Heavy Debt Humbles China’s Business Champions, Including the Jewelry Queen

www.wsj.com/articles/heavy-debt-begins-to-crush-chinas-corporate-giants-including-the-jewelry-queen-11562597217

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These are the winners and losers of the commodities crash

Rosamond Hutt, World Economic Forum 1h 701

Commodities have already had a tough 2015 – but earlier this week, prices for everything, from crude oil to industrial metals such as iron ore and copper, plummeted even further.

The sector is contending with the lowest prices since the financial crisis, perhaps even this century. Here is a brief guide to what is happening, how each of the main commodities are faring, and why it matters for global growth.

How bad is this crunch?

Earlier this week, crude oil dipped below $40 a barrel for the first time since 2009. The situation was so dire that the Bloomberg Commodity Index, which covers a wide range of natural resources, dropped to its lowest level since June 1999. After two days of freefall, prices have plateaued, with the oil price managing a brief recovery.

What’s causing the slump?

A combination of oversupply and weak demand have wreaked havoc on the natural resources industry. The growth slowdown in China and other emerging economies such as Brazil has reduced demand for natural resources like steel, iron ore and crude oil. Meanwhile, on the supply side, cheap borrowing costs and a failure to predict China’s slowdown led producers to expand too much in recent years. Now there is a glut that analysts say might continue well into 2016, with prices unable to pick up until global supplies decrease.

Who are the winners and losers?

Falling commodity prices are forcing the world’s mining giants to restructure their businesses in order to stay afloat as they battle declining profits. The market capitalization of the top 40 global mining companies has fallen by nearly $300 billion this year.

The crash is particularly devastating for economies that rely on export earnings from commodities. The oil-producing states of the Middle East, Russia, Brazil and a number of African nations have all been badly affected.

Conversely, in Britain and the Eurozone, low energy prices have benefited both consumers and business.

How are the big commodities faring?

Oil: China has been the biggest driver of oil demand in the past decade, so the country’s economic slowdown means bad news for crude consumption. Traders and investors are concerned that the oversupply will persist, with OPEC producers flooding the market.

Copper: Demand for copper in China has been weaker than expected this year, growing by about 2-3%. The metal fell to a six-year low this month, and is trading below the cost of production. Some analysts are blaming the drop on a slump in Chinese infrastructure investment, especially the power sector, which is one of the biggest consumers of copper.

Aluminium: The market for aluminium is oversupplied – global supplies rose more than 10.3% in the first half of the year. Meanwhile prices are trading at the lowest level in six years. China is also switching from being a customer to a producer of the metal, which is putting pressure on Western producers.

Iron ore: This base metal has done better than other commodities over the past few months. It hit a record low in July but has since recovered about 25% thanks to a reduction in exports from Brazil and Australia. However, supply continues to outweigh demand.

Gold: The precious metal has slipped 9% this year and is on track for its third year of losses. Traditionally gold has been viewed as a safe haven for investors, but analysts are watching carefully to see how prices will react to a predicted rise in US interest rates.

Read the original article on World Economic Forum. Copyright 2015.

Deflation is making China’s debt mountain even more terrifying Business Insider  / Mike Bird

China’s inflation figures just hit a five-year low. Price growth is falling for consumers, and companies producing goods are already recording sharp deflation.

Why does it matter? One simple reason: debt. 

China’s debts as a proportion of GDP climbed to 245% in 2014 from 144% in 2007. That debt is worth one entire Chinese economy’s total output for a year, accumulated in just seven years. That’s a lot, and it puts the country in a pretty grim situation.

Here’s how it looks:

Debt was actually falling as a portion of GDP for the few years running up to the financial crisis before rapidly picking up afterward.

Deflation and lower inflation only make that worse. What matters for reducing your debts is nominal growth. 

The economic growth figures that you usually see strip out the effect of inflation. Nominal GDP doesn’t do that: It is a simple measure of how much money is in the economy without trying to remove the effect of rising or falling prices, and it’s very important for debt.

