Despite China reporting solid economic data on Monday, with beats across the board in everything from retail sales, fixed asset investment, industrial production and GDP printing at 6.9% and on track for its first annual increase since 2010…
… despite the biggest net liquidity injection by the PBOC since mid June after the central bank injected a net 130 billion yuan, and despite yet another rebound in the Yuan, overnight China’s Shanghai Composite slumped by 1.4%, the most since December as a result of a plunge in the small-cap ChiNext index, which tumbled by 5.1%, and is now down 16% in 2017 to levels not seen since January 2015 following a fresh round of broad deleveraging amid concerns about tougher regulations and more IPOs following a high-level conference over the weekend attended by President Xi Jinping in which China hinted at the formation of a “super-regulator”.
An advisor to China’s central bank, Sheng Songcheng, said that virtual currencies like bitcoin are assets but do not have the fundamental attributes needed to be a currency that could meet modern economic development needs. Speaking in an interview with financial magazine Yicai, the PBOC advisors said that the adoption of Bitcoin as a national currency by a country “could lead to its economic collapse.”
Sheng Songcheng, a counselor at the PBoC, dismissed digital currencies like bitcoin as assets that lack the value basis of a legitimate currency. “Bitcoin does not have the fundamental attributes needed to be a currency as it is a string of code generated by complex algorithms, and does not have inherent value… But I do not deny that virtual currencies have technical value and are a type of asset,” he said cited by Reuters. Apparently he is unaware that paper currencies – the type preferred by central bankers – is made of either strings of linen and paper or strings of 1s and 0s, and – while also having no inherent value – can be infinitely created out of thin air.
Sheng, who was the director-general of the Department of Statistics and Research at the People’s Bank of China, holds a PhD in economics from the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics in the 90s. He is currently the professor of economics and finance at a business school in Shanghai.
Sheng warned that the deflationary nature of digital currencies – unlike fiat money there is a hard limit on how much can be reated – would mean that they would not function well as a currency or medium of exchange in modern economies. Expanding on his criticism, Reuters quoted Sheng as stated that “Bitcoin would reach its ceiling of 21 million in 2140. If it is accepted as standard money, that will inevitably lead to deflation and constrain economic growth.” Of course, that same feature would assure that consumers’ purchasing power does not vaporize every time central bankers make a mistake and unleash hyperinflation.
Think of it as the old fiat vs gold-backed currency debate, only in this case it’s bitcoin-based.
His objection is to be expected: after all no central bank wants to be constrained in how much “money” it can print to stimulate inflation in a world where debt/GDP is 327%; and where China’s credit creation dwarfs every other central bank. Recall that in the aftermath of the financial crisis, it was China that served as the dynamo of global “growth” as it doubled its total debt over the past decade, something it would be unable to do if there was a hard ceiling on the amount of currency in circulation.
It may be too soon to say that glimmers of hope can be seen in the quality of Chinese bank assets, considering they have off-balance-sheet assets that are collectively larger than the world’s fifteenth-largest economy.
The country’s six biggest commercial banks revealed this week that their off-balance-sheet assets — likely held through trusts and wealth management products — were worth 7.78 trillion yuan ($1.13 trillion) as of March — more than Mexico’s 2016 nominal gross domestic product of $1.06 trillion, or about a tenth of China’s economy.
Bringing these previously hidden assets to light immediately boosts their already substantial balance sheets by 7-9%, and smaller banks’ by 11-13%.
The six are Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), China Construction Bank (CCB), Agricultural Bank of China (ABC), Bank of China (BOC), Bank of Communications, and Postal Savings Bank of China.
Yet these “second” balance sheets also prompt questions on the significance of banks’ reported declines in nonperforming loan ratios as well as the sufficiency of their capital, since they were all under pressure to set aside more provisions for losses on impaired loans.
As we reported on Wednesday evening, something interesting took place on Thursday morning in Beijing: in a case of eerie coordination, China tightened monetary conditions across many of the PBOC’s liquidity-providing conduits just 10 hours after the Fed raised its own interest rate by 0.25% for only the third time in a decade.
The oddly matched rate hikes, prompted Bloomberg to think back to the mysterious “Shanghai Accord” of February 2016, which took place during the peak days of last year’s global capital markets crisis, and whose closed-door decisions – to this day kept away from the public – prompted the market rally that continues to this day. As Bloomberg wrote, the coordinated “response suggests that pledges by the Group of 20 economies a little over a year ago in Shanghai to “carefully calibrate and clearly communicate” policies may not have been hollow after all.”
That said, it was not the first time the People’s Bank of China has acted on the heels of a Fed move. At the peak of the financial crisis, the PBOC cut lending rates after six of its counterparts, including the Fed, had announced a simultaneous rate cut. That October 2008 move enhanced China’s emerging reputation as a global player on the international economic-policy circuit. “Growth divergence is morphing into growth synchronization,” said Chua Hak Bin, a Singapore-based senior economist with Maybank. “Policy divergence was also a narrative for those expecting a strong dollar, but that is moving now to policy synchronization.”
Coordinated or not, as of last night financial conditions in China, like in the US, have become incrementally tighter even if both the Chinese and US stock markets failed to respond accordingly.
CNY mid rate for the day, little bit weaker for the yuan
Open market operations (OMOs):
inject 10bn yuan via 7-day reverse repos
inject 10bn yuan via 14-day reverse repos
Small injections (which mean today is a net drain); watch for more stress in HK yuan borrowing markets today. Yesterday saw surging rates for overnight (and longer) yuan borrowing. Likely we’ll see the same again today.
By limiting injections into money markets the People’s Bank of China makes borrowing yuan more expensive and therefore shorting yuan more expensive. The PBOC is trying to discourage yuan shorts.
2017 is off to a good start if you are holding Bitcoin as volumes continue to surge through Chinese Bitcoin exchanges amid fears of increased crackdowns on foreign exchange transfers in the new year. In the last 24 hours, BTC China has seen prices spike above 7,100 yuan (well over $1000 at the onshore rate exchange) as Bitstamp reports prices over $990.
Bitcoin in China topped 7,100 this morning – and with USDCNY at 6.945, that is over $1000…