【英语财经】中国影子银行的风险 Risky business, global threat

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2014-6-19 07:02

小艾摘要: From the window of his office, Qiao Jingshan can look out across downtown Yuncheng and see signs of new construction everywhere. Half-built or empty apartment complexes are scattered across the citysc ...
Risky business, global threat
From the window of his office, Qiao Jingshan can look out across downtown Yuncheng and see signs of new construction everywhere. Half-built or empty apartment complexes are scattered across the cityscape bearing names like “Eastar Upward”, “Golden Riverside” or “Stars and River Mansion”.

As chief accountant for Yuncheng City Investment, a financing vehicle for the local government, Mr Qiao has played a crucial role in the development of this gritty steelmaking city in central China. His latest job is to sell his company’s “trust product” – a high-interest, deposit-like investment – with the proceeds going to a big public heating project for Yuncheng.

Despite paying a tempting 9.7 per cent annual interest rate, his product, marketed as “Eternal Trust Number 37”, is not catching on with investors. Mr Qiao is worried.

The problem could be that Yuncheng’s property market has hit a rough patch or that a local steel plant has closed. But he blames events outside Yuncheng for his predicament. The near-default of other Chinese financial products recently has set off alarms – inside China and in global markets – that the country is in the midst of a dangerous credit bubble.

Mr Qiao admits the Yuncheng heating project will not provide any re-turns for his company, a-n un-settling fact for any investor. But he is dismissive that this is the problem.

“All of our investments are public works that should actually be paid for by the local government so when the trust product matures the government should take this project off our hands and give us the money to repay investors,” he says. “Don’t worry, it is impossible for there to be any sort of financial crisis here in Yuncheng.”

Trust products, such as the one offered by Yuncheng City Investment, lie at the heart of China’s shadow banking sector, which has provided more than Rmb30tn ($4.8tn) worth of loans to the country’s riskier enterprises since 2007. It has helped create the biggest credit boom in history. But in Yuncheng and scores of similar nondescript cities across the country, China’s enormous and poorly regulated shadow banking sector is starting to run into trouble, with profound implications for the world’s second-largest economy – and potentially the global economy.

Today the Financial Times begins a series on how “shadow banking” – a term that covers a wide range of “non-bank” institutions that perform many of the functions of traditional banks, but do so outside the traditional system of regulated banks – is reshaping finance around the world. The last shadow banking bubble, in the US in the run-up to 2008, compounded the global crisis that followed. Now markets and regulators are concerned that the rapid build-up of risk in China’s shadow banking sector could inflict similar damage.

Worries about China’s shadow banking system rattled global stock markets this winter, after a wealth management product called “Credit Equals Gold” was reported to be on the verge of default. It was quickly restructured, only to be followed by concerns about a similar product known as “Opulent Blessing”.

Although these were small products in relation to the Chinese economy, the financial markets – and regulators – paid attention.

Noting how large the sector has grown, many in China warn that the country could face its own “Lehman moment” if it were to see a serious run on shadow banks.

The concern is that financing could disappear for the most leveraged and riskiest parts of the economy, from real estate developers to steel mills. China’s investment-reliant growth could come to an abrupt end.

“The [traditional] banks have been very strategic about pushing their weakest assets into these channels,” says Charlene Chu, the former Fitch analyst who was one of the first to raise serious questions about the rise of China’s shadow banking sector and who now works for Autonomous, the research group. “The weakest institutions and creditors are the ones engaged in shadow banking, where bad decisions and bad risk management are the norm.”

A necessary evil

Yuncheng City Investment is one of more than 10,000 “local government financing vehicles” (LGFVs) set up by Communist party officials as a way to circumvent laws that forbid local governments from running deficits.

Their job is to raise money any way they can and spend it on behalf of local authorities, often on public works projects such as roads, public heating or sewage systems. The latest official estimate puts the total amount of debt held by LGFVs at Rmb17.9tn by the middle of last year, equivalent to more than 31 per cent of China’s gross domestic product in 2013. Most LGFVs were created in the wake of the global financial crisis in late 2008, when Chinese exports fell off a cliff and the government launched an enormous stimulus plan to stave off economic disaster. The LGFVs were seen by Beijing as a necessary evil and were initially allowed to borrow directly from the country’s state-owned banks.

With Beijing exhorting companies and local governments to borrow and spend as much as they could, total debt to GDP in China’s economy rose from 130 per cent in 2008 to more than 220 per cent in 2013. Assets in the formal and shadow banking sector increased from around $10tn to as much as $25tn. That means China created new credit roughly equivalent to the entire US banking system in the space of five years.

