Brazil, Russia, India and China disappoint as manufacturers face investment demands of EVs © Bloomberg
Less than a third of China’s 31,000 auto dealers were profitable in the first half of 2019, as I describe in my latest post for the Financial Times, published on the BeyondBrics blog
Auto markets in the Bric countries are facing two major challenges. The first relates to the downturn already under way in the two largest markets, China and India, where 2019 sales seem likely to be at least 10 per cent below the previous year’s levels.
The second is the need for manufacturers and parts suppliers to spend billions of dollars on the transition to electric vehicles in order to meet Chinese government production targets in 2021-23.
It therefore seems probable that winners and losers will emerge over the next 18 months, as companies along the value chain find themselves short of cash to fund the new investments required.
China’s downturn is particularly important as sales in Brazil, Russia and India have already fallen by 20 per cent since peaking in 2012, as the chart below shows (January-November basis). Chinese sales have been in a downturn for more than a year, and the impact is broadening along the supply chain.
As Automotive News reported: “We knew China had been in a prolonged auto sales slump, and we knew the market was under pressure from tougher municipal and provincial emissions standards. Now, we’re seeing how these factors are devastating dealerships, to the tune of half of them being sold and several hundred being driven out of business.”
Less than a third of China’s 31,000 dealerships were profitable in the first half of 2019. The downturn is particularly bad news for western manufacturers, whose global profits have depended on China volumes.
US brands are worst hit, with January-November sales down 23 per cent due to frictions caused by the US-China trade war. General Motors reported third-quarter China sales down 17.5 per cent, continuing their slide since the second quarter of 2018, with sales also hit by strong competition in the key mid-priced sport utility vehicle segment. Ford saw its third-quarter sales fall 30 per cent — accelerating the downturn that began at the end of 2017.
French brands are having a difficult time, with volume down 54 per cent in January-November. Seventy per cent of Peugeot, Citroën and Renault’s dealerships were lossmaking in the first half of last year.
Korean brands were down 15 per cent, and even German brands had no growth over the previous year.
The problem is magnified by the fact that China’s market has seen rapid growth since 2008. Many companies and dealerships therefore assumed that the sales ramp-up from 550,000 vehicles a month in 2008 to 2m a month by 2016 was somehow “normal”. They have no concept of a slowdown, or how to survive it.
The downturn is likely to intensify as the government continues to squeeze the shadow banking sector and hence the property market. As the chart below shows, shadow lending remains well down on its earlier peaks, averaging just $67bn a month in the 10 months to October. This means, as we noted here a year ago, that “buyers can no longer count on windfall gains from property speculation to finance their purchase”.
As Reuters notes, the scale of the previous stimulus-driven growth also means that today, “much of the urban middle class has already purchased a vehicle. Household ownership rates were nearing 50 per cent in the provincial-level cities of Beijing and Tianjin and the wealthy province of Zhejiang by the end of 2017… Pushing ownership further down the income scale in urban areas as well as out into the poorer countryside is harder without generous tax incentives, plentiful credit and fast growth in incomes.”
Sales in the other Bric markets are also slowing. India’s sales were down 13 per cent at the end of November, while in Russia the industry is now forecasting a 2 per cent decline. Even in Brazil, industry trade group Anfavea has reduced its growth forecast to 8 per cent, due to the slowing Latin American economy.
The downturn creates a major dilemma for the industry, as it coincides with the need to commit to major new investments in EV manufacture.
China is proposing to set a 14 per cent target for EV production in 2021, rising to 16 per cent in 2022 and 18 per cent in 2023. Similarly, the industry ministry has called for EVs to be 25 per cent of total new car sales by 2025, and announced that “regions with ripe conditions have our support if they establish trial projects to establish no-go zones for gasoline-powered vehicles and replace them with new energy vehicles in the urban public transport system”.
Companies therefore have to move forward with EV investments, even though their profits are under pressure from the sales downturn.
Volkswagen, for example, is planning to open two Chinese EV factories this year with total capacity of 600,000 cars, and aims to produce 11.6m EVs in China by 2028. Tesla is opening capacity for 250,000 cars and plans to double production in the future.
