Tag Archives: Economics

China’s Tech Crackdown Means Economic Decline

Imagine you’re running a marathon. You’ve led the whole race. But a strong runner is coming up on your right. The finish line approaches.

Suddenly, there is a loud “crack.” The other runner has been shot in the head. You win.

This is essentially what has happened to the Chinese tech sector in recent months. The Chinese government has cracked down on major companies like Alibaba, Didi Chuxing, and Meituan. It has also regulated its substantial ed tech sector out of existence.

China used to be the US’s leading competition in technology. Now it looks like an also-ran.

Leaders of Alibaba and Didi angering Xi Jinping is one reason for the crackdown. Another appears to be China’s desire to refocus from software to hardware. The Party seems to think microchips, batteries and advanced materials are critical to economic leadership, while consumer software is a distraction.

One problem: semiconductors and most other manufacturing industries are a lot less profitable than software companies like Alibaba or Didi. And all of China’s net job growth since 2012 has been in services, not manufacturing.

Even with that growth, well educated Chinese youth often struggle to find decent jobs. Severely curtailing one of the most vibrant sectors of the economy will only make it worse.

China has lost sight of what those microchips and batteries are supposed to do: run software! They are not ends in themselves.

What’s more, the threat of sudden crackdowns will make it harder for all Chinese companies to raise money and grow. Maybe the hammer is landing on tech now, but investors will wonder, “Who’s next?”

More on China:

HOW CHINA’S TECH INDUSTRY DIES

CHINA’S TECH ELITE IS RUNNING SCARED

CHINA IS CRUSHING ONE OF ITS MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES

Photo: “Vice President Xi Jinping” by nznationalparty is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Forget GameStop, Treasury Yields Are The Thing to Watch

Treasury bonds have been falling hard lately. Their interest rates are up significantly as a result:

The yield on the 10-year note, a bellwether for borrowing costs on everything from mortgages to corporate loans, has jumped to near 1.5% from around 1% in a matter of weeks, lifted by increased expectations that vaccines and government stimulus efforts will accelerate growth and inflation.

And the sell-off is making its way into the stock market today:

The sell-off in the bond market ricocheted into equities, pushing the broad S&P 500 down 2.3 per cent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite down 3.3 per cent by afternoon on Wall Street.

A lot of this is the side effect of something good: people are getting vaccinated, new vaccines are coming, and economic stimulus could boost the economy further. That picture is leading investors to expect greater economic growth in the future, along with greater inflation (see the Feb 22 post):

Signs of a renewed economic boom, in tandem with pockets of price pressure, color that move in rates. Bianco Research notes today that Wall Street economists now expect U.S. real GDP growth of nearly 5% this year

But higher rates on Treasury bonds could affect other markets negatively in several ways:

  • Higher Treasury yields tend to mean higher rates in other areas. This could make it more expensive for companies to borrow to fund expansion, etc. That would hurt their shares.
  • If Treasuries offer more interest, that makes stocks less attractive by comparison.
  • Treasury yields, especially the 10 year note, tend to drive mortgage rates. Higher mortgage rates mean a weaker real estate market.

Nonetheless, the Fed remains committed to low interest rates and a loose monetary policy:

In his remarks to the House Financial Services Committee, [Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome] Powell said it could take more than three years before inflation reached the Fed’s target of 2%. That helped to reiterate the message that the central bank was in no rush to pare back on stimulus anytime soon, Deutsche’s Reid said.

I think that if rates spike too high, Powell will probably get the Fed in there buying lots of bonds (with printed money, if necessary) to get the rates back down. He doesn’t want to see higher rates derailing the economic recovery.

A slower rate rise may be less problematic:

“If it is stable and steady, it is easier for equities to digest,” O’Rourke said in an interview. “A quick spike has the potential to create a shock.”

Overall, this situation concerns me and it’s one I’m going to watch. But I am pretty confident that Powell will put a stop to extreme increases in Treasury yields.

For more on recent developments in financial markets, check out these posts:

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Photo: “Jerome H. Powell, governor of the Federal Reserve Board, discusses how markets currently function” by BrookingsInst is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This One Trend is Driving Every Financial Market

Regardless of which market we look at, we see a similar trend: skyrocketing prices since the beginning of the pandemic. You can see this in the S&P 500, a broad measure of stocks:

In commodities:

In the increase in real estate prices and the corresponding decrease in capitalization rates (this chart is from Dallas…see similar trends in other cities in the research papers linked in this post):

And even in Treasury bonds (recall that the yield moves in the opposite direction from the price, so a lower yield means a higher price):

Why are all these markets looking the same? The likeliest cause is a huge jump in the money supply. The Federal Reserve has aggressively printed money since the beginning of the pandemic, looking to counter the seismic economic shock. I think this is probably appropriate. In any case, the effect is unmistakable, however you measure money supply.

Here’s how the “monetary base,” or “the sum of currency in circulation and reserve balances (deposits held by banks and other depository institutions in their accounts at the Federal Reserve),” has expanded:

If you look at another definition of the money supply, M1 (“the sum of currency held by the public and transaction deposits at depository institutions”), it looks like this:

And if you broaden your definition of money supply to M2 (“M1 plus savings deposits, small-denomination time deposits (those issued in amounts of less than $100,000), and retail money market mutual fund shares”), you see the same familiar pattern:

Whichever way you slice it, there’s a lot more money out there than there used to be. That money can be used to bid up stocks, bonds, real estate, commodities, bitcoin, Gamestop, or whatever you like.

There is some debate in the literature about whether you can draw a correlation between the money supply and increasing stock prices. This study sounds a cautionary note:

future profits may not change, if interest rates decline at the same time that demand for firms’ products, and thus their sales, decline.

This could be relevant for companies that can’t deliver their products in a contactless manner. But companies that can have been thriving.

In all, it appears that the massive increase in the money supply is driving financial markets of every stripe in one direction: up. Until the Fed changes policy, I suspect the bias is likely to be toward buoyant markets, especially with vaccines coming on line and the pandemic’s end in sight.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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Photo: “Governor Jerome Powell speaks at Brookings panel, ‘Are there structural issues in U.S. bond markets?'” by BrookingsInst is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0