The massive stimulus quickly led to a rebound in growth rates, but the new credit soon began weighing on lenders’ balance sheets and capital requirements. So, with tacit approval from policy makers in Beijing, alternative forms of credit began to sprout in the shadows.

The banks repackaged their risk-iest loans to their least creditworthy borrowers, including many LGFVs, and sold them as “wealth management products” to ordinary depositors.

Lightly regulated trust companies joined the action, making high-interest loans to risky borrowers, repackaging them and selling them through banks as “trust products”.

On paper, trust products are only supposed to be sold to investors with Rmb1m to spend but this rule is often broken. And the trusts were designed to be alluring. Deposit rates in China are capped by the government but these innovative trusts were classified as investment products, allowing banks to tempt depositors with the promise of much higher returns.

“The non-bank side of the financial system is primed for disaster and nowhere more so than in the trust sector,” says Jonathan Anderson, founder of Emerging Advisors Group. “Trust products are genetically engineered to go bad when the credit taps turn off.”

Growing fast

After the Chinese economy rebounded in 2009 and 2010, policy makers began worrying about wasteful investment and asset inflation.

Banks were told to cut back on lending to real estate projects, local government borrowers like Yuncheng City Investment and industries suffering from serious overcapacity, such as steel, glass and cement. That created enormous demand for the high-interest loans on offer through the fledgling shadow banking sector.

Economists at Barclays estimate the size of China’s shadow banking system at around Rmb38.8tn at the end of last year, or around a quarter of the size of total assets in the banking sector. Analysts say roughly half of all credit extended in 2013 came from outside the formal banking system.

Part of this includes activity such as corporate bond sales that would not be considered shadow banking in other economies. But much of it is made up by the wealth management and trust products that Chinese regulators are worried about.

Total outstanding trust product assets in China rose 8 per cent in the first quarter from the previous quarter to reach Rmb11.7tn, a fourfold increase from the total at the end of 2010. As much as Rmb5.3tn of those products will come due this year, according to estimates from Haitong Securities, a Chinese brokerage.

Biting the bullet

Yuncheng City Investment was established in 2003, earlier than most of its peers, as a way for the local government to access bank loans to pay for public works. But the company was mostly dormant until 2009, when the local government gave it a staff of several dozen people and launched it into a frenzy of borrowing and investing in roads, museums and government-subsidised housing.

When policy makers in Beijing turned off the credit flowing from state banks to LGFVs, City Investment turned to the corporate bond market, raising Rmb800m from a 2012 bond sale to investors for which it had to pay 7.5 per cent annual interest.

But last year Mr Qiao and his colleagues were told they would not be allowed to tap the bond market again thanks to new rules linking government officials’ performance to local debt levels. So, despite the almost 10 per cent interest rate they would have to pay, they decided to launch a trust product and turned to Sino-Australian International Trust, a Shanghai-based venture between two state owned companies and Australia’s Macquarie Bank, which owns 20 per cent.

The two-year trust product Mr Qiao is trying to sell – he had planned to raise Rmb350m by the end of March – was collateralised by a piece of land near the Yuncheng airport.

The fortunes of the property developments he can see out his window are of great importance to Mr Qiao since government land sales to commercial real estate developers provided almost two-thirds of Yuncheng’s Rmb22.4bn in fiscal revenue in 2012. City Investment’s outstanding debt before it launched its trust product was already Rmb4.2bn, or almost half of the Rmb9.1bn in revenue Yuncheng City took in last year from sources other than land sales.

Unfortunately for Mr Qiao, Yuncheng’s real estate market has hit a rough patch.

“Prices are falling and sales are really terrible because too many apartments have been built and so many of them are empty,” said a sales manager at a property development on the outskirts of Yuncheng who would only give his surname, Guo.

Mr Guo says in the district where he works the government approved 800,000 square metres of new property construction last year alone, even though the total population of the district is just 300,000 and most people cannot afford the apartments.

The term sheet for City Investment’s trust product is not very long or detailed. But it points out that Yuncheng has several large industrial companies that the local government can rely on for tax revenues.

The first company on that list is Highsee Iron and Steel Group, which recently collapsed under the weight of more than Rmb20bn in debt.

A large aluminium smelter that is another important source of the city’s tax revenues is facing such dire market conditions that it loses as much as Rmb30,000 on every ton of metal it produces, according to local officials. They say the company has responded by shutting down production.

The bailouts begin

Even as China’s economy is slowing and revenues from land sales dry up, local governments such as Yuncheng’s are being called on to prop up their financing vehicles and bail out the high-interest trust products they have sold to investors.

