As China gears up for its annual legislative session, all eyes are on the economy: specifically, how fast the Communist leaders intend China to grow, and what they are willing to sacrifice for that goal.
The most hotly awaited event of the National People’s Congress will come on March 5 — opening day — when Premier Li Keqiang will announce the government’s economic growth target for 2017. Many expect a downgrade from 2016’s goal of 6.5-7% to “around 6.5%,” according to a major bank.
Beijing aims to bring China’s gross domestic product to twice the 2010 level by 2020 — a goal frequently, and mistakenly, taken to be merely an aspirational target. President Xi Jinping has called for the eradication of poverty in China by 2021, the hundredth anniversary of the Communist Party’s formation, and pledged a “great revival of the Chinese nation.” In this context, missing the mark could mean the leader’s downfall.
Doubling GDP over a decade requires 7.2% annual growth on average. Rates that were higher than that from 2011 to 2014 mean the country has only to hit 6.3% during the next few years. Targeting 6.5%, and thus avoiding a steep drop-off from last year’s goal, is a clear attempt to avoid any possible misstep ahead of the party’s twice-a-decade National Congress this autumn, when the group will name its next slate of leaders.
But in today’s China, 6.5% is no slight hurdle. To be sure, exports are recovering thanks to a brisk U.S. economy and a yuan some 10% weaker than at its peak. But areas outside major cities remain mired in vacant housing stock, and private investment is sluggish, leaving public works as one of the only viable drivers of growth.
Japan’s government debt stood at a record 1,066.42 trillion yen ($9.4 trillion) as of Dec. 31, highlighting the difficulty of restoring the country’s fiscal health, data by the Finance Ministry showed Friday.
Per capita debt, the amount owed per person, came to around 8.40 million yen, based on the country’s total population estimated at around 126.86 million as of Jan. 1.
The central government’s debt marked an increase of 3.85 trillion yen compared with the end of September, due to the issuance of “zaito” debt to finance projects such as the construction of a magnetically levitated high-speed train line in central Japan as well as ballooning social security costs.
By the end of the current fiscal year through March, the government’s debt is projected to grow further to 1,116.4 trillion yen.
According to the ministry, the debt total as of December consisted of a record-high 928.91 trillion yen in government bonds, 54.26 trillion yen in borrowing mainly from financial institutions and 83.25 trillion yen in financing bills or short-term government notes of up to one year.
The value of corporate and government debt that trades with a sub-zero yield has dropped below $10tn, a substantial decrease from September when investors piled into the fixed-income market, according to Tradeweb.
Roughly $9.6tn of bonds trade in negative territory, down from nearly $14tn four months ago and $10.7tn near the end of December, as rising inflation expectations and hopes of a rebound in economic activity propels yields higher, Yields rise as bond prices fall.
European and Japanese sovereign debt comprise the vast majority of negative-yielding securities, while some $514m of euro-denominated corporate bonds also trade with a yield below zero. That figure is down from $916m in September.
The rise of negative-yielding debt was spurred by central bank stimulus meant to accelerate lacklustre economic growth. Inflation expectations have climbed in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, as investors await promised government stimulus, tax cuts and a weaker regulatory regime that may prompt a more hawkish Federal Reserve.
The declining value of debt trading with a negative yield also reflects a stronger US dollar, which makes foreign obligations appear smaller when converted back to the greenback.
While the Fed watchers have been obsessing in recent weeks about the pace and size of any upcoming Fed rate hikes, summarized best by Dallas Fed president Robert Kaplan who earlier today said:
KAPLAN: AMONG BIGGEST DISAGREEMENTS AT FED IS ON HOW QUICKLY TO RAISE RATES
… and unexpected new buzzword emerged today, namely Fed balance sheet unwind when first Philly Fed’s Steve Harker noted it in his speech earlier this morning…
HARKER: WHEN RATES AT 1%, NEED TO LOOK AT UNWINDING BAL SHEET
followed later in the day by St. Louis Fed’s James Bullard who, likewise, hinted that selling Fed assets may be coming soon:
BULLARD: BAL SHEET ROLLOFF MAY BE BETTER THAN AGGRESSIVE HIKING
Of course, how credible it is that the the Fed may actually engage in this is anyone’s guess: should the Fed “unexpectedly” start to reduce its balance sheet, the impact on global yields would be devastating, and make the Taper Tantrum and the TanTrump seems like child’s play in comparison. Which, perhaps, is why today for the first time we got not one but two such “trial balloons” from two separate Fed presidents, just to gradually acclimate the market with the concept of upcoming balance sheet normalization.
