Disturbing Economic News From Asia

Continuing my meme that the biggest threats we now face are external, let me point you to a couple of items.

As reported in the Telegraph, Japan has experienced two consecutive months of a trade deficit despite a considerable tailwind from falling oil prices.

The shock data came as the Japanese Cabinet Office warned that the world’s second biggest economy is now deteriorating at an “exceptionally high pace”.

Shipments collapsed to almost all markets in North America, Europe, and Asia, following a pattern already set in recent days by South Korea, Taiwan, and China. Thailand on Monday said its exports fell 19pc in November.

It is unclear to whether the violent drop is distorted by a “one-off” inventory shock as companies slash stocks, or whether it is the start of a trade slump that threatens Asia’s entire export strategy.

“We think this is very serious,” said Stephen Jen, currency chief at Morgan Stanley. “These export surplus countries are super-leveraged to the West, and now we’re seeing a multiplier effect (in reverse) as the intra-Asian trade model is stress-tested. What’s incredible is that Japan has run a trade deficit for two months in a row despite the fall in oil prices. The next country to watch is going to be Germany,” he said.

Meanwhile, the news from China is not good either. Civil unrest is growing as unemployed migrant workers return to their rural homes. In Guangdong, an export hub, the authorities are trying to keep a lid on the simmering discontent. Reportedly 3,600 toy factories have closed their this year. Given the control that the government exercises over news, this is likely only the tip of the iceberg.

Paul Kedrosky, at Infections Greed, has an equally concerning post. It quotes a Merrill Lynch report that details the accelerating trend towards protectionism. It’s short but frightening.

Despite all of their levers, there is little the Fed or any other central bank can do to control these developments. No amount of QE will offset a collapse of world trade. We are too tightly bundled.

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