【英语中国】中国理财产品堪忧

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所属分类:双语中国

2013-11-29 08:59

小艾摘要: China Development Bank is the core policy bank in China. It has more than Rmb 6tn ($984bn) in assets, is wholly owned by the state and is as good for its money as the government itself. So when CDB is ...
China Development Bank is the core policy bank in China. It has more than Rmb 6tn ($984bn) in assets, is wholly owned by the state and is as good for its money as the government itself. So when CDB is forced to cut the size of a proposed bond issue by 60 per cent, as happened this month, you can be sure something is not right in China’s credit markets.

Other respected and credible companies have also been forced to delay or reduce bond issues, or pay more for their money. Take US-listed internet group Baidu. Last year, it sold a bond to US investors that was priced without the extra that emerging market borrowers usually pay. But in recent months, it struggled to get a Chinese bond away.

China’s cost of capital has begun to rise even though the government seems some way from the liberalisation of deposit rates that has held down borrowing costs for so long. Banks must already pay more for funds in the interbank market. Meanwhile, wealth management products (WMPs) – short-term savings products sold mostly by banks to retail and institutional investors – and trust products continue to grow. Both are currently offering better returns than straight corporate bonds to all investors, including banks themselves.

The issue here is less about the rising cost of money – which is inevitable as markets come to play a “decisive” role in China, as the post-Plenum buzzword has it – than it is about bad policy, or at least the consequences of slow policy.

With financial reform, Beijing may be gracefully “crossing the river by feeling the stones” as advocated by the late Deng Xiaoping, but it is simultaneously turning a blind eye to jerry-rigged fording devices, like WMPs, just down stream.

Plenty of ink has been spilled on the risks tied up in WMPs, but much less on what they are really there to do. Their role is to begin to allow market forces to affect the cost of money for banks and companies ahead of interest rate reform; WMPs also legitimise investments that have not yet been officially approved, or are banned in banking channels. They do this simply by being an intermediary, or wrapper around the banned products.

Hence, they have been used to supply high-cost capital to property developers, as well as some state-owned enterprises. More recently, they have moved on to investing in hedge funds. Managers and their friends or family put up the first chunk of equity, then WMPs add up to four times that in leverage, say Shanghai hedge fund specialists. This allows insurers, for example, to indirectly invest in funds that officially they should not.

One of the great oddities in Chinese financial policy is that liberalisation happens as much negatively as positively. Companies like the financial arm of ecommerce group Alibaba have found that the way to develop products is often to start using them and see if someone tells you to stop. It can lend to small businesses but was warned away from early trials of consumer loans.

Financial innovation is rarely given preapproval, bankers say. The industry is forced to “feel the stones” in the absence of clear policy. Surely Deng’s metaphor was about discovering what works, not what would gain official sanction.

Viewed optimistically, WMPs have introduced a market for funding, lending and investing that ought to help banks and others learn to assess risks and to balance changeable costs and returns. However, their role in legitimising not yet sanctioned, or already banned, activities just adds to the inefficiency and costs in the distribution of Chinese capital.

The power of each new yuan to generate economic growth is waning. The leakage of costs through extra layers of WMPs makes this worse. China’s cost of capital will rise, but it does not have to rise that much. Interest costs track gross domestic product growth rates, according to Bernstein Research. If China grows at 6-7 per cent for the next few years, new debt ought not to cost much more – so long as it is dispensed reasonably efficiently.

For this to happen, the single most important reform would be market pricing of deposit rates. This will be dangerous for banks, as Jiang Jianqing, head of ICBC, China’s biggest bank, told the FT recently: “If you do badly, you will be wiped out.”

But finance keeps moving away from official channels – around one-fifth of credit was formed outside of banks in 2009; now that share has doubled, according to Bernstein. To protect the banks, Beijing must move slowly; but if it moves too slowly, good companies could be starved of reasonable funding – and it runs the risk that China’s financial river will end up clogged with the detritus of too many bad experiments outside the banks.

