【英语中国】中国允许地方政府债务展期 China gives local governments go-ahead to roll over debt

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2014-1-9 15:17

小艾摘要: Faced with a mountain of maturing loans this year, China has given local governments the go-ahead to issue bonds as a way of rolling over their debt to avoid defaults.The announcement by the National ...
China gives local governments go-ahead to roll over debt
Faced with a mountain of maturing loans this year, China has given local governments the go-ahead to issue bonds as a way of rolling over their debt to avoid defaults.

The announcement by the National Development and Reform Commission, a top central planning authority, is the most explicit official endorsement of a massive debt refinancing operation that has become unavoidable and is already underway, analysts said.

The need for the rollover highlights the tricky balance that Beijing must strike as it tries to rein in debt without triggering a sharp downturn in growth.

Local government debt levels have soared 70 per cent to almost $3tn in less than three years, according to an official audit published on Monday. Nearly 40 per cent of that overall amount will mature before the end of this year, placing huge pressure on local governments to come up with the cash to make repayments.

With many of the original loans used for infrastructure projects that have yet to generate revenue, rollovers have long been seen as one of the few viable options for preventing defaults. Regulators have quietly allowed rollovers in the past while still discouraging them in public comments, fearful that cities and towns would exploit them as an easy way out of their debt troubles.

But the NDRC’s announcement makes clear that Beijing is now willing, on the record, to support rollovers for the so-called financing platforms owned by local governments.

“If construction projects face funding shortfalls and there is no way of completing the project to realise expected revenues, we will consider granting permission for these platform companies to issue an appropriate amount of new debt,” it said. “The funding that is raised can be used to ‘borrow new and repay old’ and for incomplete projects, ensuring that they will not end up half-finished.”

The NDRC said bonds would also help local governments reduce their financing costs because they could be issued at lower rates and for longer maturities than some of the short-term high-interest loans relied on in the past.

“Previously, rollovers were seen as a negative thing,” said Shuang Ding, an economist with Citi. “But in the meantime it has been happening and there is no way of avoiding it.”

He added that the move to refinance debt via bonds was a positive development for China because bonds are more transparent than loans, would clarify repayment responsibilities and would spread risk from banks to the capital market.

In practice it is evident that rollovers have already occurred in China on a massive scale. This week’s audit noted that 60 per cent of debt was to mature before the end of 2015.

However, according to a 2010 audit, more than 50 per cent of debt was to mature before the end of 2013. The implication is that the vast majority was not paid back but simply refinanced.

Yet even with the NDRC’s permission, market conditions could make rollovers tougher for local governments. As the amount of debt in the Chinese financial system has steadily increased, the cost of issuing new bonds has risen.

The yield on top-rated AAA corporate bonds has soared about 200 basis points to more than 6 per cent over the past half year. “Refinancing will be more expensive and challenging,” said Kevin Lai, an analyst with Daiwa Capital Markets.

The NDRC statement was issued late on December 31 but it was only on Thursday that Chinese media drew attention to the government’s change in stance.

面对海量贷款将于今年到期的形势,中国为地方政府打开了一条通道,允许他们发行债券将债务展期以避免违约。

分析人士表示,由中国最高中央规划机构——国家发改委(National Development and Reform Commission)发布的这一声明,是对大规模政府债务进行再融资操作最为明确的一次官方背书。目前,这种再融资操作已不可避免,甚至已在进行之中。

对债务展期的需要凸显了中国政府进行平衡的难度,既要不引发增速剧烈放缓,又要控制债务规模。

根据周一发布的一份官方审计结果,在不到三年的时间内,中国地方政府债务规模激增了70%,增至近3万亿美元。所有这些债务中,有近40%将在今年年底之前到期。这为地方政府偿还债务带来了巨大的现金压力。

由于最初的贷款中许多被用于尚未产生回报的基建项目,长期以来展期一直被视为防止违约的几个可行办法之一。过去,监管机构一直在默许展期操作,尽管出于担心中国个地方会把展期当做用来摆脱债务麻烦的简单途径,他们在公开置评时并不鼓励这种行为。

但发改委的声明显示,目前北京方面公开表示,愿意支持所谓“地方政府融资平台”的债务展期。

该声明称:“因平台公司项目建设资金出现缺口,无法完工实现预期收益的情况下,可考虑允许这些平台公司发行适度规模的新债,募集资金用于‘借新还旧’和未完工的项目建设,确保不出现‘半拉子’工程。”

发改委表示,平台公司所发行债券也将帮助地方政府降低融资成本,因为跟过去所依赖的一些短期高息贷款相比,这些债券的发行成本更低,还款期限也更长。

花旗(Citi)经济学家丁爽说:“债务展期过去被视为坏事。但同时,市场上一直在发生债务展期,这是无法避免的。”

他补充道,发行新债再融资对中国而言是积极的举动,因为债券比贷款更为透明,也将澄清偿债责任,并把风险从银行业扩展到资本市场。

实际操作中,债务展期的做法在中国已经非常普遍。本周的审计显示,60%的债务将于2015年底前到期。

不过,根据2010年的一份审计,超过半数的债务将在2013年底前到期。此间的含义是,大多数债务没有得到清偿,而只是简单地进行了再融资。

但即便有了发改委的许可,市场条件也会增加地方政府债务展期的难度。由于中国金融系统中的债务量逐渐增加,发行新债的成本也随之增加。

2013年下半年,顶级公司债券的收益已飙升200个基点,超过6%。大和资本市场(Daiwa Capital Markets)的分析师赖志文(Kevin Lai)说:“目前再融资是高成本、高挑战。”

发改委的声明是在12月31日晚间发布的,但直到1月2日周四,政府的立场转变才引起中国媒体的关注。

译者/何黎

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