How Will a Chinese Economic Hard Landing Impact Domain Investors?

How Will a Chinese Economic Hard Landing Impact Domain Investors?

I’ve taken a great deal of interest in the Chinese economy of late and I’ve written a number of articles that outline how everything is not so good in the dragon nation. Debt continues to skyrocket, GDP is levelling off and there appears to be stockpiles of commodities that are unused. So how is this all going to impact domain investors?

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CNBC published an article, “Moody’s raises worries over China loans as Communist party paper calls debt load ‘original sin’”. Within the article, influential investors Kyle Bass and George Soros warn of a credit crisis in China, with Bass noting the presence of “ticking time bombs” in China’s banking system.

What really struck me about the article was the second video where an independent economist, Andy Xie, suggests that China’s real bad loan situation is closer to 20% and not the 1.5% being reported. He then went on to say that over half the loans relate to property and that all across the country buildings empty and that they are being traded like gambling chips. Everyone is hoping that someone else will pay more for the assets.

China Non-performing loans

The Economist recently wrote an article titled, “The coming debt bust”, which outlined the fact that China’s overall debt is 280% of GDP. One scary statistic is that 16% of China’s top 1,000 firms owed more in interest than they earned before tax. Debt levels are expanding twice as fast as the economy. Market Watch recently indicated that it takes four units of credit for each unit of growth.

So will the Chinese authorities be able to manage the economy to a hard or soft landing? They have plenty of ammunition in their reserves (around $3 trillion) but more and more commentators believe that the current regime is playing catch-up to rapidly changing economic circumstances. What everyone appears to be saying is the debt piper is calling….

If there is a hard landing how will this impact domain investors? Since China is the world’s second largest economy we can draw a comparison between it and the US sub-prime fuelled crash of 2008.

For traffic portfolios, Google immediately took greater margin in a great cash grab to help support their earnings. The difference we are seeing now is that Google’s TAC (Traffic Acquisition Costs) has been pushed down to the point where they really can’t increase margins without losing market share to tier two advertising networks. This means that we are unlikely to see a collapse in earnings per click rates induced by Google.

The other factor impacting the advertising auction system is obviously the companies bidding for the traffic. In the event of a crash many companies will immediately hold onto their cash and reduce discretionary spending (which online advertising is often seen as). This will place downward pressure on EPC rates and depending upon competition for the market vertical keyword how far down the rates will fall.

Domain sales will almost certainly experience a sharp correction (especially in the ChiP domains) as debt laden Chinese buyers suddenly become sellers at any price. In many cases, off-market margin loans have underpinned domain valuations and these loans will be called as stocks collapse in value. Chinese investors will be forced to sell domain assets to meet their lenders capital requirements.

Assuming that the world doesn’t go into a global depression, what’s the good news? If you’re cashed up, then there’s going to be a heap of bargains. A good rule is most people make money on the buy not just the sell. In other words, in this type of market there will be domains available that can be snatched up for a song and later sold at an enormous profit.

Whatever happens, make sure you have some cash to ride out the crisis. Some commentators are suggesting that the GFC of 2008 was a tremor before the real financial earthquake.

I know that my wife and I are reviewing our personal financial circumstances to help ensure that we are in a position to weather a global storm. We periodically do this but right now I’m getting a sense of urgency about it. If I’m completely off the mark, then the worse that we’ve done is be financially prudent.

Remember, many people make a fortune in the bad times by being wise in the good times.

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