Year-end funding squeeze begins to materialize, as China faces the spectre of social unrest.

November 27, 2008

We’re now having a Thanksgiving holiday for the markets. Indeed, there’s a slight chance that we’ll see a bear market rally in the coming weeks, the realization of which will depend on the success of central banks in easing year-end funding issues. A lot has been done, and at least for me, it’s hard to predict the outcome. Nevertheless, today’s developments in the interbank market do not emit positive signals:

The cost of borrowing in dollars for one month in London jumped the most since 1999 as banks sought to bolster balance sheets through year-end amid a squeeze on credit that’s being exacerbated by the global economic slump.

The London interbank offered rate, or Libor, that banks say they charge one another for such loans climbed 47 basis points to 1.90 percent today, British Bankers’ Association data showed. The Libor for three-month loans rose two basis points to 2.20 percent. The Libor-OIS spread, a measure of the willingness of banks to lend, also increased.

“There is some concern about the turn of the year,” said Patrick Jacq, a senior fixed-income strategist in Paris at BNP Paribas SA. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see this tension easing over the next few days as central banks address the situation with more liquidity.”

With little more than a month to go until the end of 2008, banks are vying for loans that mature after Dec. 31 to strengthen their balance sheets as they prepare to report to investors. Financial institutions mark the value of loans and cash positions at the end of each quarter. The euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor, for one-month loans rose 22 basis points to 3.61 percent today, the first increase in 24 days, according to the European Banking Federation.

Cash Hoarding

Banks and companies are hoarding cash amid concern interest-rate cuts and injections of liquidity along with government-spending programs won’t be enough to avert the worst global recession since World War II. Rates on U.S. commercial paper, or short-term company loans, climbed yesterday by the most in more than a month.

The Federal Reserve this week committed as much as $800 billion to thaw a freeze in credit for consumers and small businesses. The U.S. also provided a $306 billion rescue to Citigroup Inc. Financial institutions are cutting jobs amid $970 billion of writedowns and credit losses since the start of 2007.

Asian Rates

Money markets began seizing up in August 2007 as banks became wary of lending to each other on concern their counterparties were holding assets linked to U.S. subprime mortgages. They froze up after the Sept. 15 collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. sparked concern more banks would follow. The one-month dollar rate jumped 40 basis points on Nov. 29 last year as banks sought cash for the year-end.

Asian financing costs were calmer today. Hong Kong’s three-month interbank lending rate, Hibor, rose about five basis points to 2 percent. Tokyo’s rate increased one basis point to about 0.87 percent. Singapore’s three-month U.S. dollar rate, known as Sibor, slipped to 2.20 percent, from about 2.21 percent.

China’s central bank yesterday lowered its one-year lending rate by the most since the 1997 Asian financial crisis, less than three weeks after Premier Wen Jiabao unveiled a 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus plan.

‘Toxic Debt’                                                       

In a further indication of the squeeze in lending, the European Central Bank registered almost 217 billion euros ($280 billion) of cash deposited by banks yesterday in its overnight facility. It was the sixth straight day the figure surpassed 200 billion euros. The daily average in the first eight months of the year was 427 million euros.

The Libor-OIS spread, a gauge of cash scarcity among banks favored by former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, was little changed at 178 basis points. The difference between what banks and the Treasury pay to borrow money for three months, known as the TED spread, widened two basis points to 217 basis points. The spread, which reached a low this year of 76 basis points in May, was at 464 basis points on Oct. 10, the most since Bloomberg began compiling the data in 1984.

Hedge fund liquidations and redemptions, of course, continue unabated:

Bluebay Asset Management Plc dropped the most since its initial public offering two years ago after the manager of fixed-income investments said it will shut down its Emerging Market Total Return Fund.

The $1.2 billion hedge fund, which accounts for 6 percent of assets under management, had dropped 53 percent this year, Bluebay said today in a statement. Fund manager Simon Treacher resigned “following a breach of internal valuation policy,” it said. He couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

“Marketing other funds may now become very difficult,” said Gurjit Kambo, a London-based analyst at Numis Securities Ltd. who tracks the industry. “People become more nervous about putting money into Bluebay.”

