【英语财经】中国坏账银行运作方式再受质疑 China’s bad banks swell as defaults spread

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2016-4-6 23:11

小艾摘要: As China’s economy slows and defaults rise, bad loan managers are quietly buying toxic debt so it does not poison the broader financial system. Yet questions remain about whether these bad banks are ...
China’s bad banks swell as defaults spread
As China’s economy slows and defaults rise, bad loan managers are quietly buying toxic debt so it does not poison the broader financial system. Yet questions remain about whether these bad banks are savvy investors in distressed assets or conduits for a backdoor bailout of state banks.

Investors widely suspect that the banks’ practice of “extend and pretend” explains why the country’s official non-performing loan ratio remains modest at 1.67 per cent. While this practice is probably part of the explanation, lenders have also kept non-performing loans under control by accelerating sell-offs of soured debt.

Total assets at the big four state-owned asset management companies, the main buyers of such debt, surged from Rmb345bn ($53bn) to Rmb1.73tn ($268bn) between 2011 and 2014. Most is concentrated in industries such as steel, coal and real estate that have borne the brunt of China’s economic slowdown.

However, in a statement to China’s parliament, Lai Xiaomin, chairman of Huarong Asset Management, has warned that due to the slowing economy “the speed of distressed asset disposal is declining and the difficulty is increasing”.

Mr Lai asked for low-interest loans from the central bank and fresh equity capital from the finance ministry to reduce the pressure on the AMCs to sell off their distressed assets at unfavourable prices.

Yet the plan raises questions about whether the AMCs are returning to their roots as a channel for injecting government money into state banks.

Huarong is the largest by assets of four state-owned AMCs that Beijing established in 1997 to recapitalise the big four state-owned commercial banks. The AMCs purchased Rmb3.5tn in bad loans on government orders through 2008. With much of that debt purchased at face value, these transactions cleansed the balance sheet of the banks but left the AMCs with guaranteed losses.

Nearly two decades later, Huarong and Cinda, Great Wall and China Orient, its cousins, have disposed of their legacy assets and insist they have transformed themselves into profit-driven entities that buy assets at market prices, using their experience to recover value.

They have also diversified their assets beyond bank loans. Of Huarong’s total bad-debt portfolio at the end of June, 60 per cent was purchased from non-financial companies, mainly corporate receivables. Overdue receivables have risen sharply in recent years as cash flows tighten and companies delay payments to suppliers. They are also buying from non-bank financiers such as trusts.

Huarong sells bonds and borrows mainly in the interbank money market to fund its bad-asset purchases. But deprived of the government funding on which they once relied, Mr Lai said it is difficult to meet his funding needs.

“Things have changed from [the government] giving rice to cook meals to [us] searching for rice to fill the pot,” he said.

“My capital sources are limited and regulatory requirements are high so there’s a lot of pressure.”

Huarong raised $2.3bn last October in a Hong Kong initial public offering that set a record for the proportion of shares bought by cornerstone investors. Analysts said the reliance on state-owned cornerstones was a sign that ordinary investors were nervous about the deal.

Lack of transparency has fuelled a lingering suspicion that the AMCs are instruments of a stealth bailout, with politicians pressing the four AMCs to buy assets at inflated prices. Mr Lai said such deals are a thing of the past.

“Now everything we do is market-driven. From funding costs to negotiations over [asset] prices — the government doesn’t interfere,” said Mr Lai. “One-shot business deals mandated from above — that’s from 17 years ago. We don’t do that any more.”

The FT reported in 2014 that Huarong was the mysterious white knight that bailed out Credit Equals Gold 1, a high-yield wealth management product that had been sold by Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China’s largest lender. The deal, in which Huarong bought the underlying assets at a modest discount to face value, was struck just days before a potential default that could have spread contagion through China’s financial system.

The question is whether incidents such as this are anomalies or indicative of the way Huarong and the other AMCs typically operate. Analysts mostly believe the bad banks are profit-driven, but they acknowledge that the AMCs can be pressed into national service when circumstances demand.

Zhan Di, an analyst at Everbright Securities in Hong Kong, said: “Whether they’re are completely market-driven and transparent I can’t really say. But they’re definitely headed in that direction. It’s the inevitable trend.”

