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China Giving Off Lehman Brothers Energy Across The Economy – Forbes

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The extreme heat engulfing parts of China is a painfully apt metaphor for the economic temperature in Beijing.

The headlines of recent days can smack of cooling. Case in point: Asia’s biggest economy grew just 0.4% in the April-June quarter from a year ago. It was below forecasts of 1% and a world away from the 5.5% 2022 target.

But it’s the overheating risks emanating from China’s debt markets that are dominating investors’ attention. Some of the most extreme heat is being felt by China Evergrande Group and other property developers facing a mutiny among homeowners.

The problem: many Chinese took out huge mortgages for properties that remain unfinished. Homebuyers are either refusing to make payments or threatening to. This bubble has a number of economists worried China is giving off strong Lehman Brothers vibes as growth grinds to a halt.

Minxin Pei, China expert at Claremont McKenna College notes that confidence in the stability of mainland banks has been “badly shaken” by the failure of several small banks in Henan Province in April.

Since 2008-2009, when the Lehman crisis rocked the global financial system, China has been on a debt binge to support growth. Lots of it was issued by local governments far away from the real seat of power in Beijing. “Many have wondered how long the party could go on,” Pei explains.

Diana Choyleva at Enodo Economics points to another warning sign that things are amiss the globe’s biggest trading nation: mass bank protests in the city of Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of Henan, in recent months in response to accounts being frozen.

This pushback by “bank depositors demanding their life savings back and condemning government corruption is another manifestation of the huge challenges Beijing faces at present,” Choyleva says. “In China, whose citizens have no chance to express views through the ballot box, domestic bank runs can signal falling confidence in the system Xi tops.”

Clearly, investors betting on Japan-like reckoning in China haven’t made money these last 13-14 years. Time and time again, Communist Party leaders managed to steer China away from the rocks. Beijing did so by pushing China’s debt-to-GDP ratio to the verge of 265%.

Short-sellers who stepped forward to bet against Chinese government debt or the yuan over the last dozen years ended up closing those trades. Here, think hedge fund manager Kyle Bass, founder of Dallas-based Hayman Capital.

But China’s debt challenge is now colliding with two big threats, one from abroad and one homemade.

The first is a global inflation surge forcing the Federal Reserve to make its biggest tightening moves since the early 1990s. The second is President Xi Jinping’s “zero-Covid” lockdowns, which are backfiring—and fast.

For China, any gross domestic product reading under 4% arguably puts the economy in recession territory. Not only is a new Covid-19 wave weighing on China’s outlook, but so is a diminishing returns dynamic that could reduce the power of fresh Chinese stimulus.

More than a decade of generating growth with massive infrastructure projects, many funded at the local government level, has left China with fewer productive projects to order up. Over time, the economic payoff weakens, increasing the costs to broader society.

As Xinquan Chen, economist at Goldman Sachs puts it: “Funds are less of a constraint for infrastructure investment this year, while the bottlenecks lie mainly with project pipelines and government incentives.”

And then there’s Charlene Chu, an economist well known for spotlighting China’s bubble troubles when she was with Fitch Ratings. Now with Autonomous Research, Chu has two big worries about Xi’s economy.

The immediate one is another cycle of Evergrande-like defaults as growth flatlines. The People’s Bank of China could surely try to open the monetary floodgates to avoid contagion. At some point, questions about which companies are too big to fail will pivot to whether they’re too big to save.

The longer-term problem is how debt becomes an intensifying headwind for China’s $17 trillion economy. In a recent appearance on the One Decision Podcast, Chu said “we continue to be in a climate where the Chinese government is growing credit at very, very rapid rates. And longer term, this does have a cost.”

Even if China doesn’t crash anytime soon, Chu says, the debt burden “does start to squeeze overall economic growth. The more you saddle households and businesses with debt the more each dollar or RMB of revenue or income they get from wages is going to repay debt. And that’s not going to consume goods, it’s not going to new capital expenditure to drive growth and business.”

China, Chu notes, “is in a situation now where the debt bubble continues to grow and it is I think one of the structural issues that is weighing on Chinese growth.” She adds that it’s “one of the reasons why we think we are entering an area here where we are going to be looking at low to mid-single-digit growth in China at best as the country really starts to slow down from this.”