Bluebay won’t retreat from credit-market investments despite “extremely challenging” conditions, Chief Executive Officer Hugh Willis said in the statement. Satellite Asset Management LP and Artemis Asset Management joined the list this week of more than 75 hedge funds that have liquidated or restricted investor redemptions since the beginning of the year.

Bluebay declined 30 percent to 70 pence, valuing the London-based company at 135 million pounds ($208 million). The shares, which peaked at 568.25 pence in June 2007, have fallen 80 percent this year.

The Emerging Market Total Return Fund was hurt by “liquidity conditions” and is no longer viable on its own, Bluebay said. The closure means that revenue from funds that bet on both rising and falling share prices will probably be below analysts’ estimates, Bluebay said.

The fund was hurt by “a perfect storm” after two wrong bets on cash bonds and credit default swaps, Kambo said. The value of cash bonds failed to rise as Bluebay expected, and credit default swaps narrowed, meaning the perceived risk of default decreased, he said.

Satellite Asset Management LP, founded by former employees of billionaire George Soros, stopped client withdrawals from its three largest hedge funds and eliminated more than 30 jobs after losses reduced the firm’s assets to about $4 billion this year.

Satellite Overseas Fund Ltd., Satellite Fund II LP and Satellite Credit Opportunities Ltd. have declined as much as 35 percent in 2008, said a person with knowledge of the funds’ performance. Simon Rayler, Satellite’s general counsel, declined to comment and wouldn’t disclose how many people remain at the firm’s New York headquarters or London offices. Satellite oversaw about $7 billion for clients at the end of last year.

More than 75 hedge funds have liquidated or restricted investor redemptions since the start of the year as they cope with fallout from the global financial crisis. Investors pulled $40 billion from hedge funds last month, while market losses cut industry assets by $115 billion to $1.56 trillion, according to data compiled by Hedge Fund Research Inc. in Chicago.

“Barring volatility in the markets, I expect that by the end of the year, we would’ve seen the bulk of these redemption suspensions done,” said Ron Geffner, who represents hedge funds at the New York-based law firm Sadis & Goldberg LLP.

Satellite was started in 1999 by Lief Rosenblatt, Gabe Nechamkin and Mark Sonnino, who worked together for 11 years at Soros Fund Management LP in New York. The firm is retaining teams that trade bonds and loans and invest in companies going through events such as takeovers, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the information is private.

21% Redemption Rate

The company has received withdrawal notices, which are effective through June, for 21 percent of the $2 billion Satellite Overseas Fund Ltd., its largest fund, the person said.

Satellite has cash to meet current redemptions and will continue to run the funds and sell securities over a period of years to avoid unloading them quickly in slumping markets, the person said.

Commodities keep falling too. Of course with the investments of the past two years

Lead fell to a two-year low in London as reductions in automobile production erode demand for the metal used mostly in car batteries. Copper declined.

U.S. vehicle sales at the lowest since 1991 prompted cuts at General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. China’s output of lead concentrate, used to make refined metal, climbed 14 percent in the first 10 months, according to Mainland Marketing Research Co.

“Investors and consumers have given up,” said David Thurtell, an analyst at Citigroup Global Markets in London. There is “a sharp rise in Chinese production and a sharp fall in auto demand.”

Lead for delivery in three months declined $81, or 6.8 percent, to $1,105 a metric ton on the London Metal Exchange, the lowest since July 2006. Prices have dropped 57 percent this year. Inventories in warehouses monitored by the LME rose 250 tons, or 0.6 percent, to 41,200 tons, according to the exchange’s daily report.

Copper fell on concern a slumping U.S. economy will crimp consumption of Chinese imports and demand for industrial metals in the Asian economy. Some economic indicators in China showed a “faster decline” this month, National Development and Reform Commission Chairman Zhang Ping said in Beijing today.

