Chart of the Week : S. Korea trade data are in a free fall
Head of Macro Analysis
Summary: The bullwhip crunch in global manufacturing is hurting all the world’s largest exporters. In our view, the most vulnerable countries are South Korea, Germany and the United States. But there is more: the situation could further deteriorates if the current overvalued dollar environment causes a global currency crisis. Last week’s Bank of Japan and Japan Ministry of Finance intervention in the FX market is perhaps only the beginning of more interventionism to come.
Click to download this week's full edition of MacroChartmania composed of more than 100 charts to track the latest macroeconomic and market developments. All the data are collected from Macrobond and updated each week.
South Korea’s exports fell 8.7 % in the first twenty days of September from the same period a year earlier. This matters because South Korea is considered as a bellwether for global trade and growth by economists. The drop is partially explained by holiday effects (the Chuseok holidays from 9 to 12 September) and by slowing growth in main trading partners. Exports to Japan over the same period decreased by 8.2 % and exports to China dropped by a stunning 14 %. This is an indicator of how strong the current slowdown of the Chinese economy is – see the below chart. Exports to Vietnam are falling by 12.9 %. The South-East Asian country is a major trade partner for South Korea. Over the years, many South Korean high-tech companies have sent components to be assembled there (Samsung, for instance). This has accelerated in recent years on the back of the US-China trade war.
A bullwhip crunch in global manufacturing
The counter-performance of South Korea trade is just one of many bad trade indicators that have been released in the recent weeks. For example : container spot rates are set for a hard landing. The bellwether Shanghai Containerized Freight Index is down 58 % since January and spot rates have fallen by around 10 % for the fourth week running. This is the most watched rate indicator on sea freight from China. This is not only caused by the effect of China’s zero covid policy on trade. This reflects first and foremost a slowdown in global demand. The Drewry World Container Index draws a similar picture. This is a composite sea freight rate on eight major routes to/from the United States, Europe and Asia. It has been going down for the 30th week in a row. It is now standing 57 % lower than the same period last year. Global recession or no recession, it seems obvious that the bullwhip crunch in global manufacturing is going to hurt all the world’s biggest exporters, in the same way they enjoyed a massive boom in 2020-21. During the Covid period, consumers have reacted by stocking up on essential goods, thus leading to shortages. Supply chains have had to ramp up production to cope with the unprecedented increase in demand. Now, demand is decreasing due to higher cost of living and fears of recession. The world’s largest exporters are in a tough position. In our view, the most vulnerable countries are South Korea, Germany (where the manufacturing sector is hit by a massive 139 % year-over-year increase in the energy bill) and the United States too.
The beginning of a global currency crisis ?
The risk of a global currency crisis is another headache for exporters. A weak currency is usually beneficial for exports. But a too weak currency often increases the cost of intermediary goods and energy for countries which are dependent on it from external supply. Last week, Japan intervened in the forex market to stem the depreciation of the Japanese yen with the blessing of the U.S. Treasury. However, this is unlikely to succeed unless there is a coordinated intervention by the United States, Europe, Japan and the United Kingdom, as we saw in the September 1985 Plaza Accord. Other countries are favoring less costly options – forex interventions are depleting foreign reserves and are rarely successful in the long run. For instance, they are providing FX hedging protection to most-exposed companies. This is the pace chosen by South Korea. On 23 September, the government decided to use the country’s foreign exchange equalization fund to meet shipbuilding companies’ forex hedging demands for their overseas orders. As currency volatility is increasing in an overvalued dollar environment, expect more and more countries and central banks to try to rein in the depreciation of their local currency. But we doubt this will be enough to revive global manufacturing.
Latest Market Insights
Outrageous Predictions 2023: The War Economy
- The constantly growing global need for energy drives the world's richest to huddle up and launch a R&D project in a size the world hasn't seen since the Manhattan Project gave the US the first atomic bomb.
French President Macron resignsThe political stalemate in France and the rise of Marie Le Pen following the 2022 elections corners President Macron, forcing him to give up on politics and resign from his position. At least for now.
Gold rockets to USD 3,000 as central banks fail on inflation mandateAs markets and central banks realise that the idea that inflation is transitory is wrong, and that prices will remain higher for longer, gold is sent through the roof, hitting a price tag of USD 3,000
EU Army forces EU down path to full unionWith continued challenges in the region and a US military that isn't aggressively enacting its former role as global policeman, the European Union agrees to create its own armed forces, bringing the whole region closer.
A country agrees to ban all meat production by 2030In an effort to become one of the global leaders on the path to net-zero emissions, one country decides to not only put a heavy tax on meat, but to ban domestic production entirely.
UK holds UnBrexit referendumFollowing a recession and domestic pressure, the United Kingdom is thrown into political turmoil that will end with a vote to wind back Brexit.
Widespread price controls are introduced to cap official inflationHistory tells us that with the war economy comes rationing and price controls. And this time is no different, as policymakers introduce strict price controls that lead to a range of unintended consequences.
OPEC+ & Chindia walk out of the IMF, agree to trade with new reserve assetSanctions against Russia have caused widespread turmoil due to US Dollar moves in countries across the globe that don't consider the US an ally. To relieve themselves from this, they leave the IMF and create a new reserve asset.
USDJPY fixed to the USD at 200 as Japan overhauls financial systemFollowing the challenges that faced the Japanese Yen in 2022, the Bank of Japan attempts to keep the currency from sliding. Unsuccessful on the long-term, Japan will launch a reset of its entire financial system.
Tax haven ban kills private equityWith the war economy comes an increased focus on national interests and sovereign nations' ability to assert themselves. In that regard, the OECD countries turn their attention on tax havens and pull the big guns out, banning them altogether.