【英语中国】FT社评:中国需建立有序破产机制 Leader_Let a hundred companies fail-China’s defaults are necessary but require careful handling

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2014-3-22 08:52

小艾摘要: Since taking off five years ago, China’s debt market has had the appearance of a one-way bet. The country’s turbocharged growth meant corporations were typically in good enough financial health to p ...
Leader_Let a hundred companies fail-China’s defaults are necessary but require careful handling
Since taking off five years ago, China’s debt market has had the appearance of a one-way bet. The country’s turbocharged growth meant corporations were typically in good enough financial health to pay back their loans. But even those companies that ran into trouble did not face the risk of default, since the government would order state-owned banks to ride to their rescue. The same principle applied to local authorities, which were put in the position to borrow large sums of money via off-balance sheet financial vehicles.

The era of riskless borrowing came to an abrupt end this month, when the authorities decided to let Chaori, a solar-cell maker, miss an interest payment on a bond, triggering the first default in China’s modern history. It will not be the last. Li Keqiang, premier, has since made it clear that more defaults are “unavoidable” in the Chinese economy. The authorities are now mulling over the fate of Zhejiang Xingrun Real Estate, a provincial developer that is struggling to repay Rmb3.5bn ($569m) of debt.

Beijing’s willingness to allow defaults to happen is welcome. Widespread moral hazard across borrowers and lenders is one of the reasons credit growth in China has spiralled out of control, with total debt rising sharply from 130 per cent to 210 per cent of national income in just five years. Fearing for their money, investors will now be more careful about whom they lend to. Forcing operators to differentiate among companies is a necessary step on the road to interest rate liberalisation. In a market where the government bails out all lossmaking institutions, the cost of credit will not reflect true economic conditions.

However, a more laisser faire approach towards defaults carries risks, both politically and economically. China’s corporations are deeply interconnected via long credit chains. Large state-owned corporations often act as guarantor for the debt of smaller companies in a region. Letting a giant fail could trigger a cascade of bad loans, which would severely hurt the banking system. Furthermore, many retail investors have lent their money with the implicit understanding that the state would step in to help if needed. Breaching this unwritten contract in order to enforce market discipline could lead to a political backlash.

There are three ways in which Beijing can minimise the risks of bankruptcies having damaging spillovers. One is to boost transparency in the credit market, forcing banks to shrink their large shadow banking vehicles and bring more loans on to their balance sheet. Banks should also be more open about where savers’ cash is invested. Too often depositors are unaware that their money is funding high-risk bets, especially in the property market.

Second, Beijing must be careful when picking which corporations are allowed to go bust. So far, the authorities have been wary of letting institutions that pose systemic risk default. Last January they rescued China Credit Trust, a Rmb3bn high-yield investment trust. This caution makes sense. Yet the decision to save a troubled company must hinge purely on systemic considerations, rather than on the strength of its connections to the government.

Finally, the authorities should equip China with a bankruptcy regime that can handle failures both of financial and non-financial institutions in an orderly manner. These regulations will take time to set up, but one of their guiding principles must be that the investors that took the greatest risk suffer the biggest losses. The danger, of course, is that political considerations will trump the rule of law. But if China is serious about diversifying the pool of available lenders away from its state-owned banks, investors must be given guarantees that they will not be defrauded.

中国债券市场自五年前开始迅猛发展以来,已呈现一种“单向押注”的特点。中国经济的超高速增长意味着,企业的财务状况通常不错,足以偿还所贷款项。然而,即便是那些遇到麻烦的企业,也不会面临违约风险,因为政府会命令国有银行出手救援。同样的原则也适用于地方政府,这些地方政府能够通过表外金融工具借入大量资金。

就在这个月,无风险举债的时代戛然而止。中国有关部门决定听任太阳能电池制造商超日太阳能(Chaori)无法如期偿付债券利息,从而引发中国现代史的第一起违约。这起违约不会是最后一起。这件事发生后,中国总理李克强已明确表示,中国经济出现更多违约是“难以避免”的。如今,中国有关部门正在考虑如何安排浙江兴润置业(Zhejiang Xingrun Real Estate)的命运,这家省级地产开发商目前已难以偿还35亿元人民币(合5.69亿美元)的债务。

中国政府允许发生违约的态度值得欢迎。借贷双方广泛存在的道德风险是中国信贷增长失控的原因之一。在区区五年里,中国总债务与国民收入之比就从130%猛增至210%。由于担心资金安全,投资者在把钱借给谁的问题上将变得更加小心。在走向利率自由化的道路上,迫使经营者对企业进行甄别是必须要迈出的一步。在一个政府会纾困一切亏损机构的市场中,信贷成本无法反映真实的经济状况。

不过,以更加放任的方式对待违约,在政治上和经济上都蕴含着一定风险。中国企业之间通过漫长的信贷链条紧密相连。大型国有企业往往会充当地方中小企业的债务担保人。听任一家企业巨头破产,可能会引发一连串坏账,严重伤及中国银行体系。此外,许多散户投资者在出借资金时,暗地里都认为政府在必要时肯定会出手救助。如果为执行市场纪律而打破这类不成文的契约,可能会招致政治上的反弹。

对中国政府来说,要想将有破坏性溢出效应的破产风险降至最低,有三个办法。首先是提高信贷市场透明度,迫使银行收缩庞大的影子银行工具,将更多贷款计入资产负债表。银行还应更多地披露储户资金的投资去向。一个特别常见的事实是:储户资金被投向高风险项目,尤其是房地产市场中的项目,储户对此却一无所知。

其次,中国政府在选择允许哪些企业破产时必须十分小心。到目前为止,中国有关部门对允许那些会构成系统性风险的机构违约一直持谨慎态度。今年1月,他们纾困了中诚信托(China Credit Trust),该公司是一家资产规模达30亿元人民币的高收益投资信托。这种谨慎态度是有道理的。不过,在决定是否要拯救一家陷入困境的企业时,必须把系统性因素作为唯一依据,而不要考虑该企业与政府的关系有多强。

最后,政府应该在中国建立一种能以有序方式处置金融机构及非金融机构破产的破产体制。建立这样的监管法规需要一定时间,但它们的指导原则之一必须是,最大的损失应由最冒险的投资者承受。危险当然在于,政治考量会压倒法治。但是,如果中国真的想实现贷款提供者的多元化、而不仅仅依靠其国有银行,就必须保障投资者不会受到欺骗。

译者/简易

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