Paul J Davies is Asia Finance Correspondent

中国国家开发银行(China Development Bank)是中国最重要的政策性银行。它拥有超过6万亿元人民币(9840亿美元)的资产,为全资国有银行,信用与政府相当。因此,本月当国开行被迫将拟定的债券发行量削减60%时,可以肯定中国的信贷市场出了问题。

另外一些名誉好、信用高的企业要么被迫推迟发行债券或削减发行量,要么付出更高利息。以在美国上市的互联网公司百度(Baidu)为例。去年它向美国投资者发行债券时,没有支付新兴市场借款人通常需要支付的溢价。但近几个月,百度在中国发债却遭遇困难。

长期以来,低储蓄利率压低了中国的借款成本。虽然距离政府完全放开储蓄利率尚有时日,但中国的资本成本已经开始上升。银行已经必须为在拆借市场借款付出更高成本。与此同时,理财产品——主要由银行向零售和机构投资者销售的短期储蓄产品——和信托产品仍在不断增长。二者目前均能向所有投资者(包括银行本身)提供比企业债券更高的回报率。

十八届三中全会过后,让市场在中国发挥“决定性”作用成为热门话题,资金成本上升不可避免。问题在更大程度上并不在此,而在于不良政策——或者至少说是决策迟缓的后果。

对于金融改革,中国高层或许可以像已故领袖邓小平推崇的那样,从容不迫地“摸着石头过河”。但与此同时,它对下游那些粗制滥造的“过河”工具(如理财产品)视若无睹。

关于理财产品蕴含的风险已经不乏论述,但它们存在的作用却鲜有人提及。它们的作用是在利率改革之前允许市场力量影响银行和企业的资金成本,以及将那些尚未被正式批准、或被银行渠道封杀的投资方式合法化。为此,理财产品扮演着“中介”或被禁产品“外包装”的角色。

于是,理财产品被用于向房地产开发商和部分国有企业提供高成本资金。最近,它们又涉足对冲基金投资领域。上海的对冲基金专业人士表示,经理及其亲友先筹得第一笔股份,再通过理财产品构筑最高可达4倍的杠杆。举例而言,这可以让保险商间接投资于一些本来不被官方许可的投资。

中国金融政策的一大奇怪之处在于,自由化的发生包括正面和负面两种方式。电商集团阿里巴巴(Alibaba)旗下的金融子公司等企业发现,开发产品的方法往往是先上马,然后坐视是否会被叫停。阿里金融可以向小企业发放贷款,但早期试水消费者贷款被叫停。

银行家表示,金融创新很少能得到事先批准。在没有明确政策指引的情况下,行业被迫“摸着石头过河”。毫无疑问,邓小平这则比喻的要义是寻找行之有效的道路,而不是官方会点头的东西。

乐观地看,理财产品提供了一个融资、贷款和投资的市场,应当能帮助银行等机构学会评估风险,在风云变幻的成本和回报之间进行权衡。然而,理财产品在合法化那些尚未被批准、或已被禁止的金融活动方面的作用,只会徒增中国资本分配中的低效和成本。

每一元人民币促进经济增长的能力正在萎缩。理财产品附加结构带来的成本溢出,令情况雪上加霜。中国的资本成本将上升,但没有理由上涨那么多。伯恩斯坦研究公司(Bernstein Research)表示,利息成本应当追随国内生产总值(GDP)增长率。如果中国在接下来几年每年增长6%至7%,新债务的利息成本不应比这个水平高出很多——只要分配达到合理的高效率。

要让这成为现实,最重要的改革措施将是让市场决定储蓄利率。这对银行是危险的,正如中国最大银行工商银行(ICBC)董事长姜建清最近对英国《金融时报》所表示的那样:“你干得不好就要淘汰。”

但金融活动正不断脱离官方渠道——伯恩斯坦称,2009年有五分之一的信贷来自银行外,而现在这一比例已经翻番。为保护银行,中国高层只能慢慢来;但如果它过于迟缓,优质公司可能得不到合理的融资,而且银行以外开展了太多不良试验,中国的金融之河最终可能塞满这些试验的沉渣。

本文作者是英国《金融时报》驻亚洲金融记者

译者/刘鑫

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