We just got more evidence that global trade is absolutely imploding. Chinese exports dropped 25.4 percent during the month of February compared to a year ago, and Chinese imports fell 13.8 percent compared to a year ago. For Chinese exports, that was the worst decline that we have seen since 2009, and Chinese imports have now fallen for 16 months in a row on a year over year basis. The last time we saw numbers like this, we were in the depths of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. China accounts for more global trade than any other nation (including the United States), and so this is a major red flag. Anyone that is saying that the global economy is in “good shape” is clearly not paying attention.
If someone would have told me a year ago that Chinese exports would be 25 percent lower next February, I would not have believed it. This is not just a slowdown – this is a historic implosion. The following comes from Zero Hedge…
Things are not getting better in China as Exports crashed 25.4% YoY (the 3rd largest drop in history), almost double the 14.5% expectation and Imports tumbled 13.8%, the 16th month of YoY decline – the longest ever. Altogether this sent the trade surplus down to $32.6bn (missing expectations of $51bn) to 11-month lows.
So much for that whole “devalue yourself to export growth” idea…
I don’t know how anyone can possibly dismiss the importance of these numbers. As you can see, this is not just a one month aberration. Chinese trade numbers have been declining for months, and that decline appears to be accelerating.
Another very interesting piece of news that has come out in recent days regards the massive layoffs that are coming at state industries in China. According to Reuters, five to six million Chinese workers are going to be losing their jobs during this transition…
China aims to lay off 5-6 million state workers over the next two to three years as part of efforts to curb industrial overcapacity and pollution, two reliable sources said, Beijing’s boldest retrenchment program in almost two decades.
China’s leadership, obsessed with maintaining stability and making sure redundancies do not lead to unrest, will spend nearly 150 billion yuan ($23 billion) to cover layoffs in just the coal and steel sectors in the next 2-3 years.
For years, the Chinese economic miracle has been fueling global economic growth, but now things are changing dramatically.
Another factor that we should discuss is the fact that the relationship between the United States and China is going downhill very rapidly. This is something that I wrote about yesterday. China has seized control of several very important islands in the South China Sea, and in response the Obama administration has been sailing military vessels past the islands in a threatening manner. Most recently, Obama decided to have an aircraft carrier task force cruise past the islands, and this provoked a very angry response from the Chinese…
The four-ship U.S. strike group that patrolled the disputed South China Sea was followed by Chinese warships, a show of force that prompted a hard-line response from China doubling down on its claim to nearly all of the resource-rich sea.
China’s foreign minister said his country’s sovereignty claims are supported by history and made a veiled reference to the 5-day patrol by the Stennis Carrier Strike Group, as well as recent passes by China’s man-made islands by destroyers Lassen and Curtis Wilbur in recent months.
“The South China Sea has been subject to colonial invasion and illegal occupation and now some people are trying to stir up waves, while some others are showing off forces,” Wang Yi said, according to an Associated Press report, a day after the Stennis CSG departed the South China Sea. “However, like the tide that comes and goes, none of these attempts will have any impact. History will prove who is merely the guest and who is the real host.”
Most Americans are not even paying attention to this dispute, but in China there is talk of war. The Chinese are absolutely not going to back down, and it does not look like Obama is going to either. Needless to say, a souring of the relationship between the largest economy on the planet and the second largest economy on the planet would not be a good thing for the global economy.
And of course China is far from the only country that is having economic problems. Yesterday, I discussed how Italy’s banking system is on the verge of completely collapse. A few days before that I discussed the economic depression that has gripped much of South America. A new global economic crisis has already begun, and just because the United States is feeling less pain than the rest of the world so far does not mean that everything is going to be okay.
There are huge red flags in Europe, Asia and South America right now. In addition, our neighbor to the north (Canada) is experiencing a very significant slowdown. The irrational optimists can continue to believe that the U.S. economy will somehow escape relatively unscathed if they would like, but that is not going to be what happens.
Just like virtually everyone else on the planet, we are heading into hard times too, and this is going to become a dominant theme in the presidential campaign as we move forward into the months ahead.
When the global economy is doing well, the amount of stuff that is imported and exported around the world goes up, and when the global economy is in recession, the amount of stuff that is imported and exported around the world goes down. It is just basic economics. Governments around the world have become very adept at manipulating other measures of economic activity such as GDP, but the trade numbers are more difficult to fudge. Today, China accounts for more global trade than anyone else on the entire planet, and we have just learned that Chinese exports and Chinese imports are both collapsing right now. But this is just part of a larger trend. As I discussed the other day, British banking giant HSBC has reported that total global trade is down 8.4 percent so far in 2015, and global GDP expressed in U.S. dollars is down 3.4 percent. The only other times global trade has plummeted this much has been during other global recessions, and it appears that this new downturn is only just beginning.