At best, this could push growth lower, since government revenues will be diverted from new investment into paying off old debts. At worst, collapsing government revenue will lead to financial crises as defaults in the shadow banking sector soar and investment-reliant growth collapses.

Yuncheng is not a particularly extreme example, since Mr Qiao and his colleagues have been relatively conservative in their borrowing. Many Chinese cities have dozens of LGFVs that have issued scores of trust products between them.

“Yuncheng represents a case of a city in real need of financial restructuring and there are many cities like this across China,” says Li Daokui, of the Center for China in the World Economy at Tsinghua University and a former member of the central bank’s monetary policy committee. “The central government will have to step in to facilitate this restructuring but the holders of these kinds of high-interest trust products across the country will definitely lose money.”

As far as the banks and trust companies such as Sino-Australian are concerned, any risks of default by borrowers like City Investment are borne by investors alone.

Most ordinary investors bought the wealth management and trust products assuming they were guaranteed by the government, since they were usually sold by state banks. But many investors are starting to question this assumption. Some are even taking to the streets to protest and demand the government bails them out.

That is bad news for Mr Qiao and his trust product. But it is also a concern for financial regulators in Beijing, who would like to limit the growth of shadow banking but who realise the sector has become so big that it now has the potential to destabilise the entire system.

“Right now there is a lot of concern over the fiscal condition of the system,” a senior financial regulator said. “If we see a very sudden withdrawal of funds from the shadow banking system then it will definitely be a macroeconomic problem.”

【编者按】本文是FT“影子银行”系列的开篇之作,该系列有深度报道,也有分析和评论。自2007年以来,中国影子银行业提供了逾30万亿元人民币贷款。但该行业正开始出现问题,这将对全球第二大经济体产生深远影响,还有可能波及全球经济。

从办公室的窗口,乔景山能够俯瞰运城市的市中心,看到到处都有新建楼房的迹象。建了一半或者空置的住宅小区四散分布在整个城区,挂着东星向上(Eastar Upward)、金色水岸(Golden Riverside)或者星河城(Stars and River Mansion)这样的名字。

作为地方政府融资平台——运城市城市建设投资开发有限公司(Yuncheng City Investment,简称运城城投)的总会计师,乔景山在这座粗放的中原炼钢城市的发展中扮演着关键角色。他的最新任务是销售自己公司的“信托产品”——一种高收益率、类似储蓄的投资——所得资金将用于运城市的一个大型公共供暖项目。

虽然所支付的9.7%的年利率颇有吸引力,但这款命名为“长信37号”(Eternal Trust Number 37)的产品未能引发投资者的追捧。乔景山对此感到担忧。

问题可能在于,运城的房地产市场目前遇到了难关,或者当地的一家钢铁企业遭遇关停。但乔景山将自己的困境归咎于运城以外地区发生的事件。近期中国有一些金融产品几乎违约,这敲响了警钟——不论是在中国国内还是国际市场——提醒各方:中国正深陷一个危险的信贷泡沫。

乔景山承认,运城的供暖项目不会给他的公司带来任何回报。这对任何投资者来说都是一个令人不安的事实,但他不认为这是一个问题。

他表示:“我们所投资的都是本应由地方政府出资的公共项目,因此当信托产品到期时,地方政府应从我们手中接管这个项目,并给予我们资金以偿付投资者。不用担心,在运城这个地方,是不可能出现任何形式的金融危机的。”

信托产品,就像运城城投发售的这一款,在中国的影子银行体系中占据核心位置。自从2007年以来,影子银行向中国风险较高的各类企业提供了规模超过30万亿元人民币(合4.8万亿美元)的贷款,推动创造了有史以来规模最大的信贷繁荣。但在运城以及中国各地几十个类似的不知名城市,中国巨大而监管不力的影子银行体系正开始出现问题,这将对全球第二大经济体产生深远的影响,还有可能波及全球经济。

英国《金融时报》将从今天开始刊载一个有关“影子银行”如何重塑世界各地金融格局的系列报道——“影子银行”这一术语涵盖了范围很广的“非银行”机构,这些机构行使传统银行的很多职能,但却游走于受到监管的传统银行体系之外。上一次影子银行泡沫在临近2008年时发生在美国,它加剧了随后发生的全球金融危机。现在市场人士和监管当局担心,中国影子银行体系的风险迅速累积,可能导致类似的巨大危害。