With other manufacturers following suit, some in the industry expect EV prices to fall below those for internal combustion engines within the next two years, which would further accelerate the transition.
The industry is therefore faced with a stark choice. The need to commit to EV manufacture means there is no “business as usual” strategy for either manufacturers or parts suppliers. Those who decide to conserve their cash risk finding themselves without the relevant products and services in the world’s largest auto market.
Paul Hodges publishes The pH Report.
Residential construction work in Qingdao, China. Government stimulus is unlikely to deliver the economic boost of previous years © Bloomberg
China’s falling producer price index suggests it could soon be exporting deflation, as I describe in my latest post for the Financial Times, published on the BeyondBrics blog
On the surface, this year’s jump in China’s total social financing (TSF) seems to support the bullish argument. TSF was Rmb5.3tn ($800bn) in January-February, a 26 per cent rise on 2018’s level.By comparison, it rose 61 per cent in 2009 as the government panicked over the impact of the 2008 financial crisis, and 23 per cent in 2016, when the government wanted to consolidate public support ahead of 2017’s five-yearly Party Congress session, which reappointed the top leadership for their second five-year term.
The markets were certainly right to view both these increases positively, as we discussed here two years ago. But we also added a cautionary note, suggesting that 2017’s Congress might well be followed by a “new clampdown”, as Xi’s leadership style was likely to “move away from consensus-building towards autocracy”. This analysis seems to have proved prescient, and it makes us cautious about assuming that Xi has decided to reverse course in 2019.
Consumer markets are also indicating a cautious response. Passenger car sales, for example, were down 18 per cent in January-February compared with the same period last year, after having fallen in 2018 for the first time since 1990. Smartphone sales were also down 14 per cent over the same period. In the important housing market, state-owned China Daily reported that sales by industry leader Evergrande fell by 43 per cent.
There is little evidence on the ground to suggest that Xi has decided to return to stimulus to revive economic growth. Last month’s government Work Report to the National People’s Congress said it would “refrain from using a deluge of stimulus policies”.
Instead, it seems likely that this year’s record level of lending was used to bail out local government financing vehicles (LGFVs) and other casualties of China’s post-2008 debt bubble. The second chart illustrates the potential problem, with TSF suddenly taking off into the stratosphere after 2008, when stimulus began, while GDP growth hardly changed its trajectory.
The stimulus programme thus dramatically inflated the amount of debt needed to create a unit of GDP. And given the doubts over the reliability of China’s GDP data, it may well be that the real debt-to-GDP ratio is even higher. These data therefore support the argument that debt servicing is now becoming a major issue for China after a decade of stimulus policies.
One example comes from the FT’s analyses of the debt problems affecting China Rail and China’s vast network of city subways. The FT reported that China has 25,000km of high-speed rail tracks, two-thirds of the world’s total, and that China Rail’s debt burden had reached Rmb5tn — of which around 80 per cent related to high-speed rail construction. Its interest payments have also exceeded its operating profits since at least 2015.
Unsurprisingly, given China’s relative poverty (average disposable income was just $4,266 in 2018), income from ticket sales has been too low even to cover interest payments since 2015. And yet the company is planning to expand capacity to 30,000km of track by 2030, with budgets increased by 10 per cent in 2018 as a result of the decision to boost infrastructure.
The same problem can be seen in city subway construction, where China accounted for 30 per cent of global city rail at the end of last year by track length, but only 25 per cent of ridership, which suggests that some lines may be massively underused and economically unviable.
The issue is not whether this level of investment is justifiable over the longer term in creating the infrastructure required to support growth. Nor is it whether the debt incurred can be repaid over time. Instead, the real question is whether the need to support economic expansion has led to a financially-risky acceleration of the infrastructure programme and whether, in turn, Beijing is now being forced to cover potential losses in order to avoid a series of credit-damaging defaults.
