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Forget Copper: Steel Is The True Indicator Of The Chinese Hard Landing
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Forget Copper: Steel Is The True Indicator Of The Chinese Hard Landing

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Forget Copper: Steel Is The True Indicator Of The Chinese Hard Landing

Last week we pointed out some curious observations from Fortress on commodities and the state of the Chinese market courtesy of secondary industrial metals, notably steel: "The investment landscape for industrial metals is becoming increasingly more difficult to navigate. As highlighted in last month’s letter, we are continuing to see a rapid deceleration of growth in China, specifically within the cyclical industries. A recent trip to visit steel companies outside Beijing underlined the impact of extremely tight liquidity and continued restrictive policy in the Chinese housing market. Steel capacity cuts – through idling or accelerated maintenance outages – are now commonplace and the speed of these cuts has certainly surprised the market. Construction is the principal end-market blamed for this weakness; given the very large inventory overhang and the continued lack of liquidity, this is not surprising. In our equity universe, we have also seen numerous companies expressing concerns regarding China construction demand. Zoomlion, China’s second largest construction machinery company, recently said, "Demand for construction machinery has shrunken drastically and growth will no doubt continue to slow next year." Within the context of declining housing starts, plummeting transaction volumes and the beginning of a meaningful move down in housing prices, these shifts in the steel market have been an interesting harbinger of more substantial problems in the Chinese economy. Our principal concern is the extension of housing weakness into the banking system through the mechanism of both failing developers as well as the opaque and informal lending. We are concerned that the recent strength in iron ore, steel and copper has been misinterpreted by the market. In our view, any suggestion that the Chinese market is undergoing a substantial restock is misplaced." Today, we get a confirmation of just this warning courtesy of Citigroup which has charted weekly Iron Ore China port inventories and of broad steel inventories. Needless to say, domestic steelmakers, who better than anyone know the state of domestic end product demand, have seen the writing on the wall, and have one message for the world: short Brazil and Australia.

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