【英语中国】对中国地方性债务审计的微观解读 A Micro Reading of China’s Local Government Audit

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所属分类:双语中国

2014-1-10 00:15

小艾摘要: The results of China's audit of local government debt came in well below many estimates. While it is impossible to tell whether the audit covered all possible local government liabilities, the results ...
A Micro Reading of China's Local Government Audit
The results of China's audit of local government debt came in well below many estimates.

While it is impossible to tell whether the audit covered all possible local government liabilities, the results make one thing clear--it is becoming much more difficult to identify what qualifies as local government debt, and who is ultimately responsible for the rapidly rising debt levels in China's economy.

Between the audits in 2010 and June 2013, the avenues through which local governments raise debt have diversified, the types of institutions borrowing on behalf of local governments have increased, and the degree to which local governments are explicitly liable for debt raised by third parties has become significantly more fuzzy.

Firstly--and no surprises here--bank loans have become a less important funding source for local governments. They accounted for 79% of all local government debt at the end of 2010, but only 23% of the 7.2 trillion yuan ($1.19 trillion) of new debt added between the two audits. At the end of June, local governments had a total of CNY17.9 trillion in outstanding liabilities.

In 2010, the government instructed banks to pare back their lending to local government financing vehicles-which local governments set up to skirt limits on borrowing directly from banks. That resulted in a migration of funding to shadow-banking sources. Shadow banks--trust, securities, insurance and leasing companies, and other non-bank financial institutions--accounted for 27.8% of new debt added between the two audits. They didn't rate a mention in the 2010 audit.

The other major increase in funding came from arrangements by local governments to pay later for goods and services, effectively pushing the cost of financing projects onto developers and contractors. Such IOUs--which didn't appear in the 2010 audit, either--accounted for 37.8% of liabilities local governments accrued between 2010 and the end of June.

Another shift is that local government finance vehicles are no longer the primary avenue through which local governments accumulate debt. Of all the types of local government institutions that can borrow money, these vehicles carry more debt than any other: 39% of the total at the end of June, down from 46.4% at the end of 2010.

But in terms of new debt added between the two audits, local government finance vehicles were responsible for only 27.9%. The biggest mover on that front was state-owned enterprises, or 'wholly state-owned firms and state-controlled firms,' in the wording of the audit. They accounted for 43.7% of new funds raised.

State-owned enterprises, or SOEs, didn't even make an appearance in the 2010 audit. According to a document issued by the National Audit Office soon after publishing the results, SOEs weren't a significant avenue through which local governments raised debt in 2010. What appears to have happened is that SOEs are taking responsibility for building projects mandated by local governments, and hence any debt they raise to complete such projects is ultimately backstopped by local authorities.

In a written response to questions from The Wall Street Journal, the National Audit Office said the rise of SOEs as a funding channel is explicitly linked with another major shift: local governments have moved from explicitly guaranteeing debt (which they're not supposed to do) to extending implied guarantees. In other words, SOEs raise debt on local governments' behalf, but there is no formal relationship that obliges local authorities to cover that debt.

Both the 2013 and 2010 audits divide local government debt into three categories. Debt the local government is directly responsible for repaying and debt guaranteed by the local government are common to both audits. In the 2013 audit, however, the third category is debt the local government 'could possibly' be expected to bailout. The 2010 audit simply referred to the third category as 'other.'

In the period between audits, there was a significant increase in the third category, and whatever we take 'other' to mean, it represents the growing importance of this fuzzy kind of guarantee. It accounted for 15.6% of local government debt at the end of 2010, but 37.2% of debt added between the audits. Most of the gain came at the expense of explicitly guaranteed debt, which accounted for 21.8% of debt in the 2010 audit but only 4.6% of the increase between audits.

The lingering question the audit doesn't answer is to what degree banks are on the hook for all this debt. On face value, it seems they have greatly moderated their pace of lending to the sector, but that might not be the case. Banks have been big buyers of investment products packaged by trusts and securities companies, much of which goes toward local governments. And how do companies with IOUs from local governments fund their projects up front? Quite possibly with bank loans.

China's financial system has become much more complex in recent years. But rather than a sign of maturity, the complexity is increasingly serving to obscure the risks.