So where does this alternative narrative lead us? It suggests that far from supporting consumer spending, the TSF increase is flagging a growing risk in Asian debt markets — where western investors have rushed to invest in recent years, attracted by the relatively high interest rates compared with those enforced by central banks in their home markets. In 2017, for example, Chinese borrowers raised $211bn in dollar-denominated issuance, at a time when corporate debt levels had already reached 190 per cent of GDP.
This risk is emphasised if we revisit our suggestion here at the end of last year, that data for chemicals output — the best leading indicator for the global economy — was suggesting “that we may now be headed into recession”. More recent data give us no reason to change this conclusion, and therefore highlight the risk that some Chinese debts may prove more equal than others in terms of the degree of state support that they can command. Missed interest and capital repayments are now becoming common among the weaker borrowers.
The performance of China’s producer price index provides additional support for our analysis. As the third chart shows, this is now flirting with a negative reading, suggesting that a decade of over-investment means that China now has a major problem of surplus capacity. This problem will, of course, be exacerbated if demand continues to slow in key areas. In turn, this suggests that the implications of our analysis go beyond Asian markets.
China still remains, after all, the manufacturing capital of the world, and its falling PPI implies that 2019 could see it exporting deflation. This would be exactly the opposite conclusion to that assumed by today’s rallying equity markets, although it would chime with the increasingly downbeat messages coming from global bond markets. Investors may therefore want to revisit their recent euphoria over the level of lending in China, and their new confidence that the so-called “Powell put” can really protect them from today’s global market risks.
Paul Hodges and Daniël de Blocq van Scheltinga publish The pH Report.
Last November, I wrote one of my “most-read posts”, titled Global smartphone recession confirms consumer downturn. The only strange thing was that most people read it several weeks later on 3 January, after Apple announced its China sales had fallen due to the economic downturn.
Why did Apple and financial markets only then discover that smartphone sales were in a downturn led by China? Our November pH Report “Smartphone sales recession highlights economic slowdown‘, had already given detailed insight into the key issues, noting that:
“It also confirms the early warning over weakening end-user demand given by developments in the global chemical industry since the start of the year. Capacity Utilisation was down again in September as end-user demand slowed. And this pattern has continued into early November, as shown by our own Volume Proxy.”
The same phenomenon had occurred before the 2008 Crisis, of course, as described in The Crystal Blog. I wrote regularly here, in the Financial Times and elsewhere about the near-certainty that we were heading for a major financial crisis. Yet very few people took any notice.
And even after the crash, the consensus chose to ignore the demographic explanation for it that John Richardson and I gave in ‘Boom, Gloom and the New Normal: How the Western BabyBoomers are Changing Demand Patterns, Again’.
Nothing seems to change. So here we are again, with the chart showing full-year 2018 smartphone sales, and it is clear that the consumer downturn is continuing:
- 2018 sales at 1.43bn were down 5% versus 2017, with Q4 volume down 6% versus Q4 2017
- Strikingly, low-cost Huawei’s volume was equal to high-priced Apple’s at 206m
- Since 2015, its volume has almost doubled whilst Apple’s has fallen 11%
And this time the financial outlook is potentially worse than in 2008. The tide of global debt built up since 2008 means that the “World faces wave of epic debt defaults” according to the only central banker to forecast the Crisis.
“WALL STREET, WE HAVE A PROBLEM”
So why did Apple shares suddenly crash 10% on 3 January, as the chart shows? Everything that Apple reported was already known. After all, when I wrote in November, I was using published data from Strategy Analytics which was available to anyone on their website.
The answer, unfortunately, is that markets have lost their key role of price discovery. Central banks have deliberately destroyed it with their stimulus programmes, in the belief that a strong stock market will lead to a strong economy. And this has been going on for a long time, as newly released Federal Reserve minutes confirmed last week:
- Back in January 2013, then Fed Governor Jay Powell warned that policies “risked driving securities above fundamental values“
- He went on to warn that the result would be “there is every reason to expect a sharp and painful correction“
- Yet 6 years later, and now Fed Chairman, Powell again rushed to support the stock market last week
- He took the prospect of interest rate rises off the table, despite US unemployment dropping for a record 100 straight months
The result is that few investors now bother to analyse what is happening in the real world.
