【英语中国】中国面临削减地方政府债务难题

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2013-12-31 23:47

小艾摘要: Chinese President Xi Jinping, named on Monday to head the committee overseeing China's economic overhaul, must quickly figure out how to keep China's burgeoning local government debt from tanking the ...
Chinese President Xi Jinping, named on Monday to head the committee overseeing China's economic overhaul, must quickly figure out how to keep China's burgeoning local government debt from tanking the world's second-largest economy.

Shortly before the announcement of Mr. Xi's new job, China's National Audit Office said debt and guarantees issued by local governments rocketed 67% to 17.9 trillion yuan ($2.95 trillion) midyear 2013 since the last tally at the end of 2010, when it was 10.7 trillion yuan. The audit tracked the results of greater spending on everything from swank government offices and multilane highways to city parks. The spree was on all local levels, from provinces to China's 33,000 townships.

China's world-beating record of about 10% annual growth for the past three decades is based in large part on local governments spending heavily on such building projects. But since the global financial crisis of 2008, that construction has depended more and more on heavy borrowing and often resulted in dead-end projects that have a tough time paying their bills, economists say. Nearly half of the debt comes due by the end of 2014. Standard Chartered economist Stephen Green says there is a better-than-50% chance that a local-government bond will default in 2014. That would be a first for China, where government officials often step in to order financial institutions to help troubled borrowers.

It is hard to gauge what the effect of a bond default would be: On the one hand, it could have the effect of raising awareness of the risks and accomplish the tamp-down in lending that other government moves have failed to fully bring about. But signs of tightening liquidity in China have tended to frighten markets in unpredictable ways and any resulting panic could be hard for Beijing policy makers to control.

Reining in local-government projects has been tricky for Beijing. China is dotted with vacant or underutilized housing developments, industrial parks, business districts and even entire cities, the product of overambitious plans by local governments. In the short term, the construction of empty buildings helped boost output. But longer term, many of those projects have become a financial burden, soaking up money to repay lenders and leaving many local governments short of funds for social spending, which in turn creates the potential for local unrest.

Mr. Xi's appointment on Monday to head what is called the 'leading group' for overall reform-which will take a key role in pushing reforms outlined last month by top Communist Party leaders-is the latest signal that he has taken control of economic policy, which over the past two decades has been the preserve of China's No. 2 official, the premier.

The swelling debt problem presents Mr. Xi with a menu of bad choices, say economists. He can essentially try to muddle through and avoid a bust by providing somewhat more central government funds and using regulation and backroom orders to banks to tighten restrictions on loans. But that would make local governments more dependent on loans from trust companies, leasing firms and informal lenders-so-called shadow bankers-which charge higher interest rates than banks. As a result, debt levels could rise further.
Or he could attack the problem aggressively by raising taxes, selling off assets and allowing some defaults as a way to warn financial firms or local governments of the risks involved. Currently, economists say, lenders believe the central government will always step in to forestall default, which encourages further risky lending. But allowing a default could backfire if other lenders get spooked and demand higher interest rates for new loans or bonds.

'The risk is that costs suddenly go up for a lot of these local-government vehicles and more go broke,' says Mr. Green.

Cornell University China expert Eswar Prasad says that while 'China has enough resources to prevent the local-government debt problem from turning into a full-blown debt crisis,' the rapid growth in China's debt 'poses significant risks for the stability of China's financial system.'
China's local government debt relative to economic output has ballooned. At the end of 2012, borrowing equaled about 31% of China's gross domestic product, up from 26.6% in 2010. In the U.S., state and local debt was about 18% of GDP at the end of September, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank.

As of June 2013, China's local governments were liable for 10.12 trillion yuan worth of bank loans, accounting for about 56.6% of local governments' total debt. That is well down from the almost 80% share at the end of 2010 when local governments owed 8.47 trillion yuan to the banks.

