Sunday, August 2, 2015
Fearing a 'Made in China global recession'; Greece worries of stock plunge; Big tech's big problem -- its role in rising inequality
1 Fearing a ‘Made in China global recession’ (Matein Khalid in Khaleej Times) Every global recession since the Opec oil shocks of 1973-74 was triggered by a contraction in the $17 trillion US economic colossus. Yet as I scan the world of late-summer 2015, I am convinced the next global recession will originate from the $10.4 trillion Chinese economy, whose growth rate has slumped to its slowest pace since 1990.
China's trillion-dollar shadow banking system, Marxist-Leninist wealth management Ponzi schemes and Beijing/local government borrowing have built up the biggest debt load in the history of humankind, now a staggering 250 per cent of GDP. The $4 trillion bloodbath in the Chinese stock market this summer has not been amplified by draconian state intervention. Unfortunately, this "Beijing put" will not prevent a Chinese economic bust and history's first "Made in China" global recession.
President Xi Jinping has consolidated more political power than any Chinese leader since the death of Deng Xiao Ping. Yet his frequent purges, economic restructuring and anti-corruption campaign has had a chilling impact on consumer spending/capex. Think October 1929 in New York, December 1989 in Tokyo. Not even monetary largesse from the People's Bank of China will prevent a growth decline in China and a "Chinese lost decade" that will transform the global economy, asset prices, power politics and financial markets.
China had periodic boom bust cycles/cash crunches in the 1980s and 1990s. Yet China's domestic economic convulsions had minimal global impact since China's economy had not yet joined the World Trade Organisation, or become the $10 trillion monster that is the largest export destination for 40 countries worldwide, the world's largest importer of copper, coal and steel.
In 2014, China contributed 38 per cent to global growth. As the vicious bear market in crude oil, Dr Copper and iron ore ($190 a metric tonne two years ago, $48 now), the Middle Kingdom is going bust. History will rank the Chinese stock market bubble in 2014-15 in the same league as Kuwait's Souk Al Manakh crash, Dutch tulip mania, the Nikkei Dow bubble, dot-com craze in late-1990s Silicon Valley or the Jazz Age financial madness on Wall Street. Only the Chinese bust will trigger a global recession.
2 Greece worries of stock plunge (BBC) The Athens Stock Exchange is set to plunge by as much as 20% on Monday when trading finally resumes after a five-week closure, traders have predicted. The bourse was shut just before the Greek government imposed capital controls at the height of the debt crisis.
Takis Zamanis, chief trader at Beta Securities, is among the pessimists. "The possibility of seeing even a single share rise in tomorrow's session is almost zero," he said. Shares in banks are likely to be particularly hard-hit because Greece's financial sector needs to be recapitalised.
A report in Avgi newspaper, which is close to the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, suggested Athens was asking for about 10 billion euros this month for bank recapitalisation. Banks account for about a fifth of the main Athens index.
Although Greece struck a bailout deal with its creditors last month, political in-fighting in Athens over the conditions could still result in Mr Tsipras calling an early election. The Greek economy has begun to reverse the gains it was making before Mr Tsipras's Syriza-led coalition took power in January on an anti-austerity platform.
The European Commission expects Greece to go back into recession this year, with the economy contracting by between 2% and 4%. The Greek economy was in recession for six years until 2014.
3 Big tech’s big problem – it’s role in rising inequality (Katie Allen in The Guardian) Look around and it seems pretty obvious that technology has made daily life easier. But, for all the convenience that new innovations afford us, what if this rise of technology is actually exacerbating inequality? There are certainly some red flags right now.
The first warning signs come from financial markets where technology stocks have soared this year. Search engine Google’s shares recently hit a record high of over $700, making it one of the most valuable companies in the world, second only to that other tech giant Apple. The moves have fired up the tech-heavy Nasdaq index and taken it back to the giddy heights of the dotcom bubble 15 years ago.
The problem is not rising share prices per se, but rather what they are telling us about the power of shareholders and the consequences in terms of what is left over to be invested in wages and innovation. This question of how the profits of technology trickle down is explored in the recent book iDisrupted by economist Michael Baxter and entrepreneur John Straw.
Analysing the economic impact of emerging technologies, they highlight two potential agents for rising inequality. Firstly, patents, and the way they ensure that profits from innovation accrue to larger companies and their owners. Secondly, the fact more goods are being offered for free online. The problem with this is that just about the only means left to fund digital products is advertising, a sector where revenues are increasingly dominated by a handful of companies such as Google and Facebook.
The authors of iDisrupted also look to Ford in their argument on the importance of profits trickling down. They cite the carmaker’s doubling of wages at his factory to $5 a day and the oft-disputed claim that his motivation was the hope other manufacturers would follow suit and so the potential number of car buyers would rise.
It may be the stuff of myths, but a century later the story provides a neat way of explaining how a rising gap between the few haves and the many have-nots could stop technological advances in their tracks. Baxter and Straw sum this up: “Those who suggest that technology may create a world of extreme inequality may be right, but equally it may be that unless the profits from technology trickle down, pushing up wages and creating demand, then further technological evolution may be impossible.