They believe they don’t need to, as the Fed will always be there, watching their backs. So “Bad News is Good News”, because it means the Fed and other Western central banks will immediately print more money to support stock markets.
And there is even a new concept, ‘Modern Monetary Theory’ (MMT), to justify what they are doing.
THE MAGIC MONEY TREE PROVIDES ALL THE MONEY WE NEED
There are 3 key points that are relevant to the Modern Monetary Theory:
- The Federal government can print its own money, and does this all the time
- The Federal government can always roll over the debt that this money-printing creates
- The Federal government can’t ever go bankrupt, because of the above 2 points
The scholars only differ on one point. One set believes that pumping up the stock market is therefore a legitimate role for the central bank. As then Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke argued in November 2010:
“Higher stock prices will boost consumer wealth and help increase confidence, which can also spur spending. Increased spending will lead to higher incomes and profits that, in a virtuous circle, will further support economic expansion.”
The other set believes instead that government can and should spend as much as they like on social and other programmes:
“MMT logically argues as a consequence that there is no such thing as tax and spend when considering the activity of the government in the economy; there can only be spend and tax.”
The result is that almost nobody talks about debt any more, and the need to repay it. Whenever I talk about this, I am told – as in 2006-8 – that “I don’t understand”. This may be true. But it may instead be true that, as I noted last month:
“Whilst Apple won’t go bankrupt any time soon, weaker companies in its supply chain certainly face this risk – as do other companies dependent on sales in China. And as their sales volumes and profits start to fall, investors similarly risk finding that large numbers of companies with “Triple B” ratings have suddenly been re-rated as “Junk”:
- Bianco Research suggest that 14% of companies in the S&P 1500 are zombies, with their earnings unable to cover interest expenses
- The Bank of International Settlements has already warned that Western central banks stimulus lending means that >10% of US/EU firms currently “rely on rolling over loans as their interest bill exceeds their EBIT. They are most likely to fail as liquidity starts to dry up”.
I fear the coming global recession will expose the wishful thinking behind the magic of the central banks’ money trees.
Last year it was Bitcoin, in 2016 it was the near-doubling in US 10-year interest rates, and in 2015 was the oil price fall. This year, once again, there is really only one candidate for ‘Chart of the Year’ – it has to be the collapse of China’s shadow banking bubble:
- It averaged around $20bn/month in 2008, a minor addition to official lending
- But then it took off as China’s leaders panicked after the 2008 Crisis
- By 2010, it had shot up to average $80bn/month, and nearly doubled to $140bn in 2013
- President Xi then took office and the bubble stopped expanding
- But with Premier Li still running a Populist economic policy, it was at $80bn again in 2017
At that point, Xi took charge of economic policy, and slammed on the brakes. November’s data shows it averaging just $20bn again.
The impact on the global economy has already been immense, and will likely be even greater in 2019 due to cumulative effects. As we noted in this month’s pH Report:
“Xi no longer wants China to be the manufacturing Capital of the world. Instead his China Dream is based on the country becoming a more service-led economy based on the mobile internet. He clearly has his sights on the longer-term and therefore needs to take the pain of restructuring today.
“Financial deleveraging has been a key policy, with shadow bank lending seeing a $609bn reduction YTD November, and Total Social Financing down by $257bn. The size of these reductions has reverberated around Emerging Markets and more recently the West:
- The housing sector has nose-dived, with China Daily reporting that more than 60% of transactions in Tier 1 and 2 cities saw price drops in the normally peak buying month of October, with Beijing prices for existing homes down 20% in 2018
- It also reported last week under the heading ’Property firms face funding crunch’ that “housing developers are under great capital pressure at the moment”
- China’s auto sales, the key to global market growth since 2009, fell 14% in November and are on course for their first annual fall since 1990
- The deleveraging not only reduced import demand for commodities, but also Chinese citizens’ ability to move money offshore into previous property hotspots
- Real estate agents in prime London, New York and other areas have seen a collapse in offshore buying from Hong Kong and China, with one telling the South China Morning Post that “basically all Chinese investors have disappeared “
GLOBAL STOCK MARKETS ARE NOW FEELING THE PAIN
As I warned here in June (Financial markets party as global trade wars begin), the global stock market bubble is also now deflating – as the chart shows of the US S&P 500. It has been powered by central bank’s stimulus policies, as they came to believe their role was no longer just to manage inflation.