去年冬天,对中国影子银行体系的担忧导致全球股票市场动荡不安,原因是有报道称,中国一款名为“诚至金开”(Credit Equals Gold)的理财产品濒临违约边缘。这支产品被迅速重组,但随后又有一支名为“山西福裕能源项目收益权集合资金信托计划”的类似产品引发市场担忧。

虽然这些小产品相对于中国经济在规模上微不足道,但它们引起了金融市场和监管当局的注意。

中国有不少人指出,影子银行体系已经形成了非常庞大的规模,他们警告称,如果影子银行体系遭遇严重挤兑,中国可能迎来自己的“雷曼时刻”。

人们担心的是,中国经济中杠杆率和风险最高的行业(从房地产开发商到钢铁厂)的融资来源可能突然消失。中国依靠投资推动的增长模式可能戛然而止。

惠誉(Fitch)前分析师朱夏莲(Charlene Chu)是对中国影子银行体系的膨胀提出严肃质疑的首批人士之一。她表示:“传统银行很有策略性地将质量最差的资产推入这些渠道。参与影子银行体系的正是那些实力最弱的机构和放贷方;在影子银行体系中,糟糕的决策和糟糕的风险管理是常态。”朱夏莲目前任职于研究公司Autonomous。

必要的恶

运城城投是共产党官员在全国设立的逾1万个“地方政府融资平台”之一,目的是规避禁止地方政府举债的法律限制。

地方政府融资平台的职能是,通过任何可能的方式筹集资金,并代表地方政府将所得资金支出到位,往往用于道路、公共供暖或者污水管道系统等公共工程项目。最新的官方估测数据显示,截至去年年中,地方政府融资平台所持债务的总规模约为17.9万亿元人民币,比2013年中国国内生产总值(GDP)的31%还要多。绝大多数地方政府融资平台是在全球金融危机爆发后于2008年末建立的,当时中国的出口剧烈下滑,中央政府为了避免发生经济危机,启动了一个规模庞大的刺激计划。地方政府融资平台被北京方面视为一种必要之恶,最初还被允许向中国的国有银行直接贷款。

由于北京方面鼓励企业和地方政府尽可能地借钱花钱,中国经济的债务总量与GDP之比从2008年的130%升至2013年的逾220%。正规银行体系和影子银行体系的资产总量从约10万亿元人民币升至25万亿元人民币。这意味着在五年时间里,中国的新增信贷相当于美国整个银行体系。

大规模的刺激计划推动经济增速迅速反弹,但新增信贷很快开始拖累银行的资产负债表,使其在满足资本要求时遇到麻烦。因此,在北京的政策制定者的默许之下,其他形式的信贷开始暗中萌芽。

银行将发放给最低信用评级借款方(包括很多地方政府融资平台)的高风险贷款重新打包,将其作为“理财产品”销售给普通储户。

监管宽松的信托公司也加入了进来,向高风险借款方发放高息贷款,将贷款重新打包之后,再通过银行以“信托产品”的形式进行销售。

按照相关规定,信托产品只能面向总资产超过100万元人民币的投资者发售,但这条规定经常被违反。而且信托产品被设计得颇具吸引力。中国的储蓄利率受政府设定的上限限制,但这些创新的信托产品被划归为投资产品,使银行能够通过承诺更高的回报来吸引储户。

Emerging Advisors Group的创始人乔纳森?安德森(Jonathan Anderson)表示:“金融体系中的非银行板块正在走向灾难,尤其是在信托部门。信贷闸门关闭后,信托产品的内在基因注定了它会出问题。”

快速增长

中国经济在2009年和2010年出现反弹后,政策制定者们开始担忧投资浪费和资产通胀问题。

银行被要求缩减对房地产项目、像运城城投这样的地方政府借款方,以及钢铁、玻璃、水泥等产能严重过剩行业的放贷。这就为新生的影子银行体系所提供的高息贷款创造出了巨大需求。

巴克莱(Barclays)的经济学家估计,截至去年底,中国影子银行体系的规模约为38.8万亿元人民币,约占中国银行体系总资产规模的四分之一。分析师指出,2013年新增的信贷总量中,大约一半来自正规银行体系以外。

这其中包括企业债券发行等在其他经济体中不被视为属于影子银行的融资活动。但此类活动有很大一部分是由中国监管当局担心的理财产品和信托产品构成的。

今年第一季度,中国未偿还的信托产品资产总量较上一季度增长8%,达到11.7万亿元人民币,是2010年底时的四倍。根据中国证券经纪商海通证券(Haitong Securities)的估算,今年将有高达5.3万亿元人民币的此类产品到期。

