Earlier today, Rabobank’s Michael Every laid out succinctly the dilemma facing Beijing, when he said that “China appears to have perhaps decided that the economic damage being wrought by a demand collapse and supply-chain shutdown is just too much to bear.” As reported overnight, Xi Jinping stated that China will meet its economic goals AND win the battle vs. the virus, and Beijing is urging firms to increase output even as the capital itself is largely locked down – and other cities are physically locking people into their homes. That’s as even the US admits that the Phase One trade deal will be slow off the market due to the virus impact.
Of course, China is no stranger to Double Think: as Every put it, “a freely-floating, controlled currency; market-determined, state-directed interest rates; and free-trade mercantilism. Yet increase economic activity from here and the virus will spread, both internally and globally. Concentrate on just the virus, and the local and global economic impact will be enormous.”
That, in a nutshell, was how Rabobank saw China’s “dialectic that has no comfortable Fichtean synthesis to the thesis and antithesis” and concluded that “things are going to get nasty for economies and markets – especially with official WHO word that a vaccine is 18-months away.”
Today, two days after China officially returned to work, we got the first confirmation of just how catastrophic Beijing’s order to local enterprises and businesses to rush back reboot the economy could be, when Jennifer Zeng reported that a company in Suzhou reopened, and immediately at least one CoVid2019 case found. As a result, the company’s 200+ employees couldn’t go home and were immediately placed under quarantine. At least the workers managed to “organize” quilts for themselves.
Company in #Suzhou reopened. One #CoVid2019 case found. Over 200 employed couldn't go home and immediately under quarantine. They managed to organize quilts for themselves.
苏︍州单位提前开工，确诊一例 #武汉肺炎 ，全单位的人上了一天班，家都回不去了，200多人自带被子，全部隔离 pic.twitter.com/Fd660RKfqL
— 曾錚 Jennifer Zeng (@jenniferatntd) February 12, 2020
This is just the first such case. Expect many more – especially across Hubei and its neighboring provinces – as latent cases of Coronavirus which were never caught and cured spark new infections and mini epidemics, all of which dutifully captured on a smartphone clip for everyone in China to watch and freak out even more.
Which reminds us of another comment from Rabobank, which last week explained why the dilemma facing China is “truly awful”:
The quandary for China between releasing the quarantine straitjacket in days to stop its economy from getting truly sick, and allowing a virus like this to spread further as people start to mingle again is truly awful. There are no good options. For a world with a serious lack of final end-demand, and which has been relying on China, along with increasingly “Chinese” central banks, this is going to be a nasty shock either way that Mr Market is treating like he is Mr Magoo.
And since Beijing has no way out, especially since the epidemic is still raging despite Beijing’s “doctored”, no pun intended, infection and death numbers, expect China to unleash the most draconian censorship crackdown on any reports Covid-2019 has not only not been purged but is making unwelcome appearances across China’s enterprises, which will be quietly put under blanket quarantine even as Beijing pretends that all is well and its economy is once again humming on all cylinders until eventually the epidemic reaches a critical mass and China has no choice but to once again admit the full extent of the social and economic fallout. And just like in the case of SARS, don’t expect such “honesty” to emerge for at least several weeks if not months.