For many years, China has been leading the revolution in global trade. But now we are witnessing something that is almost unprecedented. Chinese exports are falling, and Chinese imports are absolutely imploding…
Growth of exports from China has been dropping relentlessly, for years. Now this “growth” has actually turned negative. In September, exports were down 3.7% from a year earlier, the “inevitable fallout from China’s unsustainable and poorly executed credit splurge,” as Thomson Reuters’ Alpha Now puts it. Most of these exports are manufactured goods that are shipped by container to the rest of the world.
And imports into China – a mix of bulk and containerized freight – have been plunging: down 20.4% in September from a year earlier, after at a 13.8% drop in August.
This week it was announced that Chinese GDP growth had fallen to the lowest level since the last recession, and that makes sense. Global economic activity is really slowing down, and this is deeply affecting China.
So what about the United States?
Well, based on the amount of stuff that is being shipped around in our country it appears that our economy is really slowing down too. The following comes from Wolf Richter, and I shared some of it in a previous article, but I think that it bears repeating…
September is in the early phase of the make-or-break holiday shipping season. Shipments usually increase from August to September. They did this year too. The number of shipments in September inched up 1.7% from August, according to the Cass Freight Index.
But the index was down 1.5% from an already lousy September last year, when shipments had fallen from the prior month, instead of rising. And so, in terms of the number of shipments, it was the worst September since 2010.
It has been crummy all year: With the exception of January and February, the shipping volume has been lower year-over-year every month!
The index is broad. It tracks data from shippers, no matter what carrier they choose, whether truck, rail, or air, and includes carriers like FedEx and UPS.
What major retailers such as Wal-Mart are reporting also confirms that we are in a major economic slowdown. Wal-Mart recently announced that its earnings would fall by as much as 12 percent during the next fiscal year, and that caused Wal-Mart stock to drop by the most in 27 years.
And of course this is going to have a huge ripple effect. There are thousands of other companies that do business with Wal-Mart, and Reuters is reporting that they are starting to get squeezed…
Suppliers of everything from groceries to sports equipment are already being squeezed for price cuts and cost sharing by Wal-Mart Stores. Now they are bracing for the pressure to ratchet up even more after a shock earnings warning from the retailer last week.
The discount store behemoth has always had a reputation for demanding lower prices from vendors but Reuters has learned from interviews with suppliers and consultants, as well as reviewing some contracts, that even by its standards Wal-Mart has been turning up the heat on them this year.
“The ground is shaking here,” said Cameron Smith, head of Cameron Smith & Associates, a major recruiting firm for suppliers located close to Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. “Suppliers are going to have to help Wal-Mart get back on track.”
Similar things are going on at some of the other biggest companies in America as well.
For instance, things have gotten so bad for McDonald’s that one franchise owner recently stated that the restaurant chain is “facing its final days”…
“McDonald’s announced in April that it would be closing 700 ‘underperforming’ locations, but because of the company’s sheer size — it has 14,300 locations in the United States alone — this was not necessarily a reduction in the size of the company, especially because it continues to open locations around the world. It still has more than double the locations of Burger King, its closest competitor.”
However, for the franchisees, the picture looks much worse than simply 700 stores closing down.
“We are in the throes of a deep depression, and nothing is changing,” a franchise owner wrote in response to a financial survey by Nomura Group. “Probably 30% of operators are insolvent.” One owner went as far as to speculate that McDonald’s is literally “facing its final days.”
Why would things be so bad at Wal-Mart and McDonald’s if the economy was “recovering”?
Come on now – let’s use some common sense here.
All of the numbers are screaming at us that we have entered a major economic downturn and that it is accelerating.
CNBC is reporting that the number of job openings in the U.S. is falling and that the number of layoffs is rising…
Job openings fell 5.3 percent in August, while a 2.6 percent rise in layoffs and discharges offset a 0.3 percent gain in hires. Finally, the amount of quits — or what Convergex calls its “take this job and shove it” indicator because it shows the percentage of workers who left positions voluntarily — fell to 56.6 percent from 57.1 percent, indicating less confidence in mobility.
And as I discussed the other day, Challenger Gray is reporting that we are seeing layoffs at major firms at a level that we have not witnessed since 2009.