Mainland China has lost its status as the largest overseas holder of the US debt to Japan as the recent decline in the renminbi’s FX rate and the strengthening yen have affected the value of the two nations’ respective Treasury note portfolios.
The yen’s status as safe haven asset as fiscal stimulus effort have attracted investment capital to Japan, resulting in stronger yen, whilst China, struggling with low factory-gate inflation and weak international demand for manufactured goods, had to decrease its holdings of the US debt. Japan, now the biggest foreign holder of US Treasury debt, held $1.13 trln worth of US bonds in October, whilst China’s holdings shrank to their six-year lowest at $1.12 trln, according to the data from the US Department of the Treasury. Beijing has been selling US bonds in order to alleviate the downward pressure on the renminbi’s FX rate stemming from lingering economic turmoil. Mainland China uses the dollars obtained from selling the Treasuries to buyback the renminbi, currently at its 8-year lowest in offshore trading.
Japan, however, had been selling Treasuries in early autumn, too, due to the uncertainty surrounding the US presidential election. The subsequent developments in the form of the election of Donald Trump and the plunge in Treasury bond value accompanied by the rising benchmark 10-year yield have proven selling Treasuries the right move, but the yen’s ongoing appreciation has made Japan the largest international US bond holder.
The sell-off in government bonds continues, with US Treasuries leading Asian counterparts lower on Monday and ahead of the Federal Reserve’s decision on interest rates later this week.
The yield (which moves inversely to price) on the benchmark 10-year US Treasury rose as much as 2.74 basis points in morning trade today to 2.4949 per cent.
That level is not quite enough to surpass the intraday high of 2.4985 per cent hit on June 11, 2015, but it puts it on track to be the highest closing level since September 2014, which also happens to be the most recent month when yields closed above 2.5 per cent.
There’s a similar pattern playing out with Japanese and Australian government bonds today. The 10-year JGB yield is up 0.2 basis points at 0.063 per cent, the highest level since February this year. The yield on the 10-year George Lazenby*, up 4.3 basis points at 2.858 per cent, is at its highest level since December 2, which in turn is the highest level of 2016.
Yields on government bonds have galloped higher since Donald Trump won the US election, with markets taking the view his economic policies would spur inflation. That has blunted demand for haven investments, such as Treasuries, the Japanese yen and gold.
More broadly, the inflation outlook in the US has been picking up this year such that markets think the Federal Reserve will be comfortable with lifting interest rates by 25 basis points at their policy meeting on Wednesday, the first increase in a year.
One month ago, when we last looked at the Fed’s update of Treasuries held in custody, we noted something troubling: the number had dropped sharply, declining by over $22 billion in one week, one of the the biggest weekly declines since January 2015, pushing the total amount of custodial paper to $2.805 trillion, the lowest since 2012. One month later, we refresh this chart and find that in last week’s update, foreign central banks continued their relentless liquidation of US paper held in the Fed’s custody account, which tumbled by another $14 billion over the course of a week, pushing the total amount of custodial paper to $2.788 trillion, a new post-2012 low.
Today, to corroborate the disturbing weekly slide in the Fed’s custody data, we also got the latest monthly Treasury International Capital data for the month of September, which showed that the troubling trend presented one month ago, has accelerated to an unprecedented degree.
Recall that a month ago, we reported that in the latest 12 months we have observed a not so stealthy, actually make that a massive $343 billion in Treasury selling by foreign central banks in the period July 2015- August 2016, something unprecedented in size.
