China debt

Zhou Xiaochan, China's central bank governorClearly, China’s interest rate cut on Friday was motivated by a desire to manage a flagging growth story. But the announcement also revealed a few sub-plots, which together may say more about Beijing’s mindset than the dominant narrative.

The first point, several analysts said, is that Beijing’s monetary easing may well have further to run, following the decision by the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) to cut its benchmark lending rate by 0.4 percentage points to 5.6 per cent, while cutting its deposit rate by 0.25 per cent to 2.75 per cent. Read more

By Alastair Campbell and W. John Hoffmann, Exceptional Resources Group

“There is no difference between reform and anti-corruption: both must be implemented within the framework of law”.

So said Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and with the end of a high level Communist Party meeting last month, the significance of Xi’s “Rule of Law” campaign has become crystal clear. It is a key tool in his attempt to restructure the framework of Party political power and decision-making via the four new Party central leading groups which he chairs. Read more

“If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.”

For about two weeks in late October, it seemed as if these optimistic words from Calvin Coolidge, the former US president, might have encapsulated the mindset of emerging market (EM) investors.

But the late October rally in EM financial assets has now stalled. Investors are relinquishing hopes that market troubles may turn out to be mere phantoms and focusing again on the very real problems coming their way. Four of the most intractable are set out below. Read more

By Eswar Prasad, Karim Foda, and Abhinav Rangarajan

China is making steady progress on its path to making the renminbi an international currency, as the FT writes in a Special Report, The Future of the Renminbi, published today.

See here for an Interactive graphic that traces the renminbi’s progress since 2000.

China continues to gradually open up its capital account, make offshore renminbi liquidity more easily available, and sign up more renminbi trading centers (London and Frankfurt most recently). To become a reserve currency, China also needs to let the renminbi’s value be market-determined rather than being tightly managed relative to the US dollar.

On March 16th of this year, China took another step towards freeing up its currency. The daily trading band around the renminbi’s central value relative to the U.S. dollar was widened from 1 percent to 2 per cent in either direction. The reasonable expectation had been that this would lead to faster appreciation of the currency and more volatility. Instead, the opposite happened. Was the shift to a wider trading band just a head fake? Read more

Official statements on bad loans in Chinese banks come with a health warning: analysts widely believe they understate the real level of delinquency by a wide – though unknowable – margin.

Nevertheless, official statistics can be helpful in assessing whether the problem is deepening or alleviating. In that context, an analysis published on Thursday by EY, the accounting firm, shows stress levels rising rapidly among China’s top banks. Read more

A closely-watched indicator of economic activity in China is showing an unexpectedly robust reading for September, according to an announcement on Tuesday. But is a real growth rebound underway, following several signs of a slowdown in the third quarter so far?

Hong Kong stock market investors appeared to reserve judgement, allowing the Hang Seng index to slip 0.49 per cent, or 118 points on Tuesday to 23,837. Economists and other survey-based indicators of Chinese economic activity reinforced the skepticism. Read more

China’s leading credit rating agency will soon begin to provide English language ratings for local Chinese debt in the latest sign of a growing desire on the part of international investors to access the country’s highly restricted domestic debt markets.

“Dagong is making preparations to release ratings for onshore debt in English early next year,” the company’s chairman, Guan Jianzhong, told beyondbrics. “There are more international investors looking at Chinese debt.” Read more

By Andrew Colquhoun, Fitch Ratings

Does China invest too much? The country has been investing about 48 per cent of its GDP annually since 2010, which is unprecedented for any decent-sized economy, post-war. This investment is funded by a stock of leverage that will reach about 230 per cent of GDP in 2014 on Fitch’s estimate. Everyone has heard about the ghost towns and empty airports, leading some analysts to conclude China must be heading for a reckoning.

But you do not have to look far for evidence that China remains an underdeveloped country. Its rail network is only 13 per cent as extensive as Japan’s and only 64 per cent of its roads are paved, according to the World Bank. Almost exactly four years ago, one of the country’s main arteries, Highway 110, saw a 60-mile, 10-day traffic jam. Read more

By Gordon French, HSBC

China has been the growth story of the past three decades. It has also been largely out of reach for portfolio investors. That is about to change.

Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect opens a new chapter in China’s financial integration with the world, and will in time reshape the dynamics of global investment flows.

Expected to launch in October, Stock Connect will for the first time allow mainland Chinese citizens to invest directly in foreign equities, and give global investors direct access to China’s stock market. Read more

By Jukka Pihlman, Standard Chartered

Adopted at pace by central banks around the world, China’s renminbi is now seen by many as a de facto reserve currency – and well on the way to becoming an official one.

Central banks have caught the renminbi fever, and are showing strong interest in investing part of their foreign-currency reserves in the Chinese currency, with more than 50 central banks now actively doing so either onshore or offshore.

Uptake is strongest in Asia, Africa and South America – regions with fast-growing trade and investment links with China – but even in Europe central banks are busy allocating reserves to the renminbi. Read more

By Andrew Collier, Orient Capital Research

Beijing’s desire to pump up the Chinese economy is leading it into dangerous territory.

Although China has piled on debt, the country has been relatively cautious about one of the big areas that led to the U.S. financial crisis: leverage. It was the slicing and dicing of mortgages into digestible bite-sized chunks called derivatives that was a key contributor to the U.S. financial meltdown in 2007. Once they unwound, they threatened the banking system itself.

Until recently, China has avoided complicated derivatives and other forms of leverage. However, desperate to keep the economy from slumping, the Chinese reluctance to wander down the leverage path seems to have faded. Read more

Andrew Collier, Orient Capital Research

A decade ago, when China was struggling to clean up its banking system, regulators pulled a rabbit out of a hat. They set up a series of “bad banks” – called Asset Management Companies (AMC) – and took Rmb 1.4tn ($125bn) of debt off the hands of the four State Banks in Beijing. It was a big success, leading to the listing of the “Big Four” banks in Hong Kong and a healthier financial system.

Now, they’re trying to pull the same trick again – this time across the country.

Regulators have quietly given approval for local governments to set up their own AMCs. As in Beijing ten years ago, these local AMCs would take non-performing loans (NPLs) from local banks, governments and other financial institutions and sell or restructure them. So far, four Provinces have signed on, but once the experiment gets rolling, it’s likely there will be one for each Province across China. Read more

By Andrew Collier, Orient Capital Research

What happens if China goes broke?

China’s Rmb4tn stimulus package in 2008 – and its ballooning lending – has raised fears of a financial collapse. Certainly, debt has exploded. The China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) estimates that total government debt is now Rmb 27tn, or 53%, of GDP. Throw in corporate and household debt, and CASS estimates the total at Rmb 111.6tn ($18.3tn) at the end of 2012, or 215 per cent GDP.

Chinese economists are quick to point out that the country has plenty of money to pay off its debts and could easily avert a financial collapse. The government, they say, could function as lender of last resort. Read more

A manufacturer of construction materials has become the first Chinese company to default on a domestic junk bond, a state-owned Chinese newspaper said on Tuesday, compounding investor concerns over which mainland issuers could be next to miss debt repayment obligations.

Xuzhou Zhongsen Tonghao, based in the prosperous but highly indebted province of Jiangsu, was unable to meet interest payments on Rmb180m (US$29m) in bonds it sold to domestic investors last year, according to the 21st Century Business Herald, a state-owned newspaper. The missed interest payment was estimated at Rmb18m, given the 10 per cent coupon on the bond, and took place last Friday. Read more

By Diana Choyleva, Lombard Street Research

China’s first corporate bond default in recent history is only the first step on a difficult road of reform. Much like the removal of the floor under the bank lending rate last year, allowing the default of Chaori Solar Energy Science and Technology Co. was the easy part.

It has been dubbed China’s ‘Bear Stearns moment’ by some and its ‘Lehman moment’ by others. It is likely to be neither. Read more