勉为其难

运城城投成立于2003年,早于大多数地方政府融资平台,目的是让地方政府获得银行贷款以支付公共工程项目。但该公司在成立后的最初几年基本上处于休眠状态,直到2009年才突然改变,当时地方政府给运城城投配备了几十名工作人员,并让该公司启动一轮疯狂的借贷和投资,以修建道路、博物馆和政府补贴住房。

北京的政策制定者们切断了从国有银行到地方政府融资平台的资金流动后,运城城投转向了企业债券市场,通过2012年面向投资者的一次债券发售筹集了8亿元人民币,其所需支付的年利率高达7.5%。

但去年乔景山和他的同事们被告知,根据将政府官员政绩与地方债务规模挂钩的新规定,他们将不再能从债券市场融资。因此,虽然需要支付近10%的利率,他们仍然决定发行一款信托产品,并转向华澳国际信托(Sino-Australian International Trust)。这家总部位于上海的信托公司是由两家中国国有企业和澳大利亚的麦格理银行(Macquarie Bank)合资成立的,后者持有20%的股份。

乔景山目前试图发售的这支两年期信托产品是以靠近运城机场的一块土地做抵押的——他曾计划要在3月底之前募集3.5亿元人民币。

办公室窗外的房地产开发项目的命运对乔景山非常重要,因为在运城市2012年224亿元人民币的财政收入中,政府向商业房地产开发商出售土地的收入所占比重近三分之二。在发行信托产品以前,运城城投的未偿还债务规模已达42亿元人民币,几乎相当于运城市去年通过售地以外的其他来源所获得的91亿元人民币收入的一半。

对于乔景山来说,不幸的是,运城的房地产市场已经遇到了难关。

运城市郊一个房地产开发项目的销售经理表示:“楼价正在下跌,销售情况非常糟糕,因为建成了太多的公寓房,而其中有很多空着。”这位经理不愿透露全名,只说自己姓郭。

郭经理表示,在他工作的那个区,政府仅去年一年就批准开工建设80万平方米的新建住宅,而这个区的总人口只有30万人,且多数人根本买不起新公寓。

运城城投的信托产品的投资条款说明书篇幅不长,也不是很详尽。但该说明书指出,运城市拥有多家大型工业企业,地方政府可以依靠这些企业获得税收收入。

名单中的第一家企业是海鑫钢铁集团(Highsee Iron and Steel Group),这家企业不久前在超过200亿元人民币债务的重压下破产了。

一家大型铝冶炼厂是运城市税收收入的另一重要来源。据当地官员介绍,该厂面临着非常严峻的市场形势,每生产一吨金属就要亏损3万元人民币。他们表示,这家公司已停止生产作为回应。

开始纾困

即便中国的经济增速正在放缓,即便来自售地的收入正在枯竭,像运城这样的地方政府仍被要求支持自身的融资平台,并为此类平台销售给投资者的高息信托产品提供兜底。

往最积极的方向说,这可能推动经济增速进一步下滑,因为政府收入将被用于偿付旧债,而非投向新的投资项目。往最糟糕的方向说,随着影子银行领域的违约事件显著增多,随着依靠投资推动的经济增长模式陷入崩溃,政府收入大幅下降将引发金融危机。

运城并不是一个特别极端的例子,因为乔景山和他的同事们的融资活动相对保守。中国很多城市有数十个地方政府融资平台,它们推出了大量信托产品。

清华大学(Tsinghua University)中国与世界经济研究中心(Center for China in the World Economy)的李稻葵表示:“运城构成了一个亟需财务重组的城市的案例,在中国各地,像运城这样的城市还有很多。中央政府将有必要出面协调这一重组进程,但中国国内持有这些高息信托产品的投资者无疑将会遭受损失。”李稻葵曾担任央行货币政策委员会委员。

而就银行和华澳国际信托等信托公司而言,像运城城投这样的借款方的任何违约风险都将由投资者独自承受。

绝大多数购买了理财产品和信托产品的普通投资者想当然地认为,这些产品拥有政府担保,因为它们通常是经由国有银行发售的。但很多投资者现已开始怀疑这种假设。一些人甚至走上街头抗议,要求政府出面兜底。

对于乔景山和他的信托产品来说,这是一个坏消息。但这也是北京的金融监管当局忧虑的一个问题:监管机构一方面希望限制影子银行的扩张,另一方面又意识到影子银行的规模现已变得极其庞大,具备了破坏整个金融体系稳定的潜力。

一位高级金融监管者表示:“目前很多人都在担心影子银行体系的财务状况。如果我们非常突然地从影子银行体系抽走资金,那必将引发宏观经济问题。”

译者/马拉

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