More Evidence of a Sharp Slowdown in China Emerges
As an update to our recent missive on China, there is now more evidence of a bursting property bubble as well as a more general economic slowdown.
BHP Billiton is reconsidering its planned as imports into China are declining due to falling steel production and a slowdown in car sales.
Meanwhile, house prices have lately been falling in 45 of 70 Chinese cities, with property sales in free-fall. As the FT Alphaville Blog reports on this, quoting from a Societe Generale report:
“Chinese property sales and prices have made for dour reading recently. Property sales value contracted 20% year on year in the two months ending in February. This is not only the worst result since the property slide in 2008 – it’s the worst result since the series began in 2006.
It’s particularly worrying to note that the slope of the fall is as sharp as the decline in January 2008. Back then, sales fell by a further 20% year on year after the January decline. This time, the comparables are a bit better, since property sales were rising through 2007, and have been stagnant over 2011. But if we assume that the monthly sales patterns in 2008 repeat in 2012, then sales should trough at around -24% year on year
Chinese property prices released today made for equally glum reading.Prices fell in 45 of 70 cities in February from January, according to prices released on Sunday by the statistics bureau. The average decline across the cities is now around 1.5% year on year. This is similar to the 1.3% drop seen in the old series (shown in red on Chart 2), but arguably the results are a lot worse.
Here are the two charts referenced above:
China property sales
China property prices
It sure looks like the slowdown in China's economy is intensifying.
Australia's new Mining 'Super Tax'
Also interesting in this context is a chart we have come across that depicts the correlation between China's steel production and the external value of the Australian dollar (hat tip to 'Also sprach Analyst'):
China's steel production sand the the Australian dollar: a close correlation.
This makes it all the more ironic that Australia's socialist government has just enacted a 30% 'super tax' on coal and iron ore production in order to, you guessed it, 'diminish those excessive profits' and obtain a 'fair share' for the bureaucrats to squander. This example of 'resource nationalism' is bound to backfire mightily. It once again proves that government bureaucrats and politicians are economically illiterate. They expect mining companies to shoulder the immense risks associated with capital intensive projects, but want to deny them the rewards during good times. Naturally this nonsense is hailed as great progress by interventionist apologists in academe (see below). The projections regarding the likely revenue increases from this tax will likely never come true. Moreover, Australia probably can bid a good part of its mining boom adieu now. Note also here that the institution of this tax highly likely to turn out to be extremely ill-timed, as iron ore and coal prices are probably going to slump in the wake of China's slowdown. Will the government give anything back to the mining firms in the event of a bust? We don't think so.
From the Bloomberg article linked above:
“Australia passed legislation that will reap about $11 billion in taxes within three years from BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP), Rio Tinto Group and other iron-ore and coal miners as the government seeks to turn its budget to surplus.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Minerals Resource Rent Tax was passed in the upper house yesterday and will become law on July 1 after receiving backing from the ruling Labor party and the Greens, who hold the balance of power in the Senate.
Passing the legislation is a success for Gillard, whose predecessor Kevin Rudd was ousted amid a campaign by mining companies against a broader 40-percent levy that he initially proposed. Gillard, the country’s first female prime minister, is trying to hold together a minority government that relies on the support of independent and Green party lawmakers.
“It’s a victory for Labor and will help the nation’s bottom line,” said Norman Abjorensen, a political analyst at Australian National University in Canberra. “Most Australians probably believe the big miners can afford to pay more tax.”
The levy will aid the prime minister’s bid to return the budget, to be announced May 8, to surplus.
“We’ve got a spectacular resources boom,” Gillard said in an interview with Channel Nine television today. “It makes sense to take some money from the turbo-charged section of the economy and share it more broadly around the nation and that is what the mining tax does.”
None of these projections will come to pass, you heard it here first. What 'Australians probably believe' about how much tax the mining firms can afford to pay is largely irrelevant in this context. Naturally the idea that Peter will get more if Paul is squeezed is often popular, but that doesn't make it a good basis for sensible economic policy. The irony becomes evident further below in the Bloomberg article:
“Australia posted its first trade deficit in 11 months in January, as weaker shipments of iron ore and coal contributed to the biggest drop in total exports in almost three years. The nation’s economic growth slowed to 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter from the previous three-month period, according to figures released on March 7.
The mining tax will raise A$10.6 billion in the three years after being implemented from July 1, according to government estimates. [no, it won't, ed.]
Parliament goes on hiatus from March 22 and resumes May 8, when the government will announce its annual budget that it says will return to surplus. Under laws already passed, the government will put a tax on carbon emissions from July 1 by charging about 500 polluters A$23 a ton for discharges until the set price gives way to a cap-and-trade system in 2015.”
Conclusion: sell the Australian dollar as quickly as you can. Seeing that Australia is also enacting a carbon tax and a 'cap and trade' scheme, we recommend prayer to our Australian readers as an initial ad hoc measure.
As an aside: these 'climate change' related extortions of tax payer funds are probably closely related to the state of the economy. They often are quietly dropped when economic conditions get bad enough, as they are really a luxury associated with a positive social mood ('let's all pull together to save the planet!' is a positive social mood inspired slogan).
The climate changes all the time, regardless of what governments think they can do about it. In fact, if there is indeed a problem associated with changes in the climate (consider us extremely doubtful on that score, especially as global temperatures have completely failed to rise for 13 years running now), the last organization we want to 'deal' with it are the world's governments. They demonstrably make a hash of everything, and it won't be any different in this case.
Addendum: US Housing Starts – Worse than Thought
Much ado has been made about the recently reported improvement in US housing starts. However, as the disaggregated numbers show, the bulk of the improvement was in multi-family units, not single family dwellings, which represent the bulk of the extant housing stock.
The chart below depicts the situation (via Calculated Risk):
Disaggregated US housing starts – single family dwelling starts have actually declined again.
Single family structures in isolation, long term. There's evidently nothing to get excited about. The housing slump is still not over.
Charts by: SocGen, AlsoSprachAnalyst, Calculated Risk
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