Throughout China’s history, northern rulers struggled to effectively control those to the south and west of them. The varied ethnicities, topography, and economies of China meant that no ruler was able to retain absolute power for long. Due to relative global peace and globalisation since WW2, the Communist Party of China (CCP) has been able to maintain control by bribing the masses with employment.
Rich people don’t have kids. As a result, after the baby boom in the mid-20th century, the global developed and developing population rate has fallen or will soon fall below the replacement rate. The replacement rate is defined as a woman birthing 2.1 children over her productive lifetime. Africa is the one exception, but unfortunately their consumption power cannot replace dying first-world consumers.
Xi Jinping’s mission to solidify the political base of the Communist Party of China occurs at a time when global demand for goods is falling, wages in China are rising, and the population is aging. Any perceived threat to the continuation of the CCP’s rule cannot be tolerated. 99% of humans aren’t communist, capitalist or any other “ist”, they are hungry.
China must feed its billion plus population by providing employment. Without employment, young men transform from docile workers to cannon fodder for skilled orators and politicians.
These trends explain why this year’s National Congress is of extreme importance. Calm must be maintained at all costs. However, internal monetary pressures continue to build.
Grandma Yellen unleashed another 0.25% rate hike last week. She also did not alter the forward guidance. Another two rate hikes are expected this year, and some analysts believe the Fed could and should increase the pace of hikes.
The Fed should raise rates faster while the market shrugs them off. The S&P 500, which is the only economic indicator of importance, has not reacted negatively to rising rates. Yellen has cover to raise more aggressively. The higher rates go now, the more they can be cut when the next financial crisis strikes.
For China, USD interest rate normalisation puts increasing pressure on the CNY. In a normal year, this would not be an issue. The PBOC could raise rates onshore, or allow the CNY to weaken. However the directive is for a calm period before the National Congress.
The PBOC can’t materially tighten rates onshore lest they pop the gargantuan property bubble. The Chinese property market is a government sanctioned ponzi scheme. Developers, which are some of the most valuable companies in China, borrow money from financially repressed savers. The developers then purchase land from local governments, who “buy” land from their peasant subjects at below market rates.
The developer must build, sell, and refinance before the bill comes due for past loans. Should rates rise materially, developers will be forced to dump inventory en masse.
Over 70% of household wealth is trapped in property. Each time it appears that Beijing will allow the market to correct, they relent in the face of sure losses from a wide swath of the population.
Tiananmen Square essentially was an inflation inspired middle class protest against the CCP. However in 1989, the middle class were mostly teachers, in 2017 they are hundreds of millions of property punters. Impoverish them, and the CCP will see its mandate to rule evaporate.
The second option of a material currency devaluation is also off the table for the time being. A 20% to 30% one-off devaluation is needed. However, an action of that magnitude would portray China’s economy as both weak internally and externally. A perceived “weak” China will not be tolerated while the new leadership ascends.
A recent Bloomberg article illustrates that Xi Jinping is not relenting in his dive to tame China.
For the first time local party committees are using “negative lists” — including everything from bribe-taking to involvement with illegal construction projects — to screen delegations to the 19th Party Congress, which will set China’s political hierarchy for the next five years. A front-page article endorsing the moves in the party’s flagship People’s Daily newspaper Monday showed the push has support from the highest levels.
The negative lists — a concept often associated with trade negotiations in which anything not specifically mentioned is allowed — gives Xi yet another tool to shape the key party gathering in Beijing. While no date has been set, it’s expected to occur in the second half of the year.
The twice-a-decade congress is crucial for Xi to secure lasting influence beyond 2022, when his own tenure would be expected to end. At this year’s meeting, 11 of 25 Politburo members — including five of seven members on its supreme Standing Committee — could be replaced.
Mandated by the PBOC, the large exchanges are implementing new KYC and AML policies. Certain accounts must now travel in person to the exchanges’ offices for physical checks of identity. If followed, this will make client onboarding expensive and extremely bureaucratic. The end result will be less people trading on exchange, and more trading on OTC platforms such as LocalBitcoins.
I believe that withdrawals will not resume until after the National Congress and a subsequent CNY devaluation. However, a recent notice from Huobi implies an imminent lifting of the withdrawal ban. To withdraw Bitcoin, clients must state and prove where the coins will go, and state the purpose of the withdrawal. Responses such as “I want to escape a weak CNY” will certainly not fly.
True to form, the government is saddling exchanges with needless bureaucracy to bankrupt those with weak balance sheets. The PBOC will keep inventing new KYC / AML policies until they are ready to allow Bitcoin to be freely traded again.
Unfortunately Chinese comrades aren’t stupid. They recognise the perilous state of the economy and still hold Bitcoin IOU’s on exchanges. The expected stampede for the exits by selling Bitcoin to withdraw CNY has not happened en masse. Held long enough, this Bitcoin IOU could protect wealth against the imminent devaluation. This is one reason why the price still hovers around $1,000.