We already have 102.6 million working age Americans that do not have a job right now. As this emerging worldwide recession deepens, a lot more Americans are going to lose their jobs. That is going to cause the poverty and suffering in this country to spike even more, if you can imagine that.
Just consider what authorities discovered on the streets of Philadelphia just this week…
Support is flooding in for a homeless Philadelphia family whose two-year-old son was found wandering alone in a park in the middle of the night.
Angelique Roland, 27, and Michael Jones, 24, were sleeping with their children behind cardboard boxes underneath the Fairmount Park Welcome Center in Love Park when the toddler slipped away.
The boy was found just before midnight and handed over to a nearby Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority police officer, who took him to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
He was wearing a green, long sleeve shirt, black running pants and had a diaper on, but did not have shoes or socks.
Could you imagine sleeping on the streets and not even being able to provide your two-year-old child with shoes and socks?
These numbers that I write about every day are not a game. They affect all of us on a very personal level.
Just like in 2008 and 2009, millions of Americans that are living a very comfortable middle class lifestyle today will soon lose their jobs and will end up out in the streets.
In fact, there will be people that will read this article that this will happen to.
So no, none of us should be excited that the global economy is collapsing. There is already so much pain all around us, and what is to come is beyond what most of us would even dare to imagine.
Did you know that we buy nearly five times as much stuff from the Chinese as they buy from us? According to government numbers that were just released, we imported 44.9 billion dollars worth of stuff from China in September but we only exported 9.3 billion dollars worth of stuff to them. And this is not happening because our economy is so much larger than China’s. In fact, the IMF says that China now has the largest economy on the entire planet on a purchasing power basis. No, the truth is that this is happening because our economy is broken. Every month, we consume far more wealth than we produce. Because the outflow of money is far greater than the inflow, we have to go to major exporting nations and beg them to lend our dollars back to us so that we can pay our bills. Meanwhile, the quality of the jobs in this country continues to go down and our formerly great manufacturing cities are rotting and decaying. We are committing national economic suicide, and most Americans don’t seem to care.
Barack Obama is constantly hyping a “manufacturing resurgence” in America, but the numbers don’t lie. In September, our manufactured goods trade deficit with the rest of the world soared to a new all-time record high of 69.16 billion dollars. For the year, we are nearly 12 percent ahead of last year’s record pace.
When we buy far more things than we sell, we get poorer as a nation.
How do you think that we ever got into a position of owing China more than a trillion dollars?
We just kept buying far more from them than they bought from us, and their money just kept piling up. Now it has gotten to the point where our politicians literally beg them to lend our money back to us. They are the head and we are the tail.
And we did this to ourselves.
Once upon a time, the United States was the greatest manufacturing powerhouse that the world had ever seen. But now China manufactures more stuff than us and China also accounts for more total global trade (imports plus exports) than us.
This should never have happened. Several decades ago, the Chinese economy was a complete joke. But decades of incredibly foolish decisions by our politicians have resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of manufacturing facilities, millions of good paying jobs and the destruction of vast stretches of our economic infrastructure.
During the same time frame, gleaming new manufacturing facilities have gone up all over China.
China is literally wiping the floor with us on the global economic stage and most Americans don’t even understand what is happening. Here is more on the trade deficit numbers that were just released from the RealityChek Blog…
>The China goods deficit of $35.56 billion blew past the old mark of $30.86 billion, set in July, by 15.23 percent. The new deficit also represented a 17.77 percent increase over the August level of $30.20 billion.
>U.S. goods exports to the still strongly growing Chinese economy fell on month in September from $9.63 billion to $9.33 billion (3.12 percent). U.S. merchandise imports from China jumped by 12.70 percent over August levels, from $39.83 billion to $44.89 billion – itself an all-time high.
>The U.S. goods deficit with China this year is now so far running 5.62 percent ahead of 2014’s record pace.
>The longstanding U.S. manufacturing trade shortfall shot up from $59.10 billion in August to $69.16 billion in September. This 17.02 percent jump resulted in a beat of the old record of $67.33 billion, also set in July, by 2.72 percent.
And it isn’t just cheap plastic trinkets that China is selling to us.
In fact, their number one export to us is computer equipment.
Meanwhile, one of our main exports to them is “scrap and trash”.
For much more on how China is absolutely dominating us, please see my previous article entitled “Not Just The Largest Economy – Here Are 26 Other Ways China Has Surpassed America“.
Sadly, there are a couple of factors that will probably make our trade deficit with the rest of the world even worse in the months ahead.
