Australia didn’t miss out on the first part of the Global Financial Crisis and it’s not going to miss out on the second part. The second part is coming. And it could be worse than the first. That, in a nutshell, is the message of today’s Markets and Money.
For proof of the first claim – that excessive leverage and too much debt cost Australian investors billion of dollars – read today’s essay “Pigs at the Trough” by guest essayist Adam Schwab. Adam’s got a new book out by the same name. And he makes a great point: Australia may not have learned much from the first round of the GFC.
But is there really going to be a round two? Well, if the first incorrect assumption was that Australia didn’t have a bad debt problem, the second assumption is probably even more dangerous. It’s more dangerous because it’s the single most unexamined assumption behind much of Australia’s economic prosperity. The assumption is that we’ll always have China.
A growing number of professional investors are betting against China. It’s true that all of these investors – short-seller Jim Chanos, our friend Dr. Marc Faber, Harvard Professor Ken Rogoff – are all talking their book to some extent. We all do that all the time. But that doesn’t invalidate our arguments.
And the argument is simple: China’s economy is the Greatest Bubble on Earth. James Rickards, the former General Counsel for the famously-failed hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management, told Bloomberg that China is in the midst of “the greatest bubble in history.” He said the Chinese central bank’s balance sheet, “resembles that of a hedge fund buying dollars and short-selling the yuan.” “As I see it, it is the greatest bubble in history with the most massive misallocation of wealth,” he told the Asset Allocation Summit Asia 2010.
Students of the Austrian School of Economics would identify with the comment. Credit bubbles – and the world has arguably been in one long once since the U.S. dollar could no longer be redeemed for gold internationally in 1971 – know that credit creates excess demand. It gives producers a false impression of the consumer appetite for goods and services. Real resources are poured into providing people with products they buy with debt-based money.
When the bubble bursts, the demand goes too. This is why Australia’s government, slavishly obeying Keynesian dogma, has tried to “bring demand forward” or “support aggregate demand”
by giving away the nation’s surplus. And once it was finished doing that, it borrowed (stole) from the future in order to support demand.
But this just perpetuates the misallocation of resources (in this case, stealing tomorrow’s savings to support today’s consumption.) In China’s case, however, the misallocation of resources is even more impressive. There is massive over-capacity in commercial real estate with millions of square meters of vacancies. Whole cities lie empty.
These cities and office buildings were made with Australian iron ore and coking coal. If China’s miracle economy (regularly achieving politically mandated 8% GDP growth to support employment) is really the world’s largest collection of misallocated resources ever, then what do you think will happen to Australia’s economy?
On the verge of another big increase in contract iron ore prices, it may seem like a strange time to ask the question. But it’s probably the most important question Australian investors could ask themselves this year. “What can I do to protect myself against a crash in China?”
The possibility may seem remote. But remember, no one in the mainstream media or economics profession warned you of the GFC either, did they? Even if you think it’s unlikely or absurd, it’s probably something you should think about a bit. We’ve thought about it and we think the best answer is to retire now.
But what does that really mean? It means you should own a lot fewer stocks. But yes, that does contradict the rosy projections for Australia’s super annuation system. Australia’s super system is projected to have nearly $5 trillion in assets by 2025 according to an article in today’s Australian.
Chris Bowen, the Minister of Financial Services, spoke by video to a conference in Brisbane. He didn’t say where all the super money would go specifically. But he did say, “This might mean greater investment in infrastructure assets, provided a stable pipeline of opportunities was available.”
Now you may want your money to go into infrastructure assets. And if you do, more power to you. After all, they are tangible assets. But you can’t put a bridge in your refrigerator. Portable tangibility – wealth you can wear, store, or trade – is the name of the game as you reduce your allocation to deflating financial assets ahead of the hyperinflation. More on that Big Crash two-step in Friday’s letter.
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