Courtesy of Mish.
Michael Pettis at China Financial Markets commented on the liquidity crunch and spike in SHIBOR a few days ago via email.
His comments came in before China intervened to quite the markets as noted in China Acts to Calm Markets; Stock Market Rebounds From 6% Plunge After Central Bank Pledges More Liquidity; Wet Nurse Action.
Nonetheless his comments are still relevant and much worth a review. What follows is a guest post from Micahel Pettis.
Pettis Guest Post
- Short-term rates in the interbank lending market rose steadily over the past two weeks and then suddenly soared Thursday amid rumors of the market’s having frozen up and one or more large banks having missed payments.
- For the past ten years China’s soaring credit has been accommodated by rapid money expansion as the PBoC was forced to monetize large net inflows on the current and capital account. This year, however, while credit continued to expand at historically unprecedented rates, net foreign exchange inflows seem to have dried up, especially after the authorities clamped down some time in May on the over-invoicing of exports that had been used to bring “carry trade” money illegally into the country.
- The tension created by accelerating credit expansion (much of it supporting activities that were not generating sufficient cashflow to repay the associated debt) and decelerating money creation has created liquidity strains for much of the past year. Last weeks’ events were likely to have been simply an exacerbation of those strains.
- I believe talk in the market of China’s experiencing its own “Lehman moment” are very much exaggerated. There is liquidity in the system and the PBoC still has the tools needed to alleviate a short-term liquidity crunch before it leads to a banking crisis. Government credibility is high, and given the wide-spread assumption that the government stands behind the banks, I do not expect anything approaching a bank run.
- There are however two important lessons to be drawn. First, we are likely to see similar stress in the banks many times again (and have seen it before) as a financial sector wholly addicted to cheap and plentiful credit struggles to accommodate Beijing’s determination to control credit growth.
- Second, the way the crisis was handled should make it clear that volatility in the financial sector is suppressed by administrative measures. This, however, may increase the risk of a future gapping in confidence and volatility.
- During the coming week I believe that a significant amount of Wealth Management Prodiucts (WMP) will mature, and because of asset/liability mismatched this WMP must be rolled over. Beijing, correctly in my opinion, continues to be eager to clamp down on risks within the shadow-banking sector. This is likely to create further stress in WMP placement, which, if mismanaged, could create a run on WMP.
- If there is indeed a reduction in the amount of funding available for WMP, the money will have to flow into some other sector. Given the large size of the WMP market, these flows might be significant, although it is not yet clear to me where they will go.
Probably the main lesson of last week is that systems in which volatility is suppressed often seem less volatile, but this is only true when shocks are small. Large shocks tend to result in increases in volatility that far exceed expectations.
I have always argued that China’s lack of transparency wouldn’t matter too much during the bull phase of the market. It is when market sentiment turns negative that we see the real cost of a lack of transparency. When investors and businesses are nervous, they are likely to over-interpret bad news and to fill in knowledge gaps with the most alarming of the various plausible scenarios.
Lack of transparency, in other words, is a kind of positive feedback mechanism that exacerbates volatility. It can increase buying appetite on the upside (limited information gives us greater scope to assume best-case scenarios) and it hurts prices on the way down (uncertainty rises dramatically and worst-case scenarios become plausible).
This means not only that non-transparent markets are likely to be more volatile, but also that this volatility can be suppressed when adverse shocks are small and exacerbated when adverse shocks are large. Markets lacking transparency, in other words, are more likely to experience lower volatility during normal times and more likely to “gap” when conditions change. Market participants may not have access to negative information until the negative information has accumulated and there is no longer any way to prevent it from becoming widely known, in which case the decline in the market can be sudden and even out of proportion to the value of the negative information.
This is why I think we need to watch carefully what happens this week. It is not clear to me how widely Chinese depositors knew about or understood the events of last week. Although they were discussed in the specialized financial press, the accounts tended to be very “factual”.
By this I mean that the articles provided the raw data – money market interest rates surged during the week and peaked on Thursday – but there was little attempt to explain why this happened, or to discuss the seemingly credible rumors of bank defaults, or to analyze the terrific stress in the payments system. To the extent that the press covered the events, they were more likely to focus on the fall in the stock market than on the liquidity squeeze among the banks.