Number one, the currency war that I wrote about earlier this week will probably push the U.S. dollar even higher against the yen and the euro.
You might think that a rising dollar sounds good, but the truth is that it will make our exports less competitive in the global marketplace.
Nations such as Japan devalue their currencies so that they can sell more stuff to us. But that hurts our own domestic industries. And when our own domestic industries suffer, that means less jobs for American workers.
Secondly, the collapse in the price of oil could have very serious implications for the shale oil industry.
In recent years, the shale oil revolution has caused local economic booms in states such as Texas and North Dakota. But shale oil tends to be quite expensive to extract. As I write this, the price of U.S. oil has fallen to about 77 dollars a barrel. If it stays at that level or keeps going down, shale oil production in the United States will slow down dramatically.
In other words, a lot of these shale oil “boom towns” could go “bust” very rapidly.
If that happens, the amount of oil that we import will rise substantially and that will add to our overall trade deficit.
But of course the biggest factor fueling our trade deficit is that the vast majority of Americans simply do not care that we are committing national economic suicide.
When we buy products made in America, we support American businesses and American workers.
When we buy products made overseas, we hurt American businesses, we kill American jobs and we make ourselves poorer as a nation.
Of course there is nothing wrong with buying a foreign-made product once in a while. But this holiday season, most people will fill their shopping carts to the brim with foreign-made goods without even thinking twice about it.
The next time that you go into a huge retail establishment such as Wal-Mart, start picking up products and look to see where they were made.
I think that you will be shocked at how few of them are actually made inside the United States.
When are Americans going to get sick and tired of making China wealthier at our expense?
We are willing participants in the destruction of the U.S. economy, and yet only a small minority of people seem to care.
What is it going to take for people to finally wake up?
The largest oil exporter in the Middle East has teamed up with the second largest consumer of oil in the world (China) to build a gigantic new oil refinery and the mainstream media in the United States has barely even noticed it. This mammoth new refinery is scheduled to be fully operational in the Red Sea port city of Yanbu by 2014. Over the past several years, China has sought to aggressively expand trade with Saudi Arabia, and China now actually imports more oil from Saudi Arabia than the United States does. In February, China imported 1.39 million barrels of oil per day from Saudi Arabia. That was 39 percent higher than last February. So why is this important? Well, back in 1973 the United States and Saudi Arabia agreed that all oil sold by Saudi Arabia would be denominated in U.S. dollars. This petrodollar system was adopted by almost the entire world and it has had great benefits for the U.S. economy. But if China becomes Saudi Arabia’s most important trading partner, then why should Saudi Arabia continue to only sell oil in U.S. dollars? And if the petrodollar system collapses, what is that going to mean for the U.S. economy?
Those are very important questions, and they will be addressed later on in this article. First of all, let’s take a closer look at the agreement reached between Saudi Arabia and China recently.
The following is how the deal was described in a recent China Daily article….
In what Riyadh calls “the largest expansion by any oil company in the world”, Sinopec’s deal on Saturday with Saudi oil giant Aramco will allow a major oil refinery to become operational in the Red Sea port of Yanbu by 2014.
The $8.5 billion joint venture, which covers an area of about 5.2 million square meters, is already under construction. It will process 400,000 barrels of heavy crude oil per day. Aramco will hold a 62.5 percent stake in the plant while Sinopec will own the remaining 37.5 percent.
At a time when the U.S. is actually losing refining capacity, this is a stunning development.
Yet the U.S. press has been largely silent about this.
But China is not just doing deals with Saudi Arabia. China has also been striking deals with several other important oil producing nations. The following comes from a recent article by Gregg Laskoski….
China’s investment in oil infrastructure and refining capacity is unparalleled. And more importantly, it executes a consistent strategy of developing world-class refining facilities in partnership with OPEC suppliers. Such relationships mean economic leverage that could soon subordinate U.S. relations with the same countries.
Egypt is building its largest refinery ever with investment from China.
Shortly after the partnership with Egypt was announced, China signed a $23 billion agreement with Nigeria to construct three gasoline refineries and a fuel complex in Nigeria.
Essentially, China is running circles around the United States when it comes to locking up strategic oil supplies worldwide.
And all of these developments could have tremendous implications for the future of the petrodollar system.
If you are not familiar with the petrodollar system, it really is not that complicated. Basically, almost all of the oil in the world is traded in U.S. dollars. The origin of the petrodollar system was detailed in a recent article by Jerry Robinson….