Many bearish short-sellers will attest that Xi’s government is skilled at confounding the naysayers. Yet his financial rescue team really has its work cut out as Lehman comparisons make the rounds in investment circles.

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How Saskatchewan's economy is being boosted by summer events – CTV News Regina

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As summer events draw crowds of people together again, Saskatchewan’s economy is feeling the benefit.

This year’s Queen City Exhibition (QCX) broke all previous attendance records with 278,306 people walking through the gates.

The Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL) said the fair carried a $12.8 million economic impact.

“Any time you bring new dollars to our community such as the ride operators, the food operators and folks from rural Saskatchewan or western Canada that come to join, that drives hotel nights, restaurant nights and bar nights which has a significant impact on our visitor economy,” Tim Reid, the CEO and president of REAL, said.

Reid said organizers focused on a few things to make this year’s fair a bigger success, including investing in higher quality entertainment. The Jason Derulo concert drew the largest crowd ever for a Queen City Ex show.

“We saw airport numbers go up because people were flying in to watch Jason Derulo. We saw travel numbers go up because people were coming here for the rodeo,” Reid said.

“When we do events that draw a market beyond Regina, that means that it helps our economy.”

During the same weekend as the Queen City Ex, the Regina Folk Festival was taking place in Victoria Park.

Final attendance numbers aren’t calculated yet but Amber Goodwyn, the festival’s artistic director, said the turn out was “amazing.”

“People came out. People really missed this festival for three years,” Goodwyn said. “The festival this year was on par with previous festivals.”

Goodwyn said the festival provides a boost to a number of sectors of the local economy.

“We’ve got hundreds of volunteers, stage technicians, crews, suppliers, restaurants, all the companies that build the infrastructure,” she explained.

“It’s really important, especially for the entertainment industry aspect who were on pause for essentially three years. People are just so happy to get back to work.”

PROVINCIAL TOURISM RAMPING UP

According to Tourism Saskatchewan, the province is rebounding from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re continuing to come back from 2020 especially, but last year we saw a small recovery and this year we’re seeing even stronger growth,” Jonathan Potts, the CEO of Tourism Saskatchewan, said.

“Some parts of the industry are seeing really strong numbers, even stronger than pre-pandemic. Others are still trying to catch up to where they were before.”

Hotel occupancy is one area where things are climbing.

“In 2019, our hotel occupancy in the summer was in the 60-65 per cent range. We’re actually, in many parts of the province, doing better than that right now,” Potts said.

Camping numbers are down slightly from last year, but remain strong, according to Potts.

Meanwhile, summer events have been hit or miss for drawing people in.

“It’s been quite uneven,” Potts said. He added that while Queen City Ex saw a record breaking year, not all events have had the same turn out.

“Some other events, they’ve seen a little softer numbers than they would historically but it’s the first full year back for them so they’re rebuilding and it’s great to see them back and generating revenue again.”

Tourism Saskatchewan said American hunters and anglers are starting to return again, providing a boost in cash flow.

“It’s such an important part of the economy, particularly in places like northern Saskatchewan, so it’s just beneficial for a lot of people to see those American visitors come back because they do spend a lot of money,” Potts said.

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Taiwan's Economy Could Take Serious Damage if China Trade Hit Persists – Bloomberg

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Taiwan’s Economy Could Take Serious Damage if China Trade Hit Persists  Bloomberg



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In an Unequal Economy, the Poor Face Inflation Now and Job Loss Later – The New York Times

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For Theresa Clarke, a retiree in New Canaan, Conn., the rising cost of living means not buying Goldfish crackers for her disabled daughter because a carton costs $11.99 at her local Stop & Shop. It means showering at the YMCA to save on her hot water bill. And it means watching her bank account dwindle to $50 because, as someone on a fixed income who never made much money to start with, there aren’t many other places she can trim her spending as prices rise.

“There is nothing to cut back on,” she said.

Jordan Trevino, 28, who recently took a better paying job in advertising in Los Angeles with a $100,000 salary, is economizing in little ways — ordering a cheaper entree when out to dinner, for example. But he is still planning a wedding next year and a honeymoon in Italy.

