【英语中国】信托贷款风险考验中国政府 Failing trust loans pose severe test for Beijing

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2014-1-25 08:42

小艾摘要: With $660bn of Chinese trust loans falling due this year, the increasingly troubled sector looks set to pose one of the stiffest tests yet for policy makers in the world’s second-biggest economy.Trus ...
Failing trust loans pose severe test for Beijing
With $660bn of Chinese trust loans falling due this year, the increasingly troubled sector looks set to pose one of the stiffest tests yet for policy makers in the world’s second-biggest economy.

Trust loans, which are typically two years in duration, make up the largest slice of China’s vast shadow banking sector. Together with shorter-term wealth management products, shadow financing rose to account for over a third of new credit in the country in 2013.

Such loans have become vital to the Chinese economy. They are often used to fund infrastructure projects or property development, and by banks to eliminate assets from their balance sheets so that they can extend credit elsewhere. Trusts currently have around Rmb7tn ($1.2tn) in assets, up from just Rmb2tn three years ago.

Concerns about the sector have been running high since last week, when ICBC became the first Chinese bank to indicate that it would not bail out a trust product sold through its branch network.

Although local media now say that the Shanxi provincial government is working on a rescue package for the fund, economists say it is simply a matter of time before the sector sees its first defaults on products many had assumed to be safe.

Should investors then begin to shy away from shadow banking products – something rising domestic bond yields suggest is already under way – analysts warn that infrastructure projects across the country could grind to a halt as local governments, who rely on trust loans, are starved of new cash.

“Infrastructure investment is already slowing, that’s probably a reflection of the financing channels getting tighter,” said Zhang Zhiwei, economist at Nomura. “The central government can still handle this issue, or put it off until next year. But in the short term it will lead to a growth slowdown.”

Many investors have bought into trusts and similar investments from state-owned banks believing them to be underwritten by the government. ICBC’s move raises the chances that investors will be left with worthless assets, something that could have a ripple effect across the financial system.

“People buy [local government] debt because they largely count on an implicit government guarantee. If that guarantee is removed, it will be a lot easier for the market to get spooked,” said David Cui, China strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Once investors turn more cautious, banks will have to liquidate positions in order to pay them back. Then you get a negative feedback loop.”

The $500m loan at the heart of the ICBC saga is just the tip of the iceberg. According to estimates from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, about Rmb4tn of trust loans mature in the next 12 months.

Even if investors are bailed out this time, the change in risk perception may be hard to reverse, and would come at a critical time for the economy. The latest growth figures, released on Monday, showed that China is continuing to slow, and that the country is still reliant on fixed asset investment to keep things humming.

Chinese authorities now face a tough balancing act in order to work out the country’s growing debt pile, and introduce the concept of default risk into the shadow banking sector, without provoking a sharp shock to the system. Some say a default is not only unavoidable, but actually desirable.

“The default of trust products could trigger some short-term negative impact to China’s financial sector and the reputation of financial institutions,” wrote Barclays analyst May Yan in a research report. “However, we believe it would be positive for the healthy development of the financial system in the long run.”

Liu Li-Gang, China economist at ANZ, said authorities will look to carry out a “controlled explosion” of the local government debt problem.

“If you squeeze too hard and too suddenly, definitely it will create a systemic impact on an overleveraged financial system,” he said.

He believes local governments will turn to alternative options – such as municipal bonds and private equity money – to refinance projects currently reliant on trust loans.

中国今年将有6600亿美元信托贷款到期,这个日益陷入麻烦的行业,看上去将为世界第二大经济体的政策制定者带来最严峻考验之一。

信托贷款通常期限为两年,在中国庞大的影子银行业中占据最大份额。2013年,影子金融加上期限更短的理财产品,在中国新增信贷中的份额升至三分之一以上。

这类贷款对于中国经济已变得至关重要。它们往往被用来为基建项目或地产开发项目提供资金,还被银行用于消除资产负债表中的资产,以用于向其他领域放贷。目前,信托拥有大约7万亿元人民币(合1.2万亿美元)资产,三年前还只有2万亿元人民币。

中国工商银行(ICBC)上周表示,不会为通过其分行网络销售的信托产品兜底,成为中国首家做出这番表态的银行。自那以来,人们对该行业一直高度关切。

尽管目前当地媒体表示山西省政府正在为该信托研究一套营救计划,但经济学家表示,该行业中许多人以为安全的产品出现首次违约只是个时间问题。

有分析人士警告说,若投资者因此开始回避影子银行产品——不断攀升的国内债券收益率表明这一趋势已经发生了——随着依赖信托贷款的地方政府资金枯竭,全国各地的基建项目都将有可能陷入停顿。

野村证券(Nomura)经济学家张智威表示:“基建投资已经放缓,这可能表明融资渠道正在收紧。中央政府现在仍能应对这个问题,或者拖延至明年。不过,短期内这个问题将导致增长放缓。”

许多投资者都从国有银行买入了信托产品或类似投资产品,他们相信政府将为这些产品担保。工行的表态加剧了投资者资产打水漂的可能性,这可能在整个金融体系中产生连锁反应。

美银美林(Bank of America Merrill Lynch)中国策略师崔伟(David Cui)表示:“人们会购买(地方政府)债务是因为,他们在很大程度上指望政府的隐性担保。如果这种担保不复存在,市场恐慌的发生要容易得多。一旦投资者变得更加谨慎,银行将被迫清算相关资产,以向投资者兑付。那时就会出现恶性循环。”

此次工行风波涉及的5亿美元贷款不过是冰山一角。据美银美林估计,今后12个月内将有约4万亿元人民币信托贷款到期。

即便投资者此次得到纾困,他们对风险认识的转变恐怕也将难以逆转,而这一转变正好发生在中国经济的关键点。周一发布的最新增长数据表明,中国经济正在继续放缓,并且中国仍在依赖固定资产投资维持经济运转。

中国官方如今正面临一个极为困难的平衡动作,他们需要解决中国不断堆积的债务,向影子银行业引入违约风险概念,而不对整个体系造成剧烈震荡。不过,一些人表示违约不仅不可避免,实际上还令人期待。

巴克莱银行(Barclays)分析师颜湄之(May Yan)在一份研究报告中写道:“信托产品违约可能会对中国金融业及金融机构声誉产生一些短期负面影响。然而我们相信,长期来看它对金融体系的健康成长可能有积极作用。”

澳新银行(ANZ)研究中国的经济学家刘利刚表示,官方会想办法“以可控方式引爆”地方债务问题。

他表示:“如果过快过猛地挤压债务,就一定会对已过度杠杆化的金融体系造成系统性影响。”

他相信地方政府会寻求其他办法(比如地方政府债券或私募股权资金),为目前依赖信托贷款的项目再融资。

译者/何黎

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