The Pascometer red lines on China


You’ll have to forgive my focus on the media today. There’s no data so I’m forced to turn on my peers.

Regular readers will know of the existence of the Pascometer. That is, Michael Pascoe’s uncanny ability to call the precise opposite of the impending outcome. Sadly for the nation, today he covers China and the needle on the Pascometer flips into the red line with such force that the needle has snapped. From the SMH (h/t The Lorax):

First the good news: China is expecting a global recession and will set its economic course accordingly. And then the amusing news: the corporate bond market is full of wood ducks just asking to be taken advantage of, as BHP did last week.

Amid the seemingly endless European turmoil, obstinacy and plain wrongheadedness, never mind America’s intractable politics and unsustainable debt lurching back into the headlines, there was some seriously good news over the weekend.

Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Qishan made what Reuters described as the most bearish forecast ever by a top Chinese decision maker.

“The one thing that we can be certain of, among all the uncertainties, is that the global economic recession caused by the international financial crisis will be chronic,” Xinhua, the official newsagency, reported Wang as saying. And Xinhua tends to check its quotes when made by vice-premiers.

What follows immediately is that Beijing is not about to engineer a hard landing in its efforts to smack the luxury apartment investors. In the short term, the message is being sent to Chinese banks to accommodate business needs (but preferably not real estate speculators).

And in both the short and medium terms, the transition to greater focus on Chinese domestic demand gets yet more impetus. The rise and rise of the Asian consumer matters much more than the faltering of the Old World consumer.

Which is all wonderful stuff for Australia as sustained Chinese growth means sustained Asian growth and therefore the fundamental underwriting of our economy remains in place even as the North Atlantic faces years of recession and/or stagnation.


The thing about being a contrarian, which the Pascometer most assuredly is, is that you have to do it by intellect, not reflex. People are forever describing MB as a “bear” blog but that’s rot. We’ll be bullish when there’s a reason to be. It’ll most likely be when everyone else is bearish. The Pascometer on the other hand, has a singular approach to his analysis. Take the issue of concern on the day and argue it’s not a problem (if you can call it argument, I don’t see anything above beyond a brief assertion that Chinese bureaucrats will be able to anything they like).

Well, right on cue, Fitch just released a report into the vulnerabilities of Asian emerging markets to the European crisis. The continental economies of China and India are seen as less exposed to a trade shock than are the mercantilist nations of South East Asia but China is seen more inhibited than other Asian nations in terms of its stimulus options:

China’s capacity for further stimulus may be more constrained than this analysis suggests amid mounting concerns about the asset quality of the banking system following the credit-led stimulus effort of 2009-2010. Purely fiscal metrics are less of a constraint given the strength of the overall sovereign balance sheet. This is even after taking into account that China’s government debt ratio is above the rating peer median based on Fitch’s estimate of general government indebtedness (including local government debt) of 48% for end-2010.

My own view is that China does have significant scope for further stimulus but not as much as it did in 2008 both for the reasons cited by Fitch and because the Chinese authorities have not come this far in suppressing a real estate bubble only to suddenly re-inflate it. That means any stimulus, which will no doubt be considerable, will still be able to repeat the bottom half of the below chart but not the top:

And the PBOC will definitely not be able to repeat the following:

How can they, when all that easy credit will simply head straight back into housing? (And thanks to Phat Dragon for the charts).

So, China will be able to stimulate some but several mechanisms of transfer will need to be kept out of it or used much more carefully. That suggests to me that if the Pascometer reading of an imminent hard landing in China is right, it will still be able to rebound relatively quickly, if not with the alacrity of 2009.

About the author
David Llewellyn-Smith is Chief Strategist at the MB Fund and MB Super. David is the founding publisher and editor of MacroBusiness and was the founding publisher and global economy editor of The Diplomat, the Asia Pacific’s leading geo-politics and economics portal. He is also a former gold trader and economic commentator at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the ABC and Business Spectator. He is the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review.