And David Schoenfeld, who made about $250,000 in retirement income and consulting fees last year and has about $5 million in savings, hasn’t pared back his spending. He has just returned from a vacation in Greece, with his daughter and two of his grandchildren.

“People in our group are not seeing this as a period of sacrifice,” said Mr. Schoenfeld, who lives in Sharon, Mass., and is a member of a group called Responsible Wealth, a network of rich people focused on inequality that pushes for higher taxes, among other stances. “We notice it’s expensive, but it’s kind of like: I don’t really care.”

Higher-income households built up savings and wealth during the early stages of the pandemic as they stayed at home and their stocks, houses and other assets rose in value. Between those stockpiles and solid wage growth, many have been able to keep spending even as costs climb. But data and anecdotes suggest that lower-income households, despite the resilient job market, are struggling more profoundly with inflation.

That divergence poses a challenge for the Federal Reserve, which is hoping that higher interest rates will slow consumer spending and ease pressure on prices across the economy. Already, there are signs that poorer families are cutting back. If richer families don’t pull back as much — if they keep going on vacations, dining out and buying new cars and second homes — many prices could keep rising. The Fed might need to raise interest rates even more to bring inflation under control, and that could cause a sharper slowdown.

In that case, poorer families will almost certainly bear the brunt again, because low-wage workers are often the first to lose hours and jobs. The bifurcated economy, and the policy decisions that stem from it, could become a double whammy for them, inflicting higher costs today and unemployment tomorrow.

“That’s the perfect storm, if unemployment increases,” said Mark Brown, chief executive of West Houston Assistance Ministries, which provides food, rental assistance and other forms of aid to people in need. “So many folks are so very close to the edge.”

America’s poor have spent part of the savings they amassed during coronavirus lockdowns, and their wages are increasingly struggling to keep up with — or falling behind — price increases. Because such a big chunk of their budgets is devoted to food and housing, lower-income families have less room to cut back before they have to stop buying necessities. Some are taking on credit card debt, cutting back on shopping and restaurant meals, putting off replacing their cars or even buying fewer groceries.

But while lower-income families spend more of each dollar they earn, the rich and middle classes have so much more money that they account for a much bigger share of spending in the overall economy: The top two-fifths of the income distribution account for about 60 percent of spending in the economy, the bottom two-fifths about 22 percent. That means the rich can continue to fuel the economy even as the poor pull back, a potential difficulty for policymakers.

The Federal Reserve has been lifting interest rates rapidly since March to try to slow consumer spending and raise the cost of borrowing for companies, which will in turn lead to fewer business expansions, less hiring and slower wage growth. The goal is to slow the economy enough to lower inflation but not so much that it causes a painful recession.

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Officials at West Houston Assistance Ministries said its food bank served 200 households on Friday.Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

But job growth accelerated unexpectedly in July, with wages climbing rapidly. Consumer spending, adjusted for inflation, has cooled, but Americans continue to open their wallets for vacations, restaurant meals and other services. If solid demand and tight labor market conditions continue, they could help to keep inflation rapid and make it more difficult for the Fed to cool the economy without continuing its string of quick rate increases. That could make widespread layoffs more likely.

“The one, singular worry is the jobs market — if demand is constrained to the point that companies have to start laying off workers, that’s what hits Main Street,” said Nela Richardson, chief economist at the job market data provider ADP. “That’s what hits low-income workers.”

Lower-income people are already hurting. Mr. Brown’s organization has seen more requests for help in recent months, he said, as local families fall behind on their bills. The size of the typical request has gone up, too, from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. And he has noticed financial pain creeping up the income spectrum.

Mr. Brown’s observations are backed up by government data: About 12 percent of households reported they were struggling to get enough to eat in early July, up from about 10 percent at the beginning of the year, according to the Census Bureau.

Families can’t easily cut back what they spend on rent, gas or electricity as those prices climb, said Brian Greene, chief executive of the Houston Food Bank, which provides food to Mr. Brown’s organization and other charities across the region. So they cut back on food.

“Food insecurity isn’t about food,” Mr. Greene said. “Food insecurity is about income.”

Many poorer families’ incomes held up relatively well early in the pandemic because government aid — expanded unemployment benefits, stimulus checks and other programs — helped offset lost wages when businesses shut down. Then, as the economy reopened, pay soared for restaurant workers, delivery drivers and other low-wage workers.

