【英语中国】中国现金荒并不意外

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2013-6-25 09:49

小艾摘要: LELAND R. MILLER / CRAIG CHARNEYThe spike in China's interbank lending rates caught many investors by surprise and added to the market turmoil over the last week. But for those paying close attention ...
LELAND R. MILLER / CRAIG CHARNEY

The spike in China's interbank lending rates caught many investors by surprise and added to the market turmoil over the last week. But for those paying close attention to the mainland credit markets, this was no bolt from the blue. In fact these problems were foreseeable and are likely to continue.

Over the past two weeks, the People's Bank of China has mostly withheld funding from the financial system, sending the Shanghai Interbank Offer Rate (Shibor)岸the benchmark rate Chinese banks use to lend to each other岸to record highs. Yet the credit floodgates weren't suddenly closed in China: The environment has actually been constrained all year long.

For three quarters, our company's surveys of Chinese firms have shown corporate borrowing weakening, interest rates rising and shadow banking shrinking. But because of lagging and inaccurate official data, there have been lengthy lags in market perceptions of loosening and tightening.

Many factors contributed to recent Shibor spikes, including the timing of tax payments, a public holiday, new data showing slowing inflows, and fears of reduced quantitative easing by the U.S. Federal Reserve. Yet the larger reason China is seeing spiking rates and confusion over the government response is that official data misrepresent China's credit environment. The government's goal is and will be to tighten credit, and it has been that way for longer than most people realize.

A look at independently collected credit data paints a very different picture of China's credit environment than the headline numbers Beijing has long deemed sufficient.

Consider widespread misperceptions over the expansion of shadow finance. From January to May, official data indicated that 'total social finance' in China's economy (principally shadow banking) expanded dramatically, leaving the market convinced that a tidal wave of credit was arriving. Our quarterly national Chinese business surveys, by contrast, have shown that the proportion of Chinese firms borrowing from shadow lenders was identical in the first and second quarters of this year (and down nearly half from a year ago).

Far from seeing firms soaked in liquidity from any source, our surveys have seen drops each quarter in realized company borrowing, from 43% a year ago to a shockingly low 30% this quarter. Average interest rates paid by firms have steadily risen to 7.1% since bottoming during the third quarter of last year at 5.96%.

In other words, while the market was obsessing over the threat of too much liquidity, firms found loans increasingly difficult and expensive to obtain. This kind of incongruity between the actual credit environment and the market's perception of it made some sort of shock almost inevitable岸something our data highlighted back in March.

Bizarre divergences in credit responses between bankers and companies should have also sounded the alarm. In the current quarter, our survey shows that bankers report stable interest rates and more lending to firms, but firms are reporting higher rates paid and much less borrowing than ever before. This company-bank divergence is concrete evidence of lack of intermediation岸which should have led analysts to aggressively question banker reports of abundant liquidity.

Banks have certainly made low-cost credit available, but to whom? Larger, state- connected firms needing to roll-over debt, according to our data. But for most firms seeking capital, conditions are increasingly tough.

The policy environment for these spikes was also much more apparent than most investors recognized. The central bank has tightened for months now. In March, after a 17-month hiatus, it resumed issuing three-month bills (as opposed to shorter-dated, more flexible instruments). Then, in the run-up to the recent holiday, it chose not to inject cash via reverse repos or short-term liquidity operations, despite expectations it would do so. Last week it doubled down, selling two billion yuan of three-month bills not once but twice. While those issuances were negligible in size, they were a clear signal that China's new leadership has no intention of rushing to the distress of what they believe are long-pampered banks.

This policy shift could have been recognized in March, but the warnings went unheeded because markets focused on fears of shadow-banking excesses based on unreliable official data.

The overall tightening in credit this year, coupled with the market's mistaken belief that large and growing aggregate figures for total social finance would backstop credit growth, created an expectations bubble that is proving every bit as dangerous as an actual credit bubble. In this context, a spike in call rates is hardly surprising. The market is simply much shallower than the aggregate numbers indicate.

Investors would do well to ignore official headline numbers and concentrate instead on reports from businesses that have long been signaling distress over tightening credit. If they wait for official evidence of this, they will likely get it only after further market jolts.

Mr. Miller is president and Mr. Charney is research director of China Beige Book International, which publishes a quarterly economic survey of over 2,000 Chinese firms.

