GRAPHIC-China’s debt is growing rapidly despite years of efforts to contain it
Nov. 24 (Reuters) – For years, senior Chinese officials have touted their ambitious political priority of weaning the world’s second-largest economy from high levels of debt, but there’s not much to show.
On the contrary, a Reuters analysis shows that Chinese corporate debt rose during this period, with levels at the end of September rising at the fastest rate in four years.
The build-up continued even as policymakers put in place a series of measures to stop the explosive growth in debt, including persuading state-owned enterprises and local governments to cut borrowing and tighten debt. rules and monitor short-term bank borrowing.
By some estimates, China’s overall debt is now up to three times the size of its economy.
Without a comprehensive strategy to deal with the surplus, there is a growing risk that China will experience a banking crisis or significantly slower growth or both, the International Monetary Fund said last year.
China’s central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan made world headlines by warning last month of the risks of a “Minsky moment”, referring to a sudden collapse in asset prices after long periods of growth, triggered by debt or monetary pressures.
On the sidelines of a key twice-decade Communist Party convention in October, Zhou discussed the relatively high corporate debt and the rapid pace of household loan growth. While also committing to face such risks, Zhou acknowledged that it will take some time to bring debt down to more manageable levels.
Reuters analysis of 2,146 listed companies in China showed their total debt at the end of September jumped 23% from a year ago, the fastest growth rate since 2013. The analysis covered three-fifths of the country’s listed companies, but excluded financials, which have seen the brunt of the government’s risk reduction and deleveraging efforts so far.
The analysis revealed that the debt in the real estate sector has multiplied the most in the last five years, followed by the industry.
The share of manufacturers in the total indebtedness of the companies covered has increased by 3 percentage points since the end of 2012, while that of the real estate sector has increased by 7 percentage points.
In September, public enterprises (SOEs) reported a comparatively faster growth rate in their debt. The total debt of 75 of the companies in the CSI Central SOE 100 index, which excludes financial services, is up more than 27% from a year ago, the biggest increase in many years.
Highlighting the scale of the problem and the drag on current and future economic growth, debt servicing costs have swallowed up about a quarter of SOE revenues in recent quarters.
The ratio rose to around 27% in the second quarter – the highest in at least five years – before declining slightly to 24.47% in the third quarter due to a jump in revenues.
A close examination of corporate debt has shown that borrowing through bond issuance has declined, however, perhaps because regulatory crackdown has driven up financing costs.
October data on aggregate social financing of corporate bonds, released by the central bank, showed aggregate financing of corporate bonds amounted to 18.340 trillion yuan ($ 2.770 billion) at the end of October after rising 4.4% from a year ago, the lowest growth rate in two years.
The gap in financing needs appears to have been filled by off-balance sheet financing in China’s murky and opaque shadow banking sector.
The cumulative total social financing, which also includes the shadow banking system, stood at 172.2 trillion yuan at the end of October, although the exact size of the shadow banking system is unknown. Total social funding for the month of October 2017 was 1.04 trillion yuan.
China’s deleveraging push appears to have intensified after the 19th Communist Party Congress in late October. In its latest round of shadow banking, the central bank issued general guidelines on Nov. 17 to tighten rules on asset management activities, which the central bank estimates to be a $ 9 trillion market.
While Chinese government debt remains contained, at 46.9% of GDP according to the latest figures from the Bank for International Settlements, key policy makers recently raised concerns about a sharp build-up in household debt.
Outstanding household consumer loans jumped nearly 30% since the middle of last year and reached 30.2 trillion yuan in October.
Outstanding yuan-denominated home loans stood at 31.1 trillion yuan and individual mortgages stood at 21.1 trillion yuan in the third quarter of 2017, according to data from the People’s Bank of China.
Reporting by Gaurav S Dogra; Editing by Vidya Ranganathan and Kim Coghill