Over the past month, we have explained in detail not only how the Chinese credit collapse and massive carry unwind will look like in theory, but shown various instances how, in practice, the world’s greatest debt bubble is starting to burst, resulting not only in the first ever corporate default but also in the bursting of the associated biggest ever housing bubble. One thing we have not commented on was how actual trade pathways – far more critical to offshore counterparts than merely credit tremors within the mainland – would be impacted once the nascent liquidity crisis spread.
Today, we find the answer courtesy of the WSJ which reports that for the first time in the current Chinese liquidity crunch, Chinese importers, for now just those of soybeans and rubber but soon most other products, “are backing out of deals, adding to a wide range of evidence showing rising financial stress in the world’s second-biggest economy.”
While apologists of China’s collapse have been quick to point out that China’s credit collapse would be largely a domestic issue, with little foreign creditor exposure at either the public debt, or private – corporate – debt levels, one thing nobody can deny is that if and when Chinese trade routes grind to a halt, the downstream impacts would be devastating, and spread like wildfire as the offshore supply chain is Ice 9’ed.
Most purchases are private, with little data on the volumes affected, but traders at Asian trading firms say they are seeing a sharp rise in canceled contracts this year while other buyers are demanding heavy discounts.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed that China has canceled orders for 517,000 metric tons of soybeans, used to make cooking oil, and compares to imports of 63.4 million tons last year. South American soybean contracts have also been canceled because of weak demand, says trade journal Oil World.
The cancellations are a big worry for the commodity markets as exporters around the world had relied for years on China’s insatiable appetite for a wide range of raw ingredients. But now as jitters rise over the health of the economy, the fallout is rippling through into agricultural commodities, just weeks after the price of copper and iron ore tumbled on worries they had been used in risky Chinese financing deals.
For now the impacted importers are those dealing purely with commodity products, such as rubber. The problem is that once one importer defaults on a contract, suddenly counterparty risk regarding all of China (and certainly those using commodities on Letters of Credit, recall China Commodity Funding Deals) soars, forcing other offshore exporters to collapse liquidity terms when dealing with Chinese buyers, and demand payment on truncated timeframes, resulting in a closed loop of liquidity evaporation from trade networks, which in turn forces local banks to step in and provide liquidity at precisely the time when banks are suddenly far more selective who they issue loans to.
Natural rubber, mostly grown in Southeast Asia and used to make products ranging from tires to latex gloves, is also getting hit as some buyers from China refuse to honor existing agreements, or look for ways to negotiate discounts. Two large Asian rubber producers, who asked not to be named, said Chinese buyers had defaulted on them.
Traders say buyers are trying to ask for discounts, citing reasons such as cargo arriving a few days late and claims about poor quality or contamination, said Bundit Kerdvongbundit, vice president of Von Bundit Co., Thailand’s second-largest natural rubber producer. The contracts are already signed, but Chinese importers “refuse to take cargo or pay unless they get discounts.”
Surely someone hedged though – it is not as if everyone was naive enough to sign major trade deal assuming the status quo would continue indefinitely despite China’s well-documented recent liquidity concerns. Well, maybe…
One comfort is that most companies trading with China have taken some sort of safeguards after widespread defaults in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, like asking for deposits, said Benson Lim, chief operating officer and head of global rubber trading at R1 International.
.. But, not really:
However, “the business is so competitive that not all sellers are taking deposits, so they are hard-hit when buyers default,” he added.
The result: collapsing commodity prices as the biggest marginal buyer suddenly goes bidless, if not an outright seller.
Rubber prices have dropped more than 20% since the beginning of the year, due to worries over China’s slowing economy and a global surplus of the commodity. Many sellers who bought at high prices are unwilling to sell at a loss, pushing up stocks at the port of Qingdao to near-record levels recently. Stockpiles in some other commodities like soybeans and iron ore are also high as buyers hang on.
Which means that after having stuck their head in the sand for years, and ignoring just the possibility of precisely this outcome, suddenly everyone is scrambling and asking how this could have possibly happened:
Commodities are particularly sensitive to the health of the economy given the their wide-ranging use. But with China this month recording its first ever corporate bond default, and fears over a property developer, investors are growing jittery as Beijing tries to clamp down on years of reckless lending.
“The number one problem is weak demand from the credit tightening last year and real estate which has a direct or pass through effect on all of this activity,” said Shanghai-based Citi Research commodities strategist Ivan Szpakowski.
There is one other tangent: what is the common link between rubber and soybeans? We explained precisely this ten days ago in “What Is The Common Theme: Iron Ore, Soybeans, Palm Oil, Rubber, Zinc, Aluminum, Gold, Copper, And Nickel?” Yup – as briefly noted above, these are all the commodities that serve as conduits in China’s numerous Commodity Funding Deals. Only no more.
Which means that far form merely crushing exporters who suddenly are dealing with Chinese importers who have torn apart contracts, obviously with no recourse, suddenly China’s entire “hot money” laundering infrastructure (which as explained over the weekend, has gold performing an even greater role than copper) is about to collapse.
And when the counterparties of China’s hundreds of billions in CCFDs decide to also get out of Dodge and unwind these deals (amounting to hundreds of billions in notional), only to find the underlying commodity has not only been re-re-rehypotecated countless times and has been sold, then there is truly no way of saying what happens next.