Michael Pettis, one of the most authoritative voices in the world on the Chinese economy, explained this during the most recent round of Chinese inflation data (emphasis ours): 

For nearly two decades, when nominal GDP growth was as high as 20-21% and the GDP deflator at 8-10%, (economists use a deflator to remove the effect of inflation) even if they were horribly mismanaged the nominal value of assets soared relative to debt … Under those conditions it was pretty easy to ignore debt costs, and even easier to pick up very bad investment habits. Now that nominal GDP growth has dropped to around 8-10%, and could be substantially lower in a deflationary environment even if growth did not continue to decline, as I expect it will, those bad habits have become brutally expensive.

In short, it’s easy to keep borrowing if your income is growing by a fifth every year, but those habits (and your existing debts) are a lot harder to deal with if that falls to one-tenth, or one-twentieth. Your debts are suddenly not being inflated and grown away as they previously were. That’s what’s happening in China, and the lower both inflation and growth fall, the worse that will get.

Copper Caps Worst Year Since 2011 as China’s Economy Cools

Copper Caps Worst Year Since 2011 as China’s Economy Cools
By Agnieszka de Sousa and Joe Deaux – Dec 31, 2014, 1:34:50 PM

Copper capped the biggest annual loss in three years in London amid signs of an economic slowdown in China, the world’s largest metals consumer.

The final reading this month for the manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index for China from HSBC Holdings Plc and Markit Economics came in at 49.6, the lowest in seven months. A figure below 50 signifies contraction. China is on course for the slowest year of economic growth since 1990, according to a Bloomberg survey. Copper dropped 14 percent this year amid prospects for fading demand from the Asian nation.

“The biggest stumbling block is you have China certainly slowing down,” Tai Wong, the director of commodity products trading at BMO Capital Markets Corp. in New York, said in a telephone interview. “If people have trades that they want to put on for the start of 2015, buying copper doesn’t seem to be one of them.”

Copper for delivery in three months on the London Metal Exchange fell 0.4 percent to settle at $6,300 a metric ton ($2.86 a pound) at 2:50 p.m. The drop this year was the biggest drop since a 21 percent loss in 2011.

The global copper market is poised to swing to a surplus of 139,000 tons next year from an estimated 128,000-ton deficit this year on more output from mines, according to RBC Capital Markets. Slowing demand in China could push the market into a bigger surplus in 2015, RBC analyst Fraser Phillips said in a report last week.

Copper stockpiles tracked by the LME rose 2.8 percent to 177,025 tons, the highest since May, data showed today. Inventories are down 52 percent this year, the biggest decline in a decade.

Aluminum, lead and zinc were also lower in London, while nickel and tin advanced. The LMEX index of six metals fell 7.8 percent this year.

In New York, copper futures for March delivery declined 1 percent to $2.8255 a pound on the Comex, closing down 17 percent for 2014. Trading was 54 percent below the average of the past 100 days for this time, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

To contact the reporters on this story: Agnieszka de Sousa in London at atroszkiewic@bloomberg.net; Joe Deaux in New York at jdeaux@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Millie Munshi at mmunshi@bloomberg.net Joe Richter

More articles on london

China Offers Russia Help With Currency Swap Suggestion By Bloomberg News – Dec 22, 2014, 2:35:41 AM

Two Chinese ministers offered support for Russia as President Vladimir Putin seeks to shore up support for the ruble without depleting foreign-exchange reserves.

China will provide help if needed and is confident Russia can overcome its economic difficulties, Foreign Minister Wang Yi was cited as saying in Bangkok in a Dec. 20 report by Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV. Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said expanding a currency swap between the two nations and making increased use of yuan for bilateral trade would have the greatest impact in aiding Russia, according to the broadcaster.

The ruble strengthened 4.1 percent against the dollar today amid the signs of willingness by China, the world’s second-largest economy, to prop up its neighbor. Russia, the biggest energy exporter, saw its currency tumble as much as 59 percent this year as crude oil prices slumped and U.S. and European sanctions hurt the economy. President Xi Jinping last month called for China to adopt “big-country diplomacy” as he laid out goals for elevating his nation’s status.