Instead, they have followed the path set out by then Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, in November 2010, believing that:
“Higher stock prices will boost consumer wealth and help increase confidence, which can also spur spending. Increased spending will lead to higher incomes and profits that, in a virtuous circle, will further support economic expansion.”
Now, however, we are coming close to the to the point when it becomes obvious that the Fed cannot possibly control the economic fortunes of 325m Americans. Common sense tells us that demographics, not monetary policy, drive demand. Unfortunately, vast amounts of time and money have been wasted by central banks in this failed experiment.
The path back to fiscal sanity will be very hard, due to the debt that has been built up by the stimulus policies. The impartial Congressional Budget Office expects US government debt to rise to $1tn.
Japan – the world’s 3rd largest economy – is the Case Study for the problems likely ahead:
- Consumer spending is 55% of Japan’s GDP. It falls by around a third at age 70+ versus peak spend at 55, as older people already own most of what they need, and are living on a pension
- Its gross government debt is now 2.5x the size of its economy, and with its ageing population (median age will be 48 in 2020), there is no possibility that this debt can ever be repaid
- As the Nikkei Asian Review reported in July, the Bank of Japan’s stimulus programme means it is now a Top 10 shareholder in 40% of Nikkei companies: it is currently spending ¥4.2tn/year ($37bn) buying more shares
- Warning signs are already appearing, with the Nikkei 225 down 12% since its October peak. If global stock markets do now head into a bear market, the Bank’s losses will mount very quickly
CHINA MOVE INTO DEFLATION WILL MAKE DEBT IMPOSSIBLE TO REPAY
Since publishing ‘Boom, Gloom and the New Normal: how the Ageing Boomers are Changing Demand Patterns, Again“, in 2011 with John Richardson, I have argued that the stimulus policies cannot work, as they are effectively trying to print babies. 2019 seems likely to put this view to the test:
- China’s removal of stimulus is being matched by other central banks, who have finally reached the limits of what is possible
- As the chart shows, the end of stimulus has caused China’s Producer Price Inflation to collapse from 7.8% in February 2017
- Analysts Haitong Securities forecast that it will “drop to zero in December and fall further into negative territory in 2019“
China’s stimulus programme was the key driver for the global economy after 2008. Its decision to withdraw stimulus – confirmed by the collapse now underway in housing and auto sales – is already putting pressure on global asset and financial markets:
- China’s lending bubble helped destroy market’s role of price discovery based on supply/demand
- Now the bubble has ended, price discovery – and hence deflation – may now be about to return
- Yet combating deflation was supposed to be the prime purpose of Western central bank stimulus
This is why the collapse in China’s shadow lending is my Chart of the Year.
The chemical industry is the best leading indicator for the global economy. And my visit to Singapore last week confirmed that the downturn underway in the Asian market creates major risks for developed and emerging economies alike.
The problem is focused on China’s likely move into recession, now its stimulus policies are finally being unwound. And the result is shown in the above chart from The pH Report, updated to Friday:
- It confirms that the downturn began before oil prices peaked at the beginning of October, confirming that companies were responding to a downturn in end-user demand
- Since then, of course, the oil price has – rather dramatically – entered a bear market, with prices down by nearly a third
The question now is whether finance directors will choose to aggressively destock ahead of year-end results, to mitigate the volume decline with a decline in working capital. This would be a bold move given continuing geo-political uncertainty in the Middle East, and would also conflict with the more upbeat guidance that was given earlier with Q3 results.
But a review of ICIS news headlines over the past few days suggests they may have little choice. Inventories are described as “piling up” in a wide range of major products, including polyethylene – the biggest volume polymer. Indian producers are even offering “price protection” packages on polypropylene, to safeguard customers from losses if prices fall further.