LELAND R. MILLER / CRAIG CHARNEY

中国银行间拆借利率飙升势头令许多投资者感到意外,并加剧了过去一周的市场波动。但对于那些密切关注中国大陆信贷市场的人来说这并不令他们意外。实际上,这些问题是可预见的,并且可能还将持续。

过去两周,中国央行基本未向金融系统提供资金,这促使上海银行间同业拆放利率(Shibor)──中国银行业相互借贷的基准利率──升至纪录高点。然而中国信贷供应大门并非突然关闭:流动性吃紧状况实际上已经持续一年了。

本公司对中国企业的三个季度的调查显示,企业借贷放缓、利率攀升,同时影子银行贷款也在萎缩。但由于官方数据滞后且失准,市场意识到信贷是宽松还是紧缩的时间就相当滞后了。

近期推动Shibor飙升的因素有许多,包括纳税时间、适逢公共假日、新数据显示流入资金放缓以及对美国联邦储备委员会(Federal Reserve)可能收缩定量宽松政策的担忧。然而出现利率大幅上升和政府反应令人迷惑不解的更大的原因是,官方数据未能如实反映当前中国的信贷状况。目前以及未来中国政府的目标是收紧信贷,而且这个目标持续的时间已经比多数人认为的要长。

中国政府一直认为其发布的重要数据已经足以体现信贷状况,但从独立收集的信贷数据看,中国的信贷状况完全是另外一番景象。

影子融资的扩张状况就被普遍误读。今年1-5月份,官方数据显示,中国经济社会融资总量(主要是来自影子银行)大幅扩张,这令市场相信一波信贷热潮即将来临。而我们对中国国内企业的季度调查显示,今年第一和第二季度中国企业来自影子银行的信贷基本持平(较上年同期下降近一半)。

我们的调查显示企业信贷状况远谈不上宽松,这两个季度每个季度的企业实现借贷比例都有所下滑,本季度从上年同期的43%降至出奇低的30%。企业支付的平均借贷利息自去年第三季度在5.96%触底以来已稳步攀升至7.1%。

换言之,尽管市场不停地担心流动性过多的威胁,但企业却发现获得贷款越来越难且成本越来越高。实际信贷环境与市场感知情况之间的这种不一致几乎必然会产生某种冲击──我们的数据早在3月份就显示出来了这一状况。

银行家和企业对信贷问题的反应大相径庭,这也应该敲响警钟。我们的调查显示,在当前季节,银行家称利率稳定,并且向企业发放了更多贷款,但企业则称支付了更高利息,借到的资金额远低于以往。公司和银行说法的迥异是缺乏中间渠道的明确证据。为此,分析人士应大力质疑银行家给出的有关流动性充裕的说法。

银行当然会提供廉价信贷,但向谁提供呢?据我们统计的数据显示,与政府有关联的大公司需要将债务展期。但对大多数需要资金的企业来说,情况却越来越艰难。

矛盾激增的政策环境也远比大多数投资者意识到的要明显。中国央行已连续数月在收紧政策。在时隔17个月后,中国央行今年3月重新发行三月期票据(而不是期限更短、更灵活的工具)。然后,在最近一次节假日之前那段时间,该行选择不通过逆回购或短期流动性操作注入资金,尽管外界预期它会这么做。上周,中国央行更是“变本加厉”,两次发行了人民币20亿元的三月期央票。虽然这些央票的发行规模微不足道,但这显然是一个信号,表明中国新任领导人无意对这些他们认为养尊处优的银行所遭遇的困境施以援手。

这种政策上的转变本来今年3月或许就能被发现,但这些警告却被当成了耳边风,原因是市场关注焦点都放在对影子银行过度放贷的担心上了,而这种担心又是基于不可靠的官方数据。。

今年信贷环境整体偏紧,再加上市场错误地认为社会融资总量数据不断增长会支撑信贷增长,这就产生了一个预期泡沫,而事实证明这个泡沫与实际信贷泡沫一样具有危险性。在这种情况下,拆借利率上调算不上是什么意外,市场只不过比整体数据表明的要浅很多而已。

如果投资者忽略主要的官方数据,转而将注意力放到那些因为信贷环境紧张而一直在发求救信号的企业报告上来,他们的情况可能会好很多。如果他们坐等官方数据来证实这个情况,那么他们可能要在经历进一步市场震荡后才能看到真实情况。

(Miller和Charney分别是China Beige Book International的总裁和研究部门主管。该公司每季度会发布一份针对超过2,000家中国公司的经济调查报告。)

(本文版权归道琼斯公司所有,未经许可不得翻译或转载。)

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