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A Tale of Two Chinas

The latest scandal is the discovery of above-allowance concentration of plasticizers in hard liquor. It will be a long time before the made-in-China brand earns any respect; but at least domestic consumers are finally getting fed up.

3. There are many signs of real estate stabilizing. And it's clear now that the government prefers a stable real estate market, as opposed to maintaining the bubble or busting it.

The policy intention has gained credibility, at least for now. The real estate bubble in China is real. But it is decidedly not like those in the U.S. and Europe because lending standards have been relatively stringent, with down payments of greater than 20% and since June greater than 30% required in Beijing.

Furthermore, there's no securitization that enables hard-to-track risk spreading and leveraging. It is an isolated problem, not a systemic trigger.

4. Chinese banks have plenty of dirty laundry, especially since the economic slowdown. But, again, the problem is of a different nature and magnitude than in the developed world. The financial derivatives business is not nearly big enough to cause hidden leverage and trigger chain reaction. Banks still get to enjoy state protection and cheap financing from low rates and ample savings.

5. The financial trust sector, however, is another story, and some banks that treaded carelessly into the shadowy place will pay. For example, Hua Xia Bank recently caused a stir because a trust product they sell has gone bust, as widely reported in Chinese media, and investors have taken to the street of a Shanghai branch.

Financial trusts are almost overtly a Ponzi scheme, reaching desperation level as some trusts are lowering the threshold to 200,000 yuan (about $30,000). It's only a matter of time the Ponzi game ends, and I suspect sooner rather than later. It will be ugly, but again I don't see the channel for this to become a systemic crisis.

6. Foreign money continues its 12-week net inflow into China, as reported by (in Chinese). Ironically, Chinese investors have consistently been the dumb money in their own home turf, many institutional investors included. Investor maturity is still in its infant stage; herd mentality and gambling behavior reign supreme as everybody tries to get ahead with purported inside information.

I suspect this time will be no different; foreign institutions, armed with their vastly superior experience, research, due diligence and risk management, will once again lead the trend.

Furthermore, while the new leadership in Beijing has hardly begun making its mark, it is at least encouraging that they haven't panicked. In fact their near apathy toward the strengthening yuan this year has been nothing short of remarkable. This is in stark contrast to the panic reaction of the outgoing leadership in 2009.

My guess is that they see the sociopolitical danger of inflation and want to tread prudently. Significant USD/CNY intervention is unlikely, since such actions are inherently inflationary. This is good news for CNY longs -- WisdomTree Dreyfus Chinese Yuan ETF (CYB) -- and the reason why iShares FTSE China ETF (FXI) has dramatically outperformed the Shanghai Composite Index and will likely remain so for awhile.

This could be an important transition period for China on many aspects, without counting too much (hopefully) on the new leadership. The sector rotation and weeding process in the Chinese stock market will bring it closer to a functional market. The yuan is inching toward a traded currency. The people are actually demanding non-poisonous food. Bankruptcy and default may even be allowed to happen soon.

Welcome to the 20th century, China. It's about time.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
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