“Many Chinese people still view Russia as the big brother, and the two countries are strategically important to each other,” said Jin Canrong, Associate Dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing, referring to the Soviet Union’s backing of Communist China in its first years. “For the sake of national interests, China should deepen cooperation with Russia when such cooperation is in need.”

Swap Line

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, right, before their meeting at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing, China, on Nov. 9, 2014. Photographer: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images
China and Russia signed a three-year currency-swap line of 150 billion yuan ($24 billion) in October, an agreement that can be expanded with the consent of both parties. The People’s Bank of China published a chart detailing how such an agreement works in a microblog dated Dec. 19 and the official People’s Daily newspaper said today that the explanation was provided to address concerns the nation could suffer losses if Russia used the facility to obtain funds.

“As all we pay out and receive in return are renminbi, we don’t have to bear exchange-rate risks,” the PBOC said in the microblog, using an alternative name for the yuan. The swap amount can be adjusted to allow for changing circumstances and prevailing exchange rates, rather than pre-determined, are used, it said.

China is promoting the yuan as an alternative to the dollar for global trade and finance and the PBOC has signed currency-swap agreements with 28 other central banks to encourage this. The nation’s foreign-exchange reserves of $3.89 trillion are the world’s largest and compare with Russia’s $374 billion.

“Irreplaceable Partner”

“Russia is an irreplaceable strategic partner on the international stage,” according to an editorial today in the Global Times, a Beijing-based daily affiliated with the Communist Party. “China must take a proactive attitude in helping Russia walk out of the current crisis.”

Still, “China’s help for Russia will be limited,” the editorial said. While China can offer capital, technical and market support, it can’t address Russia’s economic structure and excessive reliance on energy exports, the editorial said.

China signed a three-decade, $400 billion deal to buy Russian gas earlier this year. Oil imports from Russia hit an all-time high in November, according to China’s General Administration of Customs.

Russia isn’t in talks with China about any financial aid, said Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Putin, on Dec. 20.

Argentina

Russia wouldn’t be the first country in financial strife to turn to China for support this year. Argentina’s central bank utilized a cross-currency swap with the PBOC to stem a slide in the peso, which dropped 24 percent against the greenback this year as the government defaulted on dollar bonds. The peso has weakened 0.3 percent this month following a similar decline in November.

A similar move by Russia could help stabilize the ruble, according to Jan Dehn, the London-based head of research at Ashmore Group Plc, which manages about $70 billion in emerging-market assets. It would also bolster Chinese efforts to make the yuan a global reserve currency, he wrote in a Dec. 18 report.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Fion Li in Hong Kong at fli59@bloomberg.net; Xin Zhou in Beijing at xzhou68@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: James Regan at jregan19@bloomberg.net Malcolm Scott

The Musk Family Plan for Transforming the World’s Energy

It’s all about ending Global Warming.

So buy a Tesla and install a Solar City panel on your house to support an end to Global Warming

Hedge against Electricity BlackOuts from storms like Hurricane Sandy or Hot Summers.