Instead, loans from shadow bankers have become a more important source of finance, accounting for 11% of new lending. Such lending wasn't specifically counted in the 2010 audit. Loans from such shadow banking sources typically carry higher interest rates than those from banks, often in excess of 10%.
Shadow lenders usually hold less capital against potential default while making more risky loans than banks, giving them less of a cushion if the local governments aren't able to pay their bills.
Bond issuance by local governments has also increased, accounting for 10.3% of local government liabilities at the end of June, up from 7.1% at the end of 2010.

Overall, China's domestic debt, including local governments, state-owned enterprises, real-estate developers and individuals has ballooned to 216% of GDP this year from 128% in 2008 and could climb to 271% by 2017 if not corrected, according to Fitch Ratings. Economists note similar credit run-ups in countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America have ended in crashes, although few predict an imminent crisis in China.

Beijing has said that controlling local debt is a policy priority for 2014. A statement issued by meeting of top Communist Party officials earlier in December said China would 'strictly control the process by which governments' raise debt,' but didn't suggest a bailout was likely. 'Every level of government will be responsible for their own debt,' the statement said.
The audit office didn't give any policy direction, saying that the accumulation of debt in recent years had been in the national interest by supporting economic development and improving people's livelihoods.

UBS economist Tao Wang says China's choice of a growth target for 2014 is an important indicator of how forcefully the government will deal with the debt issue. China is expected to show growth for 2013 of 7.6%, slightly higher than the target of 7.5%.

Should China cut the target next year to 7%, says Ms. Wang, it would suggest that the government is ready to crack down, knowing that will slow growth. But if it the government retains the 7.5% growth numbers-as many economists believe it will-it indicates 'the government may delay reforms or let structural worsen for the sake of growth.'

Mr. Xi has made austerity an important part of his reform agenda. Earlier in 2013, Beijing warned local governments against building overly elaborate offices that sometimes copy famous buildings from overseas, like the U.S. Congress. People in China often scoff that new government buildings in their town have more rooms than employees.

周一担任中央全面深化改革领导小组组长的中国国国家主席习近平,必须尽快解决如何防止不断增长的地方政府债务抑制中国经济增长这一问题。

在习近平担任上述职务的决定公布前不久,中国国家审计署宣布,自2010年年底进行相关统计以来,截至今年6月底,地方政府负有偿还和担保责任的债务规模大幅增长67%,达到人民币17.9万亿元(合2.95万亿美元)。2010年底地方政府债务为人民币10.7万亿元。审计署的报告显示,从奢华的政府办公楼、多车道的高速公路到城市公园在内的所有支出都有所增加。省、市、县、乡各级地方政府债务规模全面增加。

过去三十年中国取得每年约10%的全球最快经济增速,很大程度上正是依靠地方政府在建设项目方面大举支出。但经济学家们表示,2008年全球金融危机爆发后,此类建设日益依赖借款,且经常导致烂尾项目,偿债困难。地方政府债务中,2014年年底前将到期的接近一半。渣打(Standard Chartered)经济学家王志浩(Stephen Green)称,2014年发生一起地方政府债券违约的可能性超过50%。这将是中国首次出现此类情况。在中国,政府官员通常会进行行政干预,要求金融机构帮助存在困难的借款人。

对一旦发生地方政府债券违约所将产生的影响进行估计非常困难。不过从乐观角度看,这也许反而能推升风险防范意识,并帮助达成控制放贷的目标。中国政府已采取的一些举措均未能有效控制信贷增长。不过,中国收紧流动性的迹象会造成市场不安且无法预测,一旦出现恐慌局面决策者们可能难以应付。

控制地方政府项目是中央政府面临的一项棘手工作。中国各地有很多空置或使用率很低的住房项目、工业园区、商务区,甚至是整个城市,这些是地方政府过度建设的产物。建造这些设施短期内能够提振经济产值,但从长期来看,这些项目中的许多已成为财务负担,地方政府不得不将大量资金用于还贷,而无力进行社会支出,进而造成社会不安定隐患。

周一有关习近平将出任中央全面深化改革领导小组组长的决定是他掌管经济政策的最新迹象。该小组将在推进中共上个月概述的改革方案方面起到关键性作用。过去二十年,一直是中国的二号领导人,即国家总理负责国内经济政策。

