Falling China license plates a lead indicator?

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Source of picture: Chinaenvironmentallaw.com

Talk around the water-cooler in Shanghai offices at the moment is the fall in the cost of a car-license plate in September to a lowest bid of Yuan 27,000 ($3,953) from around Yuan 36,000 in August.

“It surprised everyone because the forecast had been for the price to actually go up to Yuan 42,000,” said an ex-pat based in Shanghai.

This has created one of those agonising “if only” moments as he registered his car last month.

But more importantly, the surprise reduction might be an indication of softening auto demand after months of heady growth.

Domestic sales rose by 29.18% during the first seven months of this year over the same period in 2008 to 8.33m units, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

The monthly price for license plates is set by auction so this could be an early pointer of the effect of reduced bank lending.

Instead, though, it might be merely a lull ahead of the long Chinese national holidays, which take place on 1-8 October.

“The decline in the price happened despite new regulations making it harder to buy a cheaper plate from outside Shanghai for use in the city,” the ex-pat worker added.

“There were around 13,400 bidders for 8,500 license plates this month as against 18,000 for 8,000 plates in August.”

Petrochemical prices are also on the slide, according to ICIS pricing.

Fibre intermediates had fallen for four weeks in a row as of last Friday.

Raffia-grade polypropylene (PP) was at $1080-1120/tonne CFR China main port compared with $1130-1200/tonne CFR China a month earlier.

Again, though, it’s hard to discern to what extent these falls are due to a pre-holiday business wind-down against something much deeper and more fundamental.

“There are a lot of official statements in the local press about how too much lending went into speculation in real estate, in stock markets and in commodity markets in general. Lending rules are getting tougher,” the office worker continued.

“I think there’s also a danger of China following the US by enjoying a dangerous ‘wealth-effect’ from rising property prices. This seems unsustainable as real-estate costs are rising much faster than incomes.

“As was with the States again, leverage is on the rise through grey loans. State-owned enterprises (SOEs) borrow from the banks at preferential rates and then re-lend to less creditworthy companies and individuals.”

Even pig farmers are involved in speculation through stockpiling copper and nickel, according to this article from Bloomberg.

Should we now be searching pig sties and farmers’ fields for bags of polyethylene (PE) pellets?

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