By CHRISTOPHER MIMS
Elon Musk and his cousin, Lyndon Rive, have always been close. Their mothers are twins, and Messrs. Musk and Rive grew up together.
“We’ve known each other for as long as we’ve been conscious,” said Mr. Musk, speaking at a panel this week at a private conference in New York.
There is an obvious, almost brotherly affection between the two men. Mr. Musk says Mr. Rive “is an awesome guy and really hardworking and driven, and you can trust him with anything.” And when Mr. Rive recounts the drive to Burning Man in 2004 when Mr. Musk told him his next venture should be in solar power, Mr. Rive says that when Mr. Musk tells you what area to get into next, you get into it.
Their closeness continues, and if Messrs. Musk and Rive can achieve their shared vision, the result will be a transformation of the world’s, or at least America’s, energy infrastructure.
The companies the two men run—Tesla Motors Inc. and solar energy system provider SolarCity Corp.—are uniquely compatible. It isn’t just a product of the affiliation of their founders, but is also a consequence of Mr. Musk sitting on the board of SolarCity and being its largest individual shareholder.
Tesla makes cars, but it also—in the not too distant future—will make batteries. Lots of them. Tesla is building a $5 billion “gigafactory” in Nevada for batteries, one so large that it will, says Mr. Musk, be larger than the whole of earth’s current capacity for manufacturing lithium-ion batteries, most of which currently go into phones, tablets, laptops and other mobile devices.
At the conference Wednesday, Mr. Musk disclosed that a portion of the gigafactory’s capacity will be set aside for building “grid-scale storage.”
In other words, Tesla is going to continue its tradition of manufacturing battery packs for SolarCity, only on a much grander scale.
Up to now, SolarCity has sold Tesla-built battery packs to a handful of corporate and residential customers. The rationale is simple: The sun doesn’t always shine, so the best way to manage solar power on-site is to save it up for cloudy days and overnight.
SolarCity’s revenue has been growing 100% a year since its founding in 2006, and Mr. Rive says his goal is to maintain that pace for as long as possible. To that end, SolarCity announced in June the acquisition of Silevo, a Silicon Valley-based maker of solar panels that Mr. Rive insists is capable of producing at scale the most efficient solar panels on the market.
Mr. Musk said that while his gigafactory won’t exclusively sell grid-storage batteries to SolarCity, conversations with the company are “our best feedback as to deciding what the product would look like.”
Mr. Musk went even further, describing “the product” as a bank of batteries that “looks good,” is about 4-inches thick and can be mounted on the wall of the garage in a home.
Thanks to the economies of scale that will come from Tesla’s gigafactory, within 10 years every solar system that SolarCity sells will come with a battery-storage system, says Mr. Rive, and it will still produce energy cheaper than what is available from the local utility company.
Mr. Musk also noted that in any future in which a country switches fully to electric cars, its electricity consumption will roughly double. That could either mean more utilities, and more transmission lines, or a rollout of solar—exactly the sort that SolarCity hopes for.
America’s solar energy generating capacity has grown at around 40% a year, says Mr. Rive. “So if you just do the math, at 40% growth in 10 years time that’s 170 gigawatts a year,” says Mr. Rive. That’s equivalent to the electricity consumption of about 5 million homes, which is still “not that much,” he says, when compared with overall demand for electricity. “It’s almost an infinite market in our lifetimes.”
There are almost innumerable barriers to the realization of Messrs. Musk and Rive’s plan. For Tesla, there is the possibility that a superior battery technology could come to market soon after Tesla and its partner, Panasonic Corp., build their gigafactory, rendering their $5 billion investment obsolete. And SolarCity has almost the exact same problem with its ambition to build its own solar panels. While Mr. Rive says that Silevo’s technology is “next generation” and can compete with the cheap panels that China has been exporting to the rest of the world, the oughts are littered with the carcasses of U.S. solar panel manufacturers who claimed they could do the same, including Solyndra Inc.
And while this is a threat to shareholders rather than his aims, there is also the risk that Mr. Musk will find other, more efficient routes to reaching his stated goals, which include moving the world onto electric transport and solar power generation as quickly as possible.
For example, when asked whether or not the U.S. should erect trade barriers designed to protect American solar-panel manufacturers, Mr. Musk said: “If the Chinese government wants to subsidize the rollout of solar power in America, OK, it is kind of like ‘thank you’ is what we should be saying.” And in a subsequent interview at The Wall Street Journal’s offices in New York, Mr. Musk emphasized that “the reason I created Tesla was to accelerate the transition to sustainable transport. And I made that clear to investors.”
Despite the dumping of solar panels by China representing a substantial threat to SolarCity’s $750 million bet on Silevo—which includes a $350 million acquisition cost and an estimated $400 million to build a solar panel manufacturing plant in Buffalo, N.Y.—Mr. Rive agrees with Mr. Musk that there should be no barriers to trade in solar panels.
“Any extra tax on solar is just bad,” says Mr. Rive. “We have a big problem to solve—let’s solve that problem.”
That “big problem” is climate change. And Mr. Rive has been no less public than Mr. Musk about the purpose of his company being more than turning a profit. It’s one more thing their companies—and the two men—have in common.
—Follow Christopher Mims on Twitter @Mims or write to him at christopher.mims@wsj.com.
Christopher Mims