Fast forward to today when in the latest monthly update for the month of September, we find that what until a month ago was “merely” a record $346.4 billion in offshore central bank sales in the LTM period ending August 31 has – one month later – risen to a new all time high $374.7 billion, or well over a third of a trillion in Treasuries sold in the past 12 months.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development rang the alarm on the possibility of a global debt default contagion due to international economies’ over-reliance on deficit spending, low interest rates to stimulate economies.
The next economic crash may be the last warns trade economists at the United Nations cautioning that the next global recession could quickly get out of control plunging the world into an economic depression and resulting in a post-apocalyptic failing of major governments as the world’s bond market teeters on the precipice of a full-on meltdown.
“As capital begins to flow out, there is now a real danger of entering a third phase of the financial crisis which began in the United States housing market in late 2007 before spreading to the European sovereign bond market,” said the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
In the wake of the 2008 economic collapse, countries around the world forced their economies afloat by flooding the market with cheap money by artificially lowering interest rates to near zero – an unprecedented rate point at which benchmark rates have remained for nearly 8 years now. “Alarm bells have been ringing over the explosion of corporate debt levels in emerging economies, which now exceed $25 trillion. Damaging deflationary spirals cannot be ruled out,” the report remarks. In the event of an economic slowdown, the experts caution, the massive debts held by bondholders may not be redeemed forcing whole economies into default. Large emerging economies including Brazil, Russia and South Africa may be the worst hit in the event of another economic slowdown as they are the most likely to face a credit crunch from lenders who are unwilling to renew their debt or buy more pushing borrowing costs to unprecedented levels.
Ratings agency S&P Global Ratings revised its outlook on Russia’s credit rating to ‘stable’ from ‘negative’ saying that external risks to the oil-producing nation have eased and the economy should return to growth in coming years.
Russia’s economy has come under pressure from the protracted slump in crude oil and as its the conflict in Ukraine earned Moscow sanctions from the US and EU.
However, as the economy adjusts to this environment, S&P Global Ratings said it expects a return to real GDP growth averaging 1.6 per cent in 2017-2019, following a 1 per cent contraction this year.
The decision comes as the central bank cut interest rates today, citing weak inflationary pressures for a 50 basis point easing of its key policy rate.
In a statement on Friday, S&P Global Ratings, said:
The stable outlook reflects our expectation that the Russian economy and policy making will continue to adjust to the lower oil price environment and the country will maintain its strong net external asset position and modest net general government debt burden in 2016-2019.
The agency expects that while fiscal pressures will remain, the government deficit will narrow in 2016-2019.
The agency maintained its long-term rating on the country at BB+, leaving it in junk territory.
There is a growing conviction in the markets that for the world’s hardest pressed central banks there is no alternative to a helicopter money drop.
A last-ditch effort to channel purchasing power directly to people likely to spend a monetary windfall strikes many as the natural next step, as the effectiveness of unconventional central bank measures dwindles. Yet the authors of the latest Geneva report, published annually by The International Center for Monetary and Banking Studies and the Centre for Economic Policy Research, beg to differ.*
They argue that there is room to push interest rates further below zero. They see the potential to expand both the scale and scope of central bank asset purchases. And they believe that it would be possible to loosen the constraint on traditional interest rate policy in today’s exceptionally low interest rate environment by increasing central banks’ inflation targets.
The snag is that those prescriptions are a pretty good description of what the Bank of Japan has done since 2013 as its contribution to Abenomics. When Haruhiko Kuroda took over as governor he introduced the most radical programme of quantitative and qualitative easing the world has seen, encompassing not just government bonds but equities via exchange traded funds and even real estate investment trusts.
The inflation target was raised to two per cent, to be achieved over two years. In January this year negative interest rates were introduced. The programme has been ramped up, with a big increase in the size of government bond purchases in 2014 and a commitment this July by the Bank of Japan to raise its annual purchases of ETFs from Y3.3tn to Y6tn ($58bn).