Ahead of the FOMC meeting this week, I thought a quick update on China would be useful to review the major data on a global macro perspective.
Over the past few years, Chinese slowdown has massively impacted commodity prices, which are still ‘trying’ to find a bottom according to the late analysis I read. The chart below shows the historical moves of the Bloomberg Commodity Index (BCOM), a broadly diversified commodity price index (22 commodity futures in seven different sectors) that I like to watch quite a bit. As you can see it, the index has been trading below the 2009 lows since the beginning of the year and is now approaching the 2002 levels.
(Source: Financial Times)
If we look at Iron Ore monthly prices for instance (see chart below), we can see that the commodity has lost more than three times its value since its high in February 2011. It fell from 187.18 (US Dollars per Dry Metric Ton) at that time to 56.40 (for the September 2015 Futures contract). There has been a few topics on the table that could have describe this drop – US rising rates and Dollar strength, Grexit fear, Oversupply issues – however the decrease in Chinese growth and productivity are the most important factors to the commodity market in general.
(Source: indexmundi website)
How fast is China slowing?
First of all, if we look at the country’s annual growth rate over the past five years, China GDP decreased from approximately 12% in early 2010 to 7% in the last Q2 update. And looking at the major’s institution forecasts (IMF, World Bank, see below), it is more than likely that we are going to see lower and lower figures in the next few years, and therefore constantly weigh on export-driven economies. Based on the forecasts below, we are looking at a 5.5%-6% annual growth rate in 3 to 5 years.
(Source: knoema website)
Salaries increase in China, a secular change?
For decades, China has mostly been competitive based on its cheap labour and low-cost raw materials, and has been profitable based on its export-driven economy combined with an ‘undervalued’ exchange rate. However, with wages and transportation costs on the rise, the country’s economic projection has changed and I don’t know if the rest of the World is yet prepared for it. According to some financial analyst experts, compare to the mid-2000 levels, China needs twice the amount of Capital or Debt to create a 1-percent growth today.
Based on the International Labour Organization’s 2014 Wage report for the Asia Pacific published at the end of the first quarter of this year, Asia annual growth in real wages has been outperforming the global average over the past decade (6.0% vs. 2.0% in 2013). And East Asia (driven by China) reported at 7.1% increase in 2013, therefore indicating a growing consumer spending power. And between 1998 and 2010, the average annual growth rate of real wages were approximately 13.8% (Carsten A Holtz, 2014). Since 2010, real wages have grown by 9%, outperforming productivity which has grown by 6-7%, therefore reflecting negative signs about the economy.
Availability of a large pool of labour combined with low production costs have been one of the major pros of China, however the constant increase in labour costs will narrow the difference in manufacturing costs between China and a developed economy (such as the US) to a degree that is almost negligible.
As a result, no hike in September…
My view goes for a neutral FOMC statement this week, but no hikes from the Fed based on the weak current market’s conditions. If we look at it, we have more and more EM countries facing a currency crisis (Brazil, Russia, Malaysia…), low oil prices affecting highly leveraged US Shale oil companies, US debt ceiling ‘threat’ at the end of the month, China selling its USD FX reserves, US equities showing a sign of fatigue… These are all negative elements that the US policymakers will take into account at the September meeting (16th / 17th of September). The upside for currencies such as the Euro, the Swiss or the Sterling pound will be quite limited until the release of the FOMC Statement, however we could see some Dollar weakness in case of a status quo.