Reuters上海浦东金融区经济学家们表示,持续膨胀的债务问题让习近平面临几项糟糕的选择。他完全可以通过提供更多中央政府资金,或者利用监管机制和幕后规定让银行收紧贷款限制,来敷衍了事、避免出现问题。不过,这将使地方政府更加依赖于信托公司、租赁公司和非正式贷款机构(即所谓的影子银行)的贷款。这样的结果是,债务规模将进一步增长。影子银行贷款利率高于传统银行。

亦或是,他可以积极地解决这个问题,比如上调税率,出售资产,以及允许出现一些违约,从而警告金融机构或地方政府它们面临的风险。经济学家们表示,目前贷款机构相信中央政府总是会出手干预以防止违约,这就助长了它们进行高风险放贷。不过,如果其他贷款机构出现恐慌并在发行新贷款或新债券时要求收取更高的利息,那么允许部分违约则会适得其反。

渣打的王志浩表示,此举的风险是,一大批地方政府融资工具的成本突然飙升,更多机构破产。

康奈尔大学(Cornell University)中国问题专家普拉赛德(Eswar Prasad)说,尽管中国有足够的资源防止地方政府债务问题演变成全面债务危机,但中国迅速增长的债务规模给中国金融体系的稳定带来了重大风险。

中国地方政府债务规模占经济总产值的比例已经迅速膨胀。截至2012年末,地方政府债务总额占中国国内生产总值(GDP)的比例从2010年末的26.6%升至31%。据 路易斯联邦储备银行(St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank)的报告显示,在美国,截至9月末,州和地方政府债务规模相当于GDP的18%左右。

截至今年6月底,中国地方政府的银行贷款总计人民币10.12万亿元,相当于地方政府债务总额的56.6%。该比例远低于2010年末的近80%,当时地方政府的银行贷款规模为人民币8.47万亿元。

来自影子银行机构的贷款反而成为一种更加重要的资金来源,占新增贷款的11%。这类贷款在2010年审计中没有具体加以统计。来自这类影子银行机构的贷款利率通常比银行贷款利率要高,常常高出10%。

与传统银行相比,影子银行通常持有较少的资金用于防范潜在违约,同时向违约风险较高的借款人放贷,当地方政府不能还款时,它们的缓冲较少。

地方政府的债券发行量也有所增加,截至6月底占地方政府债务总额的10.3%,高于2010年底的7.1%。

惠誉国际评级(Fitch Ratings)说,总体而言,今年中国国内债务从2008年占GDP的128%攀升至216%,如果不加以调整,到2017年可能攀升至271%。中国国内债务包括地方政府、国有企业、房地产开发商和个人债务。经济学家指出,欧洲、亚洲和拉美的类似信贷飙升最终导致崩溃,不过几乎没人预测中国即将发生危机。

北京说,控制地方债务是2014年政策的首要任务。12月早些时候中共官员会议后发布的公告说,中国将严格政府举债程序,但未表示可能进行救助。公告说,省区市政府要对本地区地方政府性债务负责任。

审计署没有给出任何政策方向,只说近年来债务的积累符合国家利益,支持了经济发展,改善了民生。

瑞银(UBS)经济学家汪涛说,中国设定的2014年经济增长目标是显示政府将大力应对债务问题的重要信号。预计2013年中国经济增速为7.6%,略高于7.5%的目标。

汪涛说,如果明年中国将经济增长目标下调至7%,将意味着政府将重拳出击债务问题而不惜让经济增长放缓。但如果政府保持7.5%的增速目标(这也是很多经济学家预计的),将表明政府可能推迟改革,或为了经济增长而放任结构恶化。

习近平将厉行节俭作为他改革日程的重要组成部分。2013年早些时候,北京警告地方政府不要修建过于豪华的办公楼。有些地方政府办公楼仿制国外知名建筑,比如美国国会。中国民众常常调侃说,他们所在城镇的新建政府办公楼的房间比职员还多。

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