose 1.3% in July from June in the third consecutive month of increase.
"House prices have a 'reasonable chance' of ending 2009 up for the year, the Nationwide Building Society said."
Kate Mackenzie at FT Energy Sources reports that following news stories indicating that the Financial Services Authority has determined that speculation is not the source of the 2007-8 oil price spike, it is
"calling in big oil companies, hedge funds, banks and oil traders next week for a closed-door discussion on 'whether the current arrangements [in the oil market] remain appropriate'."
"[T]he FSA said representatives from the Treasury will also be at the meeting, which raises another possibility of what is driving this newfound concern ... over commodities. The UK government has recently aired concerns that high oil prices could threaten economic recovery. Alistair Darling, the chancellor, made this clear when he told the FT that high and volatile oil prices 'has the potential to be a huge problem as far as the recovery is concerned'."
5. EU DELEGATION IN TURKMENISTAN TO DISCUSS ENERGY COOPERATION

Upstream online reports that the EU has sent a delegation to Turkmenistan to discuss energy cooperation.
"'Developing and deepening mutually beneficial and equal ties with EU countries is a priority in (Turkmenistan's) foreign policy strategy,' Reuters quoted a report published by state news agency Turkmen Khabarlary as saying, citing a Foreign Ministry statement.

Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said this month his country was ready to supply gas through Nabucco, a pipeline designed to ease Europe's dependence on Russian gas."
6. IRAQ FACING DUSTBOWL ENVIRONMENT

Liz Sly at the Los Angeles Times reports on the emerging environmental catastrophe in Iraq.
"Decades of war and mismanagement, compounded by two years of drought, are wreaking havoc on Iraq's ecosystem, drying up riverbeds and marshes, turning arable land into desert, killing trees and plants, and generally transforming what was once the region's most fertile area into a wasteland.

Falling agricultural production means that Iraq, once a food exporter, will this year have to import nearly 80% of its food, spending money that is urgently needed for reconstruction projects.

'We're talking about something that's making the breadbasket of Iraq look like the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma in the early part of the 20th century,' said Adam L. Silverman, a social scientist with the US military who served south of Baghdad in 2008.

So fragile has the environment become that even the slightest wind whips up a pall of dust that lingers for days."
"Chronic electricity shortfalls also have played a role. People chop down trees for firewood, leaving more bare land, and the shortage of power has made it difficult to pump water through the irrigation channels that had sustained fertile lands far beyond the rivers. Compounding the already dire shortages, power stations have been forced to shut down for days at a time because they lack water.

Then came the regionwide drought that has dramatically depleted the amount of water available. Last year's rainfall was 80% below normal; this year only half as much rain fell as usual."
A must read.

7. US WILL SANCTION ERITREA IF IT DOESN'T HALT SUPPORT FOR SOMALI MILITANTS

BBC News reports that US envoy to the UN Susan Rice told a Congressional Committee that Eritrea will face sanctions if it does not put an end to support for Islamists fighting the transitional federal government in Somalia.
"In April the African Union, another backer of the Somali government, also called for sanctions over the issue.

But Eritrean officials have repeatedly denied the allegations, calling them a 'fabrication' of US intelligence.

The country suspended its membership of the AU in protest at the sanctions call in April."
8. GHANA'S FISCAL SITUATION IMPROVES ON OIL FINDS


Frontier Markets reports that
"Ghana’s Eurobonds have surged 93% since last November and may continue to rise given the country’s increasingly attractive fiscal position due in part to the production of a new oil field that is expected to put it in the world’s top 50 oil producers and to expand growth from an estimated 4.1% this year, to 6.1% in 2010 and 10.5% the year after. The yield on the 8.5% dollar-denominated bonds due 2017 fell from 9.83 to 9.73 percent during trading on Tuesday."
Could be a blessing for Ghanaians, depending on how the government manages it. Crossing my fingers.

9. MORE ON AFRICAN FARMLAND PURCHASES FROM FOREIGN INVESTORS AND GOVTS

Horand Knaup and Juliane von Mittelstaedt at Der Spiegel have a fascinating update on the rush to purchase African farmland story, with a number of additional details and interesting observations. Some key excerpts:
"'According to most prognoses, there could be 9.1 billion people living on earth in 2050, about two billion more than today. In the coming 20 years alone, worldwide demand for food is expected to rise by 50%. "These are pessimistic prospects,' says [an] OECD [analyst]."
"Food is becoming the new oil. Worldwide grain reserves dropped to a historic low at the beginning of 2008, and the ensuing price explosion marked a turning point, just as the oil crisis did in the 1970s. There were bread riots around the world, and 25 countries, including some of the biggest grain exporters, imposed restrictions on food exports."
"If the investors are successful, they could achieve what development agencies have been unable to do in the past few decades: reduce the hunger that now afflicts more people than ever, namely one billion worldwide. In the best case scenario this could be a win-win situation with profit for the investors and development for the poor.

It is not just bankers and speculators, but also governments that are acquiring land in other countries, seeking to reduce their dependence on the world market and imports. China is home to 20% of the world's population, but it has only 9% of the world's arable land. Japan is the world's largest corn importer, and South Korea is the second-largest. The Persian Gulf States import 60 percent of their food, while their natural water reserves are sufficient to support only another 30 years of agriculture."
"Klaus Deininger, an economist specializing in land policy at the World Bank, estimates that 10 to 30% of available arable land could be up for grabs, although only a fraction of the potential number of lease and sale agreements have been signed. 'There was a huge jump in 2008, when plans and applications in many countries more than doubled, in some cases tripled.' In Mozambique, says Deininger, foreign demand is more than double the existing cultivated farmland, and the government has already allocated four million hectares to investors, half of them from abroad."
"Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest and most aggressive buyers of land. This spring, the king attended a ceremony where he took delivery of the first export rice harvest, produced exclusively for the kingdom in hunger-stricken Ethiopia. Saudi Arabia spends $800 million a year promoting foreign companies that cultivate 'strategic field crops' like rice, wheat, barley and corn, which it then imports. Ironically, the country was the world's sixth-largest wheat exporter in the 1990s. But water is scarce and the desert nation aims to preserve its reserves. Exporting food also means exporting water."
"But many of the countries where land is being snapped up--Kazakhstan and Pakistan, for example--suffer from water shortages. Sub-Saharan Africa has adequate natural water reserves, but the only country in the region currently producing a food surplus is South Africa. Most countries, on the other hand, are importers and, with rapidly growing populations, will likely be even more dependent on food imports in the future. Can such countries truly become important food producers?

