Marc Faber: China’s Malinvestment Unwind ‘Will Be a Disaster’
Marc Faber appeared on Bloomberg Television yesterday to discuss the Chinese economy. While Faber generally seems to be a long-term bull on China, he had some disquieting things to say about the extent of malinvestment in China due to the recent round of government stimulus and infrastructure-oriented investment.
Faber told Trish Regan and Matt Miller “I think that we had a colossal credit bubble in China and that this credit bubble is now being gradually deflated….if I look at export figures from China, and they are very closely correlated to overall economic growth, then there is a huge discrepancy between what China reports and what China’s trading partners are reporting.”
He said, “There’s lots of funny things that are happening in China. And when the whole thing unwinds it will be a disaster.”
His view is that the trade figures out of China do not correspond with the aggregated trade figures coming out of China’s trade partners. He believes the economy has slowed markedly and that GDP growth is more in the 4% region than the 7.5% region.
Four-minute video and transcript below.
Source: BLOOMBERG TELEVISION
TRISH REGAN: China’s currency fell to an 11-month low after China’s central bank doubled the yuan’s daily trading range against the dollar. The decision to allow greater exchange rate fluctuations comes at a time when China’s economy is showing some serious signs of losing momentum. The government is targeting a 7.5 percent growth rate. That’s actually the slowest since 1990. But leave it to the author of Gloom, Boom and Doom, that report, to say that it will likely be a little more than half that. Marc Faber joining us right now on the phone.
Marc, always good to talk to you. Somewhat depressing at times, but we’re calling – or you’re calling here for 4 percent growth out of China this year. Why?
MARC FABER: Well I think that we had a colossal credit bubble in China and that this credit bubble is now being gradually deflated and will bring about problems in the real estate market and among some major players in the commodity markets as well. So overall, if I look at export figures from China, and they are very closely correlated to overall economic growth, then there is a huge discrepancy between what China reports and what China’s trading partners are reporting.
So if you look at the figures of China, exports are still growing. If you look at the trade figures China exports to Taiwan, so China records exports of so and so much. The Taiwan report imports from China at a much lower level. So which figures are more reliable? I think the figures of the trading partners of China are more reliable. And they would suggest that growth has slown down considerably.
MATT MILLER: Hang on. So Marc, are you calling for a Chinese report of 4 percent or are you saying it’s more realistic that we’ll see 4 percent and the Chinese will come out with a report or their own numbers that are closer to the 7, 7.5 that’s expected?
FABER: Governments will always publish the statistics that they wish to show irrespective whether that is in China or in other countries. Governments control basically the statistical offices, so they can show whatever they want. As Stalin said, it’s not important who votes but who counts the votes. And the government counts the statistics.
REGAN: Yeah, and if you’re China, you’ve got some muscle there to count what you want. But at the end of the day, investors, they have a tendency to see through these things. Marc Faber, do you believe investors are seeing through this? Have they discounted China enough in your view?
FABER: Look, the fact is simply that Chinese stocks have been just about the worst performing stocks since 2006. Now analysts will dismiss that and say everything is prefect in China, but the stock market does not seem to believe everything that the government is saying about the economy. And clearly there are strength signs in the Chinese economy. In particular, as I said, we have this huge explosion of debt. Debt as a percent of GDP has increased in the last five years by more than 50 percent. Total debt is now over 215 percent of GDP, and a lot of it is trade finance that is being rolled over.
In addition to that, there are lots of funny deals. A friend of mine who analyzes China very carefully, Simon Hunt (ph), he pointed out that trade finance between one state-owned enterprise and a private company has amounted to over $5 trillion by continuing to roll over the same collateral several times. There’s lots of funny things that are happening in China. And when the whole thing unwinds it will be a disaster.
MILLER: Well surely they can do that kind of thing within their own borders and kind of keep a lid on it. But as you say, if there are discrepancies with their export numbers and say Taiwan’s import numbers, or if indeed we see all of their export numbers dropping, all of their import numbers dropping more importantly, it could portend disaster for the rest of Asia. Do you see that sort of playing through, those ripples playing through Asia this year?
FABER: Yes. I think that investors are not sufficiently aware that the Chinese economy is far more important for other emerging economies than the United States because China is a large importer of resources. In other words, iron ore, copper, zinc (inaudible). And at the same time, they are a huge exporter to commodity producers of their own manufactured goods, as well as Korean exports. The commodity producers are much larger than Korean exports to the US or to the U (ph).
So if the Chinese economy slows down, commodity prices – industrial commodity prices are likely to remain under pressure. They already come down a lot. They remain under pressure and the resource producers have less money. In other words, the Brazilian goes into recession. The Middle East does not grow as much as before. Central Asia, Africa and so forth all contract, and then they buy less from China and you have a vicious cycle on the downside.
REGAN: Let’s talk about what’s going on over in eastern Europe right now as we watch Vladimir Putin take over Crimea. How – how big might this get in your view and how should investors be thinking about Europe right now as a result of these moves from Putin?
FABER: I think as an international server (ph), Mr. Putin did the right thing from his perspective. We have to look – put ourselves into his shoes. He did absolutely the right thing at the right time. I don’t think he —
REGAN: I’m sorry. He did the right thing at the right time. What do you mean by that, Marc?
FABER: By that I mean that there was interference by foreign powers in Ukrainian politics that were unfavorably from the perspective of Russia. And —
REGAN: So he – he needed to save his warm water ports? He went in and took over this region, which you see as a logical political move. I guess the big question is is he going to do more.
FABER: The Crimea is strategically most important for Russia. It has practically no meaning strategically to the United States or to Europe. But for Russia it’s very important. I don’t think that Russia will move further into Ukraine unless there is serious provocation. But I doubt it will happen. But I think the wider implication is that we have now border lines. In other words, the US would intervene if a foreign power would establish bases in Haiti and in Cuba and so forth and so on, and the Chinese will react if foreign powers threaten Chinese access to resources.
This is very important because the occupation or say the referendum (ph) in Crimea and Crimea moving to Russia gives essentially a signal to China that one day they can also move and seize some territory that they perceive that belongs to them.
REGAN: Marc Faber, thank you very much for joining us live on the phone from Thailand. The author of Gloom, Doom and Boom –
MILLER: Gloom, Boom and Doom.
REGAN: Thank you.
MILLER: And Marc, I hope we can get you back here in the studio soon. Always a pleasure talking with Marc Faber.