Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Greece: Tic Toc Tic Toc...China: it sure is getting interesting!

Well its not like its a big surprise; on the right side you've got Greece's new government (now nearing its 30 days in power) and on the other side you've got ECB, Germany and well anyone that wants the fiction of a united Europe to continue.  What is amazing is that some believed that a deal was possible!  The signs have been there for months (years really), the ECB and the EU in general -- those committed to the ideal of Europe only want to "extend and pretend" a little longer.

Now, the new "radical" Greek government's first test is not one they can afford to fail, otherwise their entire term will be wasted.  Germany's media and the German government are adamant that every single Euro will have to be repaid -- damn the consequences!  Moreover, the ECB's pre-emptive strike of reducing the ability of Greek banks to obtain additional liquidity gave the chance of successful negotiations very low (lets say around 50%), now things are worse.

Everyone is seriously talking of a Greek exit, capital control etc etc.  Not exactly a surprise and for many Greeks not much of a change from their current desperate situation (not to say that it was not self inflicted -- but the tragedies remain).  An exit from a currency union will be painful, when Singapore was kicked-out of Malaya (predecessor to Malaysia) it was very hard on a very poor nation (seriously Singaporean were the cheap labor of the Philippines and Vietnam in the early 60s).  But with a collapsing GDP, unmanageable foreign debts equal to nearly 150% of GDP Greece has few viable options that would have it remain in the EU.

On the other side of the planet things are also getting interesting.  I already discussed the impact of the Chinese government's crack down on corruption and its impact on Macau's gambling revenues (in free fall in January -35% YoY).  It now appears that cracks are appearing the housing sector.  After almost 35 years of relentless price rise, it would appear like America in 2008, that house prices are dropping.  The issue is far more serious than in the US where housing only every represented 25% of American's net worth.  In China the figure is around 75% of their net worth is tied to housing stock. Chinese are not big stock investors.

The issue is social unrest, but its unclear how the government can respond.  Already the economy (lending) has been growing exponentially to allow housing to continue.  The prices were clearly unsustainable for the vast majority of Chinese.  A few years ago, it was calculated that there were 75 million "empty" apartments in China (America's entire housing stock is 125 million homes).  They were kept empty for one reason -- value.  In China an already occupied apartment is worth less than an apartment that has never been used -- a bit like a car.  This was done because these empty apartments were purchased as investments -- the sole source of wealth growth was property appreciation (and not rental income).  There were well documented stories of individual owning several hundred empty apartments as investments!  However, investors will be less interested in owning these apartments (or buying more) if prices go down (as they appear to have been doing for several months now).  In some districts price have fallen by nearly 10% with minimal "dead cat bounces" to resume their downward spiral.

Chinese government have in the past fallen because wealth was being destroyed (ok it was excessive inflation then), still this is serious stuff.


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