By John Richardson
THE BIG gap in credit growth between China and the developed world has been thrown into further relief by recently released data - raising inflationary concerns in the world's most important economy, while emphasising how rich-world countries remain on government life-support systems.
Broad money supply growth was a huge 30% in China in the ten months to November 2009, according to The Economist.
This compares with a fall in money in supply in the Euro area over the past year with US money supply only increasing by 1.2% in the six months to November last year.
In Australia, lending to the business sector declined by 8.2% in November 2009 year-on-year, said the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBS).
A strong indication of the importance of government life-support is that thanks to low interest rates and Canberra's tax credits for first-time buyers, credit to the real-estate sector grew by 8.2% in November over the same month in 2008, the RBS added.
This supports the anecdotal stories I keep picking up of credit remaining very tight in the developed world, particularly for small -to medium-sized chemicals companies, end-users and traders. While banking systems might have been rescued from financial collapse, the surviving banks are too busy rebuilding capital to take the risk of increasing lending to businesses - and perhaps also because they fear another bust could be around the corner.
It also seems likely that even where banks are more relaxed about credit, rich-world companies in certain sectors - certainly including chemicals - are maintaining very tight cash-management policies because of this same fear of another bust.
"In this financial environment no-one is holding more than 2-3 weeks inventory cover," said an Australian plastics processor.
"Who could finance it and take the risk in (such) a volatile market?"
Some converters have, according to one Singapore-based polyolefins trader, been constantly caught out by new supply that hasn't arrived due to all the project delays -and now most recently production problems in Saudi Arabia.
This forced them to restock when low inventory levels became quickly depleted during several supply-side shocks in 2009 and into the first weeks of this year. This has made an awful lot of money for the traders.
The converters - and also many of their suppliers who also continue to exercise careful cash-management - appear to be aware of the risk of a sudden collapse in crude and other commodity prices.
The danger of a mini-repeat of H2 2008 lingers. Everyone down all the chemicals chains could again be left with big inventory losses if the bull-runs in crude, commodity and equity markets suddenly come to an end at a time when stocks are high.
But as Paul Hodges, chemicals consultant with International eChem has pointed out, rising crude and chemicals prices automatically increase potential losses - no matter how strict your inventory management.
Watch out for much more on all these themes (and a great deal more) throughout this week.