Copper usage in the U.S., the largest buyer after China, fell 9 percent in the first eight months and demand in China rose 13 percent, according to the International Copper Study Group.

“Over the last month or so, the perception is that China was slowing down faster than people thought it would,” said William Adams, an analyst at London-based Basemetals.com. “The Western world is putting on the brakes rapidly and therefore China can see their export demand will suffer.”

And yesterday China cut rates by the largest amount in 11 years.

China’s biggest interest-rate cut in 11 years highlights government concerns that the country risks spiraling unemployment, social unrest and the deepest economic slowdown in almost two decades.

The central bank yesterday lowered its benchmark one-year lending rate by the most since the 1997 Asian financial crisis, less than three weeks after Premier Wen Jiabao unveiled a 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus plan.

“China’s trying to draw a line under unemployment and civil unrest,” said Glenn Maguire, chief Asia-Pacific economist at Societe Generale SA in Hong Kong. “It’s the most challenging set of circumstances Beijing has had to face since late 1989 that culminated in the protests in Tiananmen Square.”

About 1,000 police and security guards this week attempted to break up a demonstration of fired workers that overturned a police car, smashed motorbikes and broke company equipment in southern Guangdong province, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday. The nation’s “top policy priority” is maintaining growth to create jobs, Zhang Ping, chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, told a briefing in Beijing today.

The central bank cut the key one-year lending rate 108 basis points to 5.58 percent. The deposit rate fell by the same amount to 2.52 percent.

‘Forceful, Fast’ Measures

China vaulted past the U.K. in 2005 to become the world’s fourth-largest economy, with growth averaging 9.9 percent for the past 30 years. The economy has expanded 68 times in size since free-market reforms began in 1978.

Gross domestic product may grow 5.5 percent next year, the slowest since a 3.8 percent expansion in 1990, CLSA Asia Pacific Markets forecasts. That compares with an 11.9 percent gain in 2007.

Some economic indicators declined more quickly this month, showing the urgency of “forceful and fast” measures to stimulate growth, the NDRC’s Zhang said.

China, the world’s most populous nation, is aiming for at least 8 percent growth to provide jobs for workers moving to the cities from the countryside. A decline to even that level would be tantamount to a recession, according to Tao Dong, chief Asia economist with Credit Suisse AG in Hong Kong.

Exports are suffering as recessions in the U.S., Europe and Japan cut demand for China’s toys, sneakers and computers. Net exports — the difference between exports and imports — accounted for a fifth of GDP growth last year.

Toy Exporters

Two-thirds of small toy exporters closed in the first nine months of this year, the customs bureau said this week.

“Employment is being impacted by factory closures and many migrant workers are returning to their home towns,” Zhang said.

China is trying to keep the official urban unemployment rate below 4.5 percent this year, which would be the highest in at least a decade. The Labor Ministry says the figures don’t account for millions of migrants who work in urban areas but aren’t registered there.

“Twenty percent of migrant workers may lose their jobs and in some provinces it is already at that level,” said Andy Xie, an independent economist in Shanghai who was formerly Morgan Stanley’s chief Asia economist. “When they return to their villages we don’t know how these things might work out.”

Deflation Risk

The size of the rate reduction also signals the central bank’s concern that the economy faces a bout of deflation as oil and commodity prices drop. That’s a switch from the first half of this year, when Governor Zhou Xiaochuan was focused on fighting inflation that rose to a 12-year high in February.

“The aggressive rate cut is a response to the central bank’s concern about the short-term deflation risk,” said Xing Ziqiang, an economist at China International Capital Corp. in Beijing, who predicts another 108 basis points of rate reductions in the coming year.

“There is still ample room to cut rates in the future,” said Peng Wensheng, head of China research at Barclays Capital in Hong Kong, who sees a 54 basis point reduction in December.

The fourth rate reduction since mid-September adds to the government’s package of measures to stimulate growth through 2010.

The State Council has pledged “fast and heavy-handed investment” and a “moderately loose” monetary policy. The plan spans housing, rural development, railroads, power grids and rebuilding after May’s earthquake in Sichuan province.

