Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Asian Flu

In the past few days we have received confirmation that our thesis regarding Asia is playing out rapidly. The data come from Japan and Korea - both heavily industrialized exporters and relatively open societies. While we have been very bearish on Asian economies here at Financial Jenga, the rapid pace of the implosion even surprises us.

Japan will soon report 4th quarter GDP and the estimates are moving fast - an in a really frightening manner. Bloomberg reports that Barclays now is estimating that Japan's economy contracted at over 12% annualized in Q4. This would be the worst result since the Arab oil embargo of 1974. Korea reported a similarly disastrous result for November industrial production. The YoY decline of 14.1% was the worst on record - with data going back to 1970. Understand that the textbook definition of depression is a 10% fall in GDP - and both Japan and Korea are already on pace to do so in a year or less.

We do not yet have any numbers this bad from China but we should not expect to see them for some time. China's economy possessed tremendous momentum entering the current crisis and that will have to bleed off before the damage becomes apparent on a macro scale. Also, China's government is still rather secretive and probably will attempt to hide the extent of the declines. However, we are getting industrial production numbers showing that December was the fifth straight month of decline.

Once again, Bloomberg reports that industrial output is slowing and the pace of layoff is increasing. The problem is that order also continue to fall so this is not an inventory correction as the head of the People's Bank of China would suggest. This is a collapse of end demand driven by credit. The demand is nearly all external so China has no control over that. Since China's end consumer demand is small and even most of that is tied to export industries in some way, there really isn't any way out for them. The most fascinating quote from that article follows:

China’s economic growth may have slipped to 5.5 percent last quarter, the weakest pace in at least 15 years, according to Shanghai-based Industrial Bank Co.

Once again, numbers that would have seemed shocking a short time ago are now the expected. China will be fortunate indeed if their GDP continues to grow at all in the near future.