On September 29, with thanks Google Translate and some links in Chinese sent by a reader, I reported China Loan Shark Market Crashes; Scores of Chinese Business Owners Unable to Pay Black Market Loans Commit Suicide or Disappear
That story has now gone mainstream. the New York Times reports As China's Economy Cools, Loan Sharks Come Knocking
The 300 employees of Aomi Fluid Equipment here were delighted recently when the owner offered an all-expenses-paid, two-day trip to a mountain resort three hours away.
The owner, Sun Fucai -- or Boss Sun, as he's known -- was so insistent that his workers attend that he imposed a $30 fine on any employee who refused the getaway. Nearly everyone went.
Except Boss Sun.
When the employees returned from their holiday, they found that the factory had been stripped of its equipment and that Boss Sun had fled town. "It was entirely empty," Li Heying, a former Aomi worker, said of the factory. "It was like what happens in war time."
The boss, as it turned out, was millions of dollars in debt to loan sharks -- underground lenders of the sort that many private businesses in China routinely use because the government-run banks typically lend only to big state-run corporations.
In recent months, at least 90 business executives from this coastal city, a one-hour flight south of Shanghai, have disappeared because of mounting debts and impending bankruptcies, according to a local government report.
Whether out of fear of mafia-style loan enforcers -- kidnappings and broken kneecaps are common tactics -- or the family dishonor that is its own harsh penalty in China, some of the Wenzhou missing have gone into hiding. Others have fled overseas.
And in the last few weeks, at least three have attempted suicide by jumping off high-rises in the city, according to the state-run news agency, Xinhua, which reported that two of them died and the other survived with a broken leg.
"This is not just happening in Wenzhou," said Chang Chun, who teaches at the Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance. "Some companies borrow from the state banks and then lend into the underground market. Many are doing this type of arbitrage."
"This informal lending was aggravated by the credit tightening that made borrowing from the official banking system more difficult," said Wang Tao, a UBS economist based in Hong Kong.
Tight Credit Silliness
The idea espoused by UBS economist Wang Tao that "credit is tight" in China is absurd.
Credit is not tight. Credit has expanded so rapidly that China is overheating and inflation is high. This has been going on for so long, that no capital intensive and commodity intensive projects make any economic sense whatsoever.
I touched on that theme on May 5 in Ponzi Financing Involving Copper Trade Gone Wild.
As I have repeated numerous times, those looking for massive inflation can find it in China, not the United States. Demand for credit is so insane in China, that businesses will go to any length to get it.
Courtesy of Michael Pettis at China Financial Markets, please check out the insane way some companies in China obtain credit. Via Email, Pettis writes ...
China had been importing for many months far more copper than was needed for real use - and this in spite of a huge surge in domestic infrastructure and real estate development which has boosted the demand for copper. Imports continued even when London prices exceeded Shanghai prices by more than the equivalent of China's value-added tax.
Instead of being shipped to end users, it seems that copper was being stockpiled in warehouses. Why? One possibility of course was pure speculation. If you think domestic Chinese copper use is going to soar, and with it prices too, then it might make sense to buy copper and hoard it. But there seemed to be a lot more hoarding than normal, and anyway with London prices often above the tax-adjusted Shanghai prices, why would anyone want to speculate on foreign copper when it could be bought more cheaply domestically?
It turns out, that the copper purchases were not entirely, or even mainly, speculative. They were part of a financing scheme for companies that, in spite of the avalanche of new lending occurring both within and outside normal RMB lending, were having trouble accessing bank credit.
Interestingly, Pettis insists that credit cannot really be considered tight in China, rather demand for credit has gone through the roof.
In my model, rapidly expanding credit is a sign of a huge inflation problem. For comparison purposes, many forms of credit are still stagnant or declining in the US.
This is supposed to end well? For who?
Clearly this did not end well for "Boss Sun" or those who leaped from buildings, were kidnapped, or simply vanished as noted in the first link above.
Copper Weekly Chart
Anyone plowing into the copper Ponzi finance scheme since the beginning of 2010 is now underwater. Because of storage costs, loan fees, etc, that even includes those lucky enough to catch the price dips in early 2010.
Worse yet, those who bought copper above $4 (anyone who bought since mid-November 2010 until 4 weeks ago), are in deep trouble.
The loan sharks are about to come knocking, if they haven't already.
China Banks Deteriorating
Jim Chanos Says China Banks Deteriorating
Jim Chanos, the hedge-fund manager who's been betting that Chinese bank stocks will tumble, said a rally spurred by government purchases of the shares hasn't changed his bearish outlook.
"The fact that people are even talking about the government stepping in to shore up the banks, when two months ago people thought there was nothing wrong with the Chinese banks, should tell you just how seriously this situation is deteriorating," Chanos, founder of New York-based hedge fund Kynikos Associates, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television's Michael McKee today.
Chanos, who told Bloomberg News last month he was selling short shares in "virtually all of the large banks in China," said today that the country's property market is in the "first parts of a very serious pullback" and that he's also betting against Brazil's Vale SA (VALE), the world's largest iron-ore producer, on expectations demand from China will slow.
Chanos Video on China
Rio Tinto CEO says China to Overcome 'Wall of Worry'
I side with Chanos and Pettis. This is not even close. There is a real risk of a Chinese implosion as well as a commodities implosion led by five factors.
- Recession in Europe
- Recession in US
- Slowdown in China
- Regime change in China in 2012 with more focus on Chinese consumption and far reduced focus on commodity-sensitive infrastructure projects
- Chinese housing market crash