But pandemic aid programs have ended and wage growth is slowing in many sectors — average hourly earnings in leisure and hospitality, which rose rapidly last year, actually fell in July from a month earlier for rank-and-file workers. Prices have risen so fast that even unusually quick wage growth has failed to keep up.

Travelers at Kennedy International Airport in New York. If richer people keep going on vacations, dining out and buying new cars, many prices could keep rising.
Gus Powell for The New York Times

The gaping divide between the rich and the poor in this inflationary moment is clear in corporate earnings calls. At Boot Barn, a Western wear retailer, sales of men’s Western boots were down in the first quarter, but sales of higher-priced exotic skin boots picked up. At LVMH, which owns luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany, American revenues have been growing strongly, while at Walmart, customers are pulling back as they struggle to afford basic necessities, particularly food, which has run up sharply in price.

“This is affecting customers’ ability to spend on general merchandise categories and requiring more markdowns to move through the inventory, particularly apparel,” Walmart said in its July 25 guidance.

It’s not just apparel: Consumers across the economy are buying less milk and fewer eggs, as prices for those products rise significantly, according to an analysis of government figures by Michelle Meyer, chief U.S. economist for Mastercard. Yet they are also going out to eat at restaurants more often.

The fissures are clear in the car market. Demand for new cars, which generally sell to higher-income buyers, has remained strong and prices continue to soar amid supply shortages — putting upward pressure on inflation. But used-car demand is ebbing and prices have begun to depreciate again.

“We see bifurcation in many parts of the economy and the auto market,” Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Cox Automotive, said in an interview. “The new vehicle buyer has shown much less price sensitivity.”

Housing is another realm where fates have diverged. Home costs have run up sharply since the pandemic and mortgages are now more expensive, making buying unaffordable for many families. Because would-be buyers can’t afford homes, they are renting, keeping apartments for lease in short supply and pushing rents ever higher. Those soaring rents hit lower-income households especially hard: Roughly six in 10 people in the bottom quarter of earners rent their homes.

By contrast, homeowners have both seen their houses rise in value and often enjoy a built-in inflation hedge, since many refinanced their mortgages and locked in low monthly payments when rates were low in 2020 and 2021.

“The haves are really comfortable right now,” said Nicole Bachaud, an economist from Zillow, also noting that “we’re going to see this gap getting wider between people who are homeowners and people who are probably never going to be homeowners.”

Jamie Kelter Davis for The New York Times

Ms. Clarke, the New Canaan retiree, recently got off the wait list for an affordable apartment for herself and her 24-year-old daughter, who has autism and cannot work. Their new unit has just one bedroom, but it is clean and has new appliances, and at about $1,350 a month, she can squeeze it into her budget.

The lease lasts only a year, however, and Ms. Clarke is worried about finding somewhere to live if it isn’t renewed. Even now, she is barely making ends meet: She lost her car keys recently and had to spend nearly $500 replacing them, wiping out nearly all her small rainy-day fund and leaving her one crisis away from financial disaster.

“When you don’t have money, you’re on a fixed income, you’re constantly thinking, ‘Well, maybe I shouldn’t have bought that,’” she said. “There’s no cushion. There really never was.”

More financially secure families also face headwinds, of course, which could eventually prompt them to slow down spending. The cash savings they built up during the pandemic won’t last forever, and rising prices could prompt many households to pull back their spending.

And swooning stock markets could prompt richer families, who tend to have more money invested, to spend less than they otherwise would. Some economists think that the people in this demographic have mostly kept spending recently — despite their falling economic confidence — because they are eager to take vacations that they had put off earlier in the pandemic.

“Where I’m budgeting, it’s to make room for travel,” said Mr. Trevino of Los Angeles. “I feel like I’ve missed out on that a little bit.”

Economists have speculated that richer consumers’ resilience could fade as autumn approaches and they take stock of their finances amid a slowing economy. But for now, the reality that America’s wealthier consumers have yet to sharply pull back in the face of rising prices may be setting up a tough road ahead for the nation’s poorer ones.

“We really, in a way, haven’t noticed the inflation very much,” Mr. Schoenfeld said. “This economy is very unfair.”

Jason Karaian contributed reporting.

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