Chinese stock and property markets have bubbled up again. It was fueled by bank lending and inflation fear. I think that Chinese stocks and properties are 50-100% overvalued. The odds are that both will adjust in the fourth quarter. However, both might flare up again sometime next year. Fluctuating within a long bubble could be the dominant trend for the foreseeable future. The bursting will happen when the US dollar becomes strong again. The catalyst could be serious inflation that forces the Fed to raise interest rate.
Chinese asset markets have become a giant Ponzi scheme. The prices are supported by appreciation expectation. As more people and liquidity are sucked in, the resulting surging prices validate the expectation, which prompts more people to join the party. This sort of bubble ends when there isn’t enough liquidity to feed the beast.
Liquidity isn’t a constraint yet. Even though loans grew by 24.4% in the first half or Rmb 7.4 trillion, loan-deposit ratio increased only to 66.6% in June 2009 from 65% in December 2008. It means that many loans have not been spent in real economic activities and have merely supplied leverage for asset market transactions. China’s property market is very similar to Hong Kong’s in 1997.
The origin of the asset bubble in China is excess liquidity as reflected in high level of foreign exchange reserves and low loan deposit ratio. The low interbank rate defines how serious excess liquidity s. The massive buildup of liquidity in China was due to weak dollar and strong exports. As dollar entered a bear market in 2002, China’s Rmb followed it down. The appreciation expectation drove liquidity to China. One fourth of China’s foreign exchange reserves could be due to this factor.
China’s productivity rose rapidly after it joined the WTO. The massive buildup in infrastructure and the relocation of manufacturing sector to China pushed up Chinese labor’s productivity rapidly. At the same time, Chinese currency declined as it rose against the dollar less than its decline. The combination of rising productivity and weak currency led to the massive export growth. The resulting dollar earnings pumped up China’s monetary system.
While China is experiencing weak exports now, the weak dollar allows China to release the liquidity saved up during the boom in the past five year without worrying about currency depreciation. How far would the bubble go and for how long?
It is not too hard to understand when the bubble would burst. When the dollar becomes strong again, liquidity could leave China sufficiently to pop the bubble. What’s occurring in China now is no different from what happened in other emerging markets before. Weak dollar always led to bubbles in emerging economies that were hot at the time. When the dollar turns around, the bubbles inevitably burst.
It is difficult to tell when the dollar will turn around. The dollar went into a bear market in 1985 after the Plaza Accord and bottomed ten years later in 1995. It then went into a bull market for seven years. The current dollar bear market began in 2002. The dollar index (‘DXY’) has lost about 35% value since. If the last bear market is of useful guidance, the current one could last until 2012. But, there is no guarantee. The IT revolution began the last dollar bull market. The odds are that another technological revolution is needed for the dollar to enter a sustainable bull market.
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