Asian countries and their major partners (eg Argentina, S Africa, Turkey) were, of course, the first to be hit by China’s downturn. But Q3’s fall in German GDP shows the downturn has now spread to the Western economy that most benefited from China’s post-2008 stimulus bubble. As The Guardian noted:
“Goods exports make up 40% of German GDP – a much bigger proportion than for the next two biggest eurozone economies, France and Italy.”
OIL MARKETS CONFIRM THE RECESSION RISK
Of course, consensus opinion still believes that the US economy is sailing along, regardless of any problems elsewhere. But the chart of oil prices relative to recession tells a different story:
- The problem is that oil prices have been rising since 2016, with the summer proving the final blow-off peak. As always, this meant consumers had to cut back on discretionary spending as costs of transport and heating rose
- The cost of oil as a percentage of GDP reached 3.1% in Q3 – a level which has always led to recession in the past, with the exception of the post-2008 stimulus period when governments and central banks were pouring $tns of stimulus money into the global economy
- In turn, this means a downturn is now beginning in US end-user demand in critical areas such as housing, autos and electronics
Oil markets have therefore provided a classic example of the trading maxim for weak markets – “Buy on the rumour, sell on the news”.
- Prices had risen by 75% since June on supply shortage fears, following President Trump’s decision to exit the Iran nuclear deal on November 4
- As always, this created “apparent demand” as buyers in the US and around the world bought ahead to minimise the impact of higher prices
- But the higher prices also negated the benefit of the earlier tax cuts for his core supporters just ahead of the mid-term elections, causing Trump to undertake a policy u-turn
- He is now pushing Saudi Arabia and Russia to maintain production, and has announced 180-day exemptions for Iran’s 8 largest customers – China, India, S Korea, Japan, Italy, Greece, Taiwan and Turkey.
Understandably, oil traders have now decided that his “bark is worse than his bite“. And with the downturn spreading from Asia to the West, markets are now refocusing on supply/demand balances, with the International Energy Agency suggesting stocks will build by 2mb/d in H1 2019. In response, OPEC are reportedly discussing potential cuts of up to 1.4mb/d from December.
CHINA’S SHADOW BANKING COLLAPSE IS CREATING A NEW FINANCIAL CRISIS
Unfortunately, as in 2008, the collapse in oil prices is coinciding with the end of stimulus policies, particularly in China, as the chart of its shadow bank lending confirms. This has hit demand in two ways, as I discussed earlier this month in the Financial Times:
- Just 3 years ago, it was pumping out an average $140bn/month in mainly property-related lending *
- This created enormous demand for EM commodity exports
- It also boosted global property prices as wealthy Chinese rushed to get their money out of the country
- But during 2018, lending has collapsed by more than 80% to average just $23bn in October
China’s post-2008 stimulus programme was the growth engine for the global economy – with the efforts of the Western central banks very much a sideshow in comparison. It was more than half of the total $33tn lending to date. But now it is unwinding, prompting the Minsky Moment forecast a year ago by China’s central bank governor:
“China’s financial sector is and will be in a period with high risks that are easily triggered. Under pressure from multiple factors at home and abroad, the risks are multiple, broad, hidden, complex, sudden, contagious, and hazardous.”
As I warned then:
“Companies and investors should not ignore the warnings now coming out from Beijing about the change of strategy. China’s lending bubble – particularly in property – is likely coming to an end. In turn, this will lead to a bumpy ride for the global economy.”
The bumps are getting bigger and bigger as we head into recession. Asia’s downturn is now spreading to the rest of the world, and is a major wake-up call for anyone still planning for “business as usual”.
