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The Greatest Ponzi Scheme in History

by Jim Rickards, DailyReckoning:

The Chinese credit bubble is a ticking time bomb. That bubble is primed to explode with or without anything Trump does. When it happens and how it happens will have profound implications for your portfolio.

Bernie Madoff may have set a record for the biggest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history (if you don’t count Social Security), but China has set the world record.

Madoff’s scam was either a $65 billion Ponzi if you count fake profits, or a $20 billion Ponzi if you just count original investor money that he stole. Either way, it was a U.S. record.

Now China is about to set the world record with a $9 trillion Ponzi. Here’s how it works…

The Chinese have a middle-class of several hundred million people with a high propensity to save. Most Chinese don’t get to invest overseas, so they are limited to real estate, gold and local investment products, mostly sold through banks.

When customers go into a bank, they are offered a standard bank deposit paying about 2%, or a “wealth management product,” (WMP) that pays about 8%.

WMPs are something like the collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) that brought down Lehman Brothers.

Many customers naturally take the 8% return and invest in bank-managed WMPs. Customers believe the WMPs are guaranteed by the bank or the government. They’re not — WMPs are just unsecured investments.

WMP’s have been described by the former Chairman of the Bank of China as the greatest Ponzi scheme in history.

It gets worse…

The banks use sales of WMPs to invest in the riskiest development projects and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) on the edge of bankruptcy.

These institutions behind these projects, financed by the original WMPs, cannot repay them. So most of the WMPs will never be repaid.

Banks rely on sales of new WMPs to redeem the old ones at maturity. Today, when a customer wants his money back, the bank sells a new WMP, and uses that money to cash out the redeeming customer. The new investor steps into the shoes of the old with the same bad underlying investment.

What happens when everyone wants his money back at once, or new customers just stop investing?

That’s what happened to Madoff, and that’s what will happen in China. Even China’s $3 trillion in hard currency reserves won’t be enough to cover a $9 trillion panic.

Total Chinese debt at all levels (household, corporate, bank and government) is now more than 250% of GDP.

However, this 250% figure understates the problem. It does not include the WMPs, which are technically investments kept off the balance sheets of the book. It also does not include provincial obligations that take the form of guarantees. Those will have to be bailed out by Beijing.

The real debt-to-GDP figure is easily 500%. It’s like owing $100,000 on a MasterCard when your salary is $20,000 per year. That’s a sure recipe for bankruptcy.

Most of the debt is coming from the corporate sector. But, these are not normal corporations as understood in the U.S. These are mostly state-owned enterprises, controlled by the government.

That means they may have to be bailed-out by the government when the system finally crumbles.

Much of this debt is denominated in U.S. dollars so the situation is made even worse by the strong dollar and the global dollar shortage. Both of those factors make dollar-denominated debt much harder to repay.

The debt system is propped up — for now — by more debt and dishonest accounting. If the banks were forced to write-down bad loans, the system would have collapsed a long time ago.

But one dysfunction that cannot be finessed is cash-flow. As every entrepreneur and small businessperson knows, cash never lies. You either have it or you don’t.

Because of excessive debt and inability to pay, cash flow problems are now reaching epidemic proportions in China.

China observer Valentin Schmid, writing in the Epoch Times in late 2016, reports:

If firms can’t borrow more or squeeze their suppliers, they will go bankrupt. According to research by Goldman Sachs surveying companies in China, four have defaulted on $3 billion worth of bonds since the middle of November. These defaults are a break with the record in the previous five months from June to October, when only three of the companies surveyed didn’t meet their payments.

Read More @ DailyReckoning.com

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