China’s cabinet said yesterday that it was studying extra measures to help struggling companies in the steel, auto, petrochemical and textile industries; to increase key commodity reserves; and to expand insurance for the jobless.

“In previous crises China could always get out of trouble by boosting its exports,” said Xie. “This time that’s not an option.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 Responses to “Year-end funding squeeze begins to materialize, as China faces the spectre of social unrest.”

  1. It is true that China has used exports in the past to pull out of an economc slowdown but I think they will use the recently announced $586 billion stimulus package to reconfigure the economy to boost domestic demand and capital formation.

    The package is focused on infrastructure including railways, airports and housing. All these sectors will create a renewed demand for the base metals particularly copper, aluminium and iron ore.

    And with The People’s Bank of China cutting interest rates, it is likely that the economy will recover and approach the 10% annual growth rate in GDP.

    Metal prices are depressed now, but there is always a delay before producers increase output to meet the renewed demand. We will likely see the inventory levels run down quite quickly and then a strong surge in base metal prices again.

  2. moneymill said

    Next year global growth is expected to be around 1-1,5 percent. This compares with around 3,5-4 percent during the period of 2004-2007. It’s obvious that global trade will contract, or at least decelerate next year; commodity demand and shipping activity will suffer as a result. The stimulus that some governments are providing to local economies is unlikely to compensate for the massive fall in global economic activity, much of which, after all, was created through leveraging and speculation.

    China used to export 1,5 billion pairs of shoes each year which is obviously unsustainable. The West’s financial bubble is replicated in China in the manufacturing sector, and the difference of the bubble is in name only. Bankruptcies in all sectors are ongoing, and the rising level of unemployment will lead the Chinese people to save more and to be more conservative about spending, because in China there’s no real social security system to speak of. Chinese people mostly rely on family and personal savings to survive old age or periods of hardships, and it’s illogical to expect them to change their attitude when there’s a global economic crisis still unfolding.

    Commodities will go through periods of appreciation, but on the whole, I believe that the best case scenario for the next 2-3 years is stagnation, and even that is optimism.

  3. Do you think the $586 bn economic stimulus package will mitigate some of the downside you have described?

    As you say, the Chinese economy relies to a great extent on exports to developed countries (1.5 m pairs of shoes)but I was under the impression that the government is going to focus more on domestic investment.

    Then again, I guess 7.5% growth is still significant even in Chinese terms.

  4. moneymill said

    The government’s main worry is unemployment now, as you know. Chinese officials have been painting a rather grim picture of China’s employment growth for next year; they are always very worried about unrest. The stimulus package is directed to stemming the rise of unemployment, in my opinion, rather than sustaining commodity demand, or uplifting GDP growth, or capital formation. I don’t think they will use that sum in an efficient manner, not even the Japanese government was able to do so. And with their space programs, high tech trains and all that, China is often more about prestige than efficiency. Of course, the stimulus package will help, but I don’t think it can compensate for the shrinkage of China’s major export markets.

    As for 7,5-8,5 percent GDP growth, do you really believe the numbers that the Chinese announce each year? Remember that this is one of the most corrupt places in the world, and a closed society under a totalitarian regime. Several academics have published studies on the reliability of Chinese statistics. In one case for instance, it’s suggested that the real growth rate for the period 1997-1999 (Asian financial crisis) was around minus 1-1,5 percent, rather than the five percent the Chinese announced. The fact is that the provincial authorities have great incentives in reporting exaggerated numbers to Beijing, and we’re in no position to know the truth.

    The government has been saying for a while that they want to increase domestic consumption, but while they can facilitate it, I don’t think that they can make people spend more through heavy-handed measures. They must first improve the social security infrastructure of the country, and that will take a long time. It’s a long term issue. The key point here is understanding that China is just a part of the global bubble as is US or Russia. Bubbles are created when too many people are on board in the same ship. Too many people have tied their expectations to non-stop double digit Chinese GDP growth, and we’re getting a reality check.

    We’ll see what happens in the coming months.

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