Additional reporting by Ma Nan in Shanghai

随着中国经济增速放缓,违约增加,不良贷款经理们正在悄悄购买不良债务,使其不致毒化整体金融体系。但依然存在的问号是:这些坏账银行是精明的困境资产投资者,还是背地里为国有银行纾困的渠道?

投资者普遍怀疑,中国各银行的“展期和粉饰”做法解释了为什么中国官方不良贷款率仍维持在1.67%的适度水平。尽管这种做法很可能是部分原因,但是各银行也在加快抛售恶化的债务,以使不良贷款得到控制。

四大国有资产管理公司是此类债务的主要买家,2011年至2014年间,它们的资产总额从3450亿元人民币(合530亿美元)飙升到1.73万亿元人民币(合2680亿美元)。其中大部分集中在钢铁、煤炭、房地产等行业,这些行业在中国经济放缓中首当其冲。

但是,华融资产管理公司(Huarong Asset Management)董事长赖小民在向今年中国“两会”建言时警告,由于经济增长放缓,“不良资产处置速度下降且处置难度加大。”

赖小民建议中国央行提供低息贷款,财政部提供新股本,以减轻金融资产管理公司(AMC)以不利价格出售不良资产的压力。

但他的计划提出了一个疑问:金融资产管理公司是不是在回归政府向国有银行注资渠道的角色?

1997年,中国政府成立了四大国有资产管理公司,对四大国有商业银行进行资本重组,华融是其中以资产计最大的一家。截至2008年,四大资产管理公司在政府要求下购买了3.5万亿元人民币不良贷款。由于很大一部分债务是按面值购买,这些交易在清理四大银行资产负债表的同时,也给四大资产管理公司留下了毫无悬念的亏损。

近20年后,华融、信达(Cinda)、长城(Great Wall)、东方(China Orient)已经处理掉了遗留资产,坚称自己已转型为以市场价格购买资产的盈利驱动型实体,利用自己的经验收回价值。

除银行贷款外,四大资产管理公司也在多样化持有资产。至去年6月底,华融所有坏账投资组合中,60%来自非金融公司,主要是企业应收款项。近年来随着现金流收紧,企业延期支付供应商,逾期应收款项大幅上升。它们还从信托等非银行金融机构购买资产。

华融购买不良资产的资金来源是发售债券和主要在银行间货币市场借款。但赖小民表示,失去了过去所依赖的政府资助,该公司很难满足自己的资金需求。

赖小民表示,“从(政府)给米做饭到(我们自己)找米下锅”,情况发生了改变。

他表示华融的资金来源有限,而监管要求又高,因此面临着很大压力。

去年10月华融在香港首次公开发行(IPO),筹得23亿美元,其基石投资者买入股份比例之高创下纪录。分析师们表示,华融对国有基石投资者的依赖表明,普通投资者对这笔交易感到紧张。

缺乏透明度也助长了一个挥之不去的怀疑:四大资产管理公司是秘密救助手段,政治人士会迫使这四大公司以膨胀的价格购买资产。赖小民表示这类交易已经是过去的事了。

赖小民表示,该公司现在所做的一切都是以市场为导向。从融资成本到(资产)价格谈判,政府都没有插手。奉高层之命进行一次性的商业交易是17年前的事情了,现在不再这样做。

英国《金融时报》曾在2014年报道,华融就是为“诚至金开1号”(Credit Equals Gold No. 1)纾困的神秘白衣骑士。诚至金开1号是中国最大银行——中国工商银行(ICBC)发售的一个高收益理财产品。华融以相对于面值的小幅折扣买下了标的资产,这笔交易的达成时间距离预计违约日只差几天,而潜在违约的不良影响可能在中国金融体系蔓延。

问题在于,此类事件是异常现象,还是说明了华融等资产管理公司通常的运作方式?大多数分析师认为坏账银行受利润驱动,但他们也承认这些资产管理公司在形势所迫之下可能不得不为国家效力。

光大证券(Everbright Securities)港股分析师詹帝表示:“关于它们到底是不是完全以市场为导向和透明,我真的不好说。但它们绝对朝着这个方向在前进,这是必然趋势。”

Ma Nan上海补充报道

译者/何黎

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