* Lending has major seasonal peaks in Q1, so I use rolling 12 month averages to avoid distortions
Companies and investors are starting to finalise their plans for the coming year. Many are assuming that the global economy will grow by 3% – 3.5%, and are setting targets on the basis of “business as usual”. This has been a reasonable assumption for the past 25 years, as the chart confirms for the US economy:
- US GDP has been recorded since 1929, and the pink shading shows periods of recession
- Until the early 1980’s, recessions used to occur about once every 4 – 5 years
- But then the BabyBoomer-led economic SuperCycle began in 1983, as the average Western Boomer moved into the Wealth Creator 25 – 54 age group that drives economic growth
- Between 1983 – 2000, there was one, very short, recession of 8 months. And that was only due to the first Gulf War, when Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Since then, the central banks have taken over from the Boomers as the engine of growth. They cut interest rates after the 2001 recession, deliberately pumping up the housing and auto markets to stimulate growth. And since the 2008 financial crisis, they have focused on supporting stock markets, believing this will return the economy to stable growth:
- The above chart of the S&P 500 highlights the extraordinary nature of its post-2008 rally
- Every time it has looked like falling, the Federal Reserve has rushed to its support
- First there was co-ordinated G20 support in the form of low interest rates and easy credit
- This initial Quantitative Easing (QE) was followed by QE2 and Operation Twist
- Then there was QE3, otherwise known as QE Infinity, followed by President Trump’s tax cuts
In total, the Fed has added $3.8tn to its balance sheet since 2009, whilst China, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan added nearly $30tn of their own stimulus. Effectively, they ensured that credit was freely available to anyone with a pulse, and that the cost of borrowing was very close to zero. As a result, debt has soared and credit quality collapsed. One statistic tells the story:
“83% of U.S. companies going public in the first nine months of this year lost money in the 12 months leading up to the IPO, according to data compiled by University of Florida finance professor Jay Ritter. Ritter, whose data goes back to 1980, said this is the highest proportion on record. The previous highest rate of money-losing companies going public had been 81% in 2000, at the height of the dot-com bubble.”
And more than 10% of all US/EU companies are “zombies” according to the Bank of International Settlements (the central banks’ bank), as they:
“Rely on rolling over loans as their interest bill exceeds their EBIT (Earnings before Interest and Taxes). They are most likely to fail as liquidity starts to dry up”.
2019 – 2021 BUDGETS NEED TO FOCUS ON KEY RISKS TO THE BUSINESS
For the past 25 years, the Budget process has tended to assume that the external environment will be stable. 2008 was a shock at the time, of course, but time has blunted memories of the near-collapse that occurred. The issue, however, as I noted here in September 2008 is that:
“A long period of stability, such as that experienced over the past decade, eventually leads to major instability.
“This is because investors forget that higher reward equals higher risk. Instead, they believe that a new paradigm has developed, where high leverage and ‘balance sheet efficiency’ should be the norm. They therefore take on high levels of debt, in order to finance ever more speculative investments.”
This is the great Hyman Minsky’s explanation for financial crises and panics. Essentially, it describes how confidence eventually leads to complacency in the face of mounting risks. And it is clear that today, most of the lessons from 2008 have been forgotten. Sadly, it therefore seems only a matter of “when”, not “if”, a new financial crisis will occur.
So prudent companies will prepare for it now, whilst there is still time. You will not be able to avoid all the risks, but at least you won’t suddenly wake up one morning to find panic all around you.
The chart gives my version of the key risks – you may well have your own list:
- Global auto and housing markets already seem to be in decline; world trade rose just 0.2% in August
- Global liquidity is clearly declining, and Western political debate is ever-more polarised
- Uncertainty means that the US$ is rising, and geopolitical risks are becoming more obvious
- Stock markets have seen sudden and “unexpected” falls, causing investors to worry about “return of capital”
- The risks of a major recession are therefore rising, along with the potential for a rise in bankruptcies
Of course, wise and far-sighted leaders may decide to implement policies that will mitigate these risks, and steer the global economy into calmer waters. Then again, maybe our leaders will decide they are “fake news” and ignore them.
Either way, prudent companies and investors may want to face up to these potential risks ahead of time. That is why I have titled this year’s Outlook, ‘Budgeting for the end of “Business as Usual“. As always, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss these issues in more depth.
Please click here to download a copy of all my Budget Outlooks 2007 – 2018.