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Kass: The China Syndrome

This commentary originally appeared on Real Money Pro on Dec. 2 at 7:50 a.m. EST.

"It's about people. People who lie. And people that are faced with the agony of telling the truth.... The closer they get the more frightening it becomes.... Soon you will know."

-- The China Syndrome (trailer)

Call me the Anti-Cramer on the subject of China, as this is one area in which my view is not necessarily aligned with Jim's.

Jim Cramer is optimistic on China, believing that policy introduced on Thursday will be growth-inflating. He also believes that this is "the beginning of a loosening of Chinese interest rates, if we are to believe that the long-awaited interest rate cut is here, then there are plenty of stocks to own [in China]."

I respectfully disagree.

Last night, the official November China Manufacturing PMI fell to 49.0 from 50.4. This means that the manufacturing sector is now declining for the first time since early 2009. New orders were weak, and backlogs are deteriorating in the face of tightening moves months ago and in light of Europe's economic weakness. (U.K. manufacturing fell to 47.6 in November, the lowest read since June 2009 and the swiftest drop in over two and a half years. New orders were down for the sixth consecutive month. The final Markit Eurozone manufacturing PMI also marked contraction, falling for the fourth consecutive month in a row at 46.4 vs. 47.1 in the prior month.)

Wednesday's 50-basis-point cut in reserve requirements was widely interpreted as China will experience a soft, not hard, landing.

I am less convinced, and I still see a hard landing as a possible outcome.

First, from a microeconomic and macroeconomic standpoint Chinese reporting is opaque. I don't even know if we should believe China's economic reports. (Herb Greenberg has consistently reported how opaque and, at times, how fraudulent individual companies' reporting is.) We shouldn't be surprised that the accuracy of the government reports might be flawed. Importantly, the transparency and health of China's banks, the principal mechanism for the transmission of credit, remain vague and difficult to gauge -- as do the legendary empty cities of unoccupied apartments and homes in China.

Second, 20% of China's exports are to Europe. There is no policy in China that is capable of controlling the deepening recession in that region (which, as I reported above, is going from bad to worse). We already are witnessing a fast deterioration in trade into the eurozone, as evidenced by the 40% drop in China to Europe shipping rates since Labor Day.

Third, given falling exports to Europe (above), China's catalyst for growth falls increasingly on its consumer. But, unique to emerging markets, China's domestic personal consumption expenditures as a percentage of GDP falling hard as savings soars. Presently, personal consumption in China is 34% of GDP; 10 years ago it was over 40%. By contrast, consumption at Brazil is over 50% of GDP, and in our country it is 71%.

Fourth, the intermediate-term (five-year) chart on China Manufacturing (hat tip to Rich Farr at Boenning & Scattergood) puts the recent weakness into perspective. The trend is not China's friend.

To Jim and our subscribers, I say, buy American, and stay away from opaque China as the U.S. markets, companies and banks are more transparent and, to this observer, the domestic economic visibility is more certain.

Doug Kass writes daily for Real Money Pro, a premium service from TheStreet. For a free trial to Real Money Pro and exclusive access to Mr. Kass's daily trades and market commentary, please click here.

Doug Kass is the president of Seabreeze Partners Management Inc. Under no circumstances does this information represent a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any security.

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