In 1973, a deal was struck between Saudi Arabia and the United States in which every barrel of oil purchased from the Saudis would be denominated in U.S. dollars. Under this new arrangement, any country that sought to purchase oil from Saudi Arabia would be required to first exchange their own national currency for U.S. dollars. In exchange for Saudi Arabia’s willingness to denominate their oil sales exclusively in U.S. dollars, the United States offered weapons and protection of their oil fields from neighboring nations, including Israel.
By 1975, all of the OPEC nations had agreed to price their own oil supplies exclusively in U.S. dollars in exchange for weapons and military protection.
This petrodollar system, or more simply known as an “oil for dollars” system, created an immediate artificial demand for U.S. dollars around the globe. And of course, as global oil demand increased, so did the demand for U.S. dollars.
Once you understand the petrodollar system, it becomes much easier to understand why our politicians treat Saudi leaders with kid gloves. The U.S. government does not want to see anything happen that would jeopardize the status quo.
A recent article by Marin Katusa described some more of the benefits that the petrodollar system has had for the U.S. economy….
The “petrodollar” system was a brilliant political and economic move. It forced the world’s oil money to flow through the US Federal Reserve, creating ever-growing international demand for both US dollars and US debt, while essentially letting the US pretty much own the world’s oil for free, since oil’s value is denominated in a currency that America controls and prints. The petrodollar system spread beyond oil: the majority of international trade is done in US dollars. That means that from Russia to China, Brazil to South Korea, every country aims to maximize the US-dollar surplus garnered from its export trade to buy oil.
The US has reaped many rewards. As oil usage increased in the 1980s, demand for the US dollar rose with it, lifting the US economy to new heights. But even without economic success at home the US dollar would have soared, because the petrodollar system created consistent international demand for US dollars, which in turn gained in value. A strong US dollar allowed Americans to buy imported goods at a massive discount – the petrodollar system essentially creating a subsidy for US consumers at the expense of the rest of the world. Here, finally, the US hit on a downside: The availability of cheap imports hit the US manufacturing industry hard, and the disappearance of manufacturing jobs remains one of the biggest challenges in resurrecting the US economy today.
So what happens if the petrodollar system collapses?
Well, for one thing the value of the U.S. dollar would plummet big time.
U.S. consumers would suddenly find that all of those “cheap imported goods” would rise in price dramatically as would the price of gasoline.
If you think the price of gas is high now, you just wait until the petrodollar system collapses.
In addition, there would be much less of a demand for U.S. government debt since countries would not have so many excess U.S. dollars lying around.
So needless to say, the U.S. government really needs the petrodollar system to continue.
But in the end, it is Saudi Arabia that is holding the cards.
If Saudi Arabia chooses to sell oil in a currency other than the U.S. dollar, most of the rest of the oil producing countries in the Middle East would surely do the same rather quickly.
And we have already seen countries in other parts of the world start to move away from using the U.S. dollar in global trade.
For example, Russia and China have agreed to now use their own national currencies when trading with each other rather than the U.S. dollar.
That got virtually no attention in the U.S. media, but it really was a big deal when it was announced.
A recent article by Graham Summers summarized some of the other moves away from the U.S. dollar in international trade that we have seen recently….
Indeed, officials from China, India, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa (the latest addition to the BRIC acronym, now to be called BRICS) recently met in southern China to discuss expanding the use of their own currencies in foreign trade (yet another move away from the US Dollar).
- China and Russia have removed the US Dollar from their trade
- China is rushing its trade agreement with Brazil
- China, Russia, Brazil, India, and now South Africa are moving to trade more in their own currencies (not the US Dollar)
- Saudi Arabia is moving to formalize trade with China and Russia
- Singapore is moving to trade yuan
The trend here is obvious. The US Dollar’s reign as the world’s reserve currency is ending. The process will take time to unfold. But the Dollar will be finished as reserve currency within the next five years.
Yes, the days of the U.S. dollar being the primary reserve currency of the world are definitely numbered.
It will not happen overnight, but as the U.S. economy continues to get weaker it is inevitable that the rest of the world will continue to question why the U.S. dollar should automatically have such a dominant position in international trade.
Over the next few years, keep a close eye on Saudi Arabia.
When Saudi Arabia announces a move away from the petrodollar system, that will be a major trigger event for the global financial system and it will be a really, really bad sign for the U.S. economy.
The level of prosperity that we are enjoying today would not be possible without the petrodollar system. Once the petrodollar system collapses, a lot of our underlying economic vulnerabilities will be exposed and it will not be pretty.
Tough times are on the horizon. It is imperative that we all get informed and that we all get prepared.