中国地方性债务的审计结果远低于许多人估算的数字。

尽管无法得知审计是否覆盖了一切可能的地方政府债务,但审计结果仍说明了一个问题:我们越来越难以识别哪些债务可被归为地方政府债务,也越来越难以确定谁最终要对中国迅速攀升的债务水平负责。

在2010年上一次审计与2013年6月最新一次审计的间隔期间,中国地方政府举债的渠道更加多元化,机构代地方政府举债的方式更多,而地方政府对对第三方债务有多大的直接偿还义务也变得更加模糊。

图片:复杂的债务结构首先要说的一点是,对地方政府来说,银行贷款已经变成一个不那么重要的融资渠道。这一变化并不出人意料。2010年底,银行贷款占中国地方政府债务总额的79%。但在两次审计间隔期间,新增的人民币7.2万亿元(合1.19万亿美元)地方政府债务中,银行贷款只占到23%。截至2013年6月底,中国地方政府未偿债务总额为人民币17.9万亿元。

2010年,中央政府要求银行削减它们对地方政府融资平台的借贷规模,导致地方政府融资来源转向影子银行系统。此前地方政府为绕开直接从银行借款的限制而建立了地方融资平台。影子银行包括信托、证券、保险、金融租赁公司等非银行金融机构。而在两次审计的间隔期间,来自影子银行的贷款占到了新增地方债务的27.8%。这类贷款在2010年审计中没有具体加以统计。

另一个重要的资金来源是地方政府对商品和服务的延期支付。这种做法实际上将项目融资成本转嫁给了开发商和承包商。在两次审计间隔期间,这些债务占到了新增债务的37.8%。这类债务也没有出现在2010年的审计中。

另一个变化是,地方融资平台已不再是地方政府举债的首选渠道。在各种能够举债的地方政府机构中,地方融资平台举借的债务要多于其他机构:2013年6月底,地方融资平台债务占到地方政府债务总额的39%,但占比较2010年底时的46.4%有所下降。

但两次审计之间新增的债务仅仅有27.9%应归咎于地方政府融资工具。“贡献”最大者是国有企业,按审计署的话来说是“国有独资或控股企业”,它们承担了新增负债的43.7%。

国有企业甚至都没有出现在2010年的那次审计中。审计署公布最新结果之后不久又发布了一份文件,文件称,2010年国有企业并非地方政府融资的主要途径;当时的情况貌似是这样:国有企业的职责是建造地方政府委托的项目,因此它们的举债最终还是由地方政府承担。

在对《华尔街日报》(The Wall Street Journal)问题所作的书面答覆中,审计署说,国有企业充当融资渠道的情况越来越多,显然与另一重大变动有关系:地方政府已经从“明确负有担保责任”(实际上不应该如此)转变为“可能负有担保责任”。换句话说,由国有企业代表地方政府进行举债,但并不存在一种“地方政府有义务承担负债”的正式关系。

2013年和2010年的审计均将地方政府债务划分成三大类。两次审计均涵盖了“政府负有偿还责任的债务”和“负有担保责任的债务”。不过,2013年审计里面还包含了第三类,即,地方政府“可能承担一定救助责任的债务”。2010年那次审计则简单地用“其他”一带而过。

两次审计的间隔期内,第三类负债的规模出现大幅增加。不管我们怎么理解这个“其他”,上述现象都意味着这种模棱两可的担保形式变得越来越重要。2010年末,其占地方政府债务的比例仅为15.6%,然而在两次审计之间增加的债务里,其占比达到了37.2%。大多数增长伴随着政府“明确负有担保责任”债务的同步减少(2010年占比为21.8%,但两次审计之间增加的债务里仅占4.6%)。

审计署仍然没有给出一个问题的答案——银行在这个债务漩涡中陷得多深。表面看来,似乎银行对该领域的放贷步伐已经大幅减慢,但事实可能并非如此。银行一直是信托、证券公司投资产品的重要买家,其中的很大一部分都和地方政府脱不了干系。那些从地方政府手中拿到借条的公司该如何为自己的项目融资呢?很可能通过银行贷款。

近些年来中国金融系统的复杂程度已经大大加深。这非但不是日趋成熟的表现,反而越发掩盖了风险。

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