Some of China’s biggest state companies traded US-dollar debt for renminbi and ramped up dollar deposits in the second half of last year in a dual-pronged effort to eliminate higher US interest payments and bet on depreciation of the local currency.
Across emerging markets companies have sought to ditch US dollar debt following the US Federal Reserve’s decision to raise interest rates in December last year. In China, the weakening renminbi — down 4.19 per cent since the one-off devaluation on August 11 last year — has provided further incentive to be long on the dollar. However, since the start of the year, the currency has appreciated slightly.
Mainland listed companies reduced offshore dollar debt by $37bn during the six-month period, or by about 35 per cent since June, according to data from Wind Financial Information. At the same time, the companies grew their offshore dollar deposit bases by $11bn, a 40 per cent increase over the same period.
The moves are a sharp turnround from 2014, by the end of which Chinese companies had accumulated offshore dollar debt of $200bn, and reflected fears of continued renminbi weakness, said analysts.
State-owned Sinopec, one of China’s largest oil producers, led the pack by paring down its dollar debt by $12.7bn in the second quarter of last year. China Southern Airlines drew down $8bn in dollar debt, equivalent to 28 per cent of the company’s total assets, according to Wind.
Energy and commodities companies were the biggest repayers of US dollar debt, with PetroChina, China Shenhua Energy, Baoshan Iron & Steel and Minmetals Development pruning exposure by a combined $19bn.
Since August, companies have been converting their dollar exposures into renminbi through onshore note issuance or refinancing, said Raymond Yeung, a senior economist at ANZ in Hong Kong.
“They have been worrying about further weakening of yuan as well as the narrowing yield gap between the two currencies,” Mr Yeung said. “After [August 11] last year they are getting more serious than before.”
Concerns have mounted over the ability of China’s corporate sector to repay its offshore debt. Several large Chinese corporation, such as Kaisa Group, China Fisheries and Shanshui Cement, are locked in restructuring negotiations after defaulting on offshore bonds.
Issuance of dollar debt nearly halved during the second half 2015 compared with the same period the year before. Chinese corporations issued about $27.7bn in offshore dollar-denominated debt in the second half of 2014, according to data from Dealogic. Issuance fell to $15bn a year later.
The number of defaults is expected to rise as companies a face heavier repayment burden set to peak in 2018. As of January, $9.7bn in payments were due in 2016 on dollar-denominated bonds for Chinese corporations. By 2018, the figure will treble to $32.5bn.
万得资讯(Wind Financial Information)的数据显示，中国内地上市公司在去年下半年的6个月期间减少了370亿美元的境外美元债务，降幅达到约35%。同期这些公司的境外美元存款增加了110亿美元，增幅达到40%。
中国最大石油企业之一、国有的中石化(Sinopec)跑在最前面，在去年第二季度减少了127亿美元的美元债务。万得资讯的数据显示，中国南方航空公司(China Southern Airlines)减少了80亿美元的美元债务，相当于该公司总资产的28%。
能源和大宗商品企业是美元债务的最大偿还者，中石油(PetroChina)、神华能源(China Shenhua Energy)、宝钢股份(Baoshan Iron & Steel)和五矿发展(Minmetals Development)总共减少了190亿美元的美元债务。
外界对中国企业偿还境外债务能力的担忧近来有所加剧。数家中国大型企业，如佳兆业集团(Kaisa Group)、中渔集团(China Fisheries)和山水水泥(Shanshui Cement)在离岸债券上违约后，正在进行重组谈判。