Audinet, the IFAD expert, knows the risks. 'The way these agreements are structured can harm the country and the farmers in the long term, robbing them of their most important asset: land.' Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, warns: 'Because the countries in Africa are competing for investors, they are undercutting each other.' Some contracts, says De Schutter, are barely three pages long--for hundreds of thousands of hectares of land."
The other must read of today.

10. RUSSIA INKS DEEPWATER EXPLORATION DEAL WITH CUBA

The Associated Press reports that Russian firm Zarubezhneft has signed four accords with the Cuban national oil company--Cubapetroleo--to explore for crude in Cuban deep waters.
"Moscow extended the island $150 million in credit for construction materials and farm machinery, state media said Wednesday.

The credit will give Cuba more time to pay for Russian equipment shipped to areas most affected by three hurricanes that caused more than $10 billion in damage last summer."
11. MEXICAN FEDERAL POLICE RAID PEMEX HEADQUARTERS


Robert Campbell at Reuters reported yesterday that the Mexican police raided the headquarters of national oil company Pemex "in an investigation into rampant fuel theft that costs the company more than $2 billion a year."


12. SEASONALLY-ADJUSTED INITIAL UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS DOWN 8,250 TO 559,000; FORECLOSURE ACTIVITY BECOMING A FUNCTION OF INCREASING UNEMPLOYMENT; HARLESS ARGUES THAT INCREASED US SAVINGS RATE HERE TO STAY

The Department of Labor announced today that
"In the week ending July 25, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 584,000, an increase of 25,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 559,000. The 4-week moving average was 559,000, a decrease of 8,250 from the previous week's revised average of 567,250.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 4.7% for the week ending July 18, unchanged from the prior week's unrevised rate of 4.7%."
Yves Smith at naked capitalism observes:
"A new dynamic appears to be emerging on the housing front. Heretofore, foreclosures were strongly correlated with where the mania had been most acute. California, Florida, and Arizona in particular showed dramatic declines in prices. But now as those markets have corrected to a considerable degree, foreclosure activity is now starting to be a function of increasing unemployment."
And Andy Harless at Employment, Interest, and Money thinks that an increased rate of savings in the US is here to stay, which should have the consequence of reducing the share of consumption as GDP:
"Undoubtedly the savings rate will fall somewhat as the degree of financial distress declines, but I think there’s a good case to be made that much of the increase is permanent.

For one thing, from the point of view of households, 'financial distress' may be extremely slow to lift. If the Japanese experience is any guide, it is a very slow process to get a severely distressed banking system to start lending normally again, and it’s not clear that things are going to be any easier for the US. Meanwhile, most forecasts expect the unemployment rate to remain quite high for several years. It could take 3 years, or 5 years, or 10 years, or 20 years before the financial distress lifts.

Granted, even 20 years is not forever, and 3 years is certainly not forever, but it’s long enough to stop thinking about household behavior as being continuous over time. We can reasonably surmise that, even without so much financial distress, the savings rate would have trended upward over time. Presumably households would gradually have come to recognize that they weren’t saving enough. (Can zero be anywhere near enough?) And as baby boomers’ children settle into their own careers, they would cease to be a drag on their parents’ savings, and at the same time those parents would have to start worrying seriously about retirement. The financial distress messed up this scenario (or maybe just speeded it up), but the underlying trend should still be going on 'beneath the surface.' By the time the distress lifts, there will be other reasons for the savings rate to be higher than it was in 2006.

That argument is rather speculative, I admit, but there are more solid reasons to expect the savings rate to remain high. While the current, comparatively high savings rate may reflect the effects of financial distress, the low savings rates of the 2005-2007 period did not merely represent the absence of financial distress. What is the opposite of financial distress? Financial ease? The degree of financial ease during that period (which was the culmination of a process that had been building on and off for a couple of decades) was well beyond normal, and well beyond what we can expect in the coming years, even if recent sources of distress are resolved fairly quickly. Consumption was supported (and aggregate saving accordingly reduced) by a fountain of credit that will not re-emerge with such force unless people in Washington and on Wall Street make some big mistakes."
Well worth reading in full. (I would note that if past performance is any indication of future performance, however, that Washington and Wall Street are likely to make some big mistakes.)

13. NEW STUDY SUGGESTS THAT MARCELLUS SHALE FORMATION COULD PRODUCE AS MUCH AS 489 TRILLION CUBIC FEET OF NATURAL GAS,

Rick Stouffer at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that a new study by Penn State University geosciences professor Terry Engelder projects that 489 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could be produced from the Appalachian Basin's Marcellus Shale formation.
"Engelder said the estimates are based on natural gas flow rates from wells drilled by major Marcellus Shale developers, which have been above expectations."
At the current rate of consumption, 489 trillion cubic feet represents more than 19 years of total US natural gas demand. Incidentally, natural gas is a major feedstock for the production of ammonia for use in fertilizer production.

2 comments:

ANDREAM said...

Wow. Very interesting. (Like Jon Stewart)

Saoirse said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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