【英语中国】“中国的雷曼时刻”言过其实 China’s ‘Lehman moment’ is just careful deleveraging

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所属分类:双语中国

2014-3-21 08:43

小艾摘要: Barely a day has passed this month without news of another Chinese company on the brink of collapse. There are solar cell makers missing interest payments on bonds, steel mills defaulting on bank loan ...
China’s ‘Lehman moment’ is just careful deleveraging
Barely a day has passed this month without news of another Chinese company on the brink of collapse. There are solar cell makers missing interest payments on bonds, steel mills defaulting on bank loans and property developers going bust.

Anyone hearing this steady drumbeat of disaster could be forgiven for thinking that China’s star is fading, and fading fast.

It is certainly true that Chinese companies face serious challenges after a surge in their debt levels over the past five years. Coming down from their credit high was always going to be painful.

But some of the sensationalist shorthand for the adjustment now under way – “China’s Lehman moment”, “China’s Bear Stearns moment”, the collapse of “China’s giant Ponzi scheme” – obfuscates more than it illuminates.

Business is getting much tougher for Chinese companies from banks to property developers, but it is facile to think that they are headed for a replay of the 2008 financial crisis.

When encountering wildly bullish or deeply bearish views about China it is worth pausing for a moment to remember the country’s most defining feature: its enormous size. This makes it fertile ground for what psychologists call “confirmation bias”.

Want an example to show that the Chinese property market is in danger? Look no further than Zhejiang Xingrun Real Estate, a developer in a small eastern town that cannot repay Rmb3.5bn ($566m) of debt. Or would you prefer to make the case that everything is just fine? Then point to Shanghai, where sales of new homes jumped 46 per cent by area last week, nearing a three-month high.

Of course, the scale of China’s economy should not stop analysts, investors and journalists making useful generalisations, but any conclusions drawn from a handful of anecdotes should throw up red flags.

Taking a broader look at China’s default scares, three observations stand out.

First, Chinese corporate debt has soared over the past five years. The debt of non-financial companies rose from about 85 per cent of gross domestic product in 2008 to closer to 120 per cent today. This is a very steep rise in a short time – something that has been a precursor to financial crises in other countries – and it puts Chinese companies at the high end of indebtedness among emerging markets.

Second, China’s government is not blind to the dangers. The immediate trigger for the current corporate troubles was policy action.

When the central bank engineered a cash crunch last June and then allowed money market rates to drift higher in the second half of last year, it sent a message to banks about being more careful with their lending, and to companies about being less reliant on cheap credit.

By allowing Chaori Solar to miss an interest payment on a bond this month – the first true default in the modern era of China’s bond market – regulators also sent a message to investors that they cannot count on bailouts. The hope is that this will force investors to assess risks more carefully before throwing their money at undeserving companies.

Third, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic that China’s deleveraging will result in a slowdown, not a collapse. For better and for worse, the Chinese government still controls the economy’s big levers. Interest rates, the exchange rate and bank lending remain in Beijing’s hands to a significant degree – certainly far more than in any developed economy.

State control is part of what landed China in this predicament: too much cheap credit flowed to less-efficient government-owned companies.

But state control also has advantages when trying to get out of the mess. Just as it kick-started the deleveraging process last year, China’s central bank has relaxed its chokehold over the past month by easing monetary conditions. The seven-day bond repurchase rate – a gauge of short-term liquidity – has fallen 220 basis points from the start of this year to 2.9 per cent. This does not mean deleveraging has come to an end, but it is a sweetener to help companies through a painful period.

In addition, Beijing has been selective in introducing the concept of moral hazard to investors. It has let private companies fail, while standing behind government-backed companies. That approach would be highly worrisome if continued for too long – eventually, China has to allow ailing state companies to fail. But letting the air out gradually is preferable to shock therapy.

So much, then, for China’s Lehman moment. The country’s corporate woes look more like a slow, managed wave of deleveraging than a sudden, unwanted financial tsunami.

Simon Rabinovitch is the Financial Times’ Shanghai correspondent

本月迄今,几乎每天都会有消息称,又有某家中国企业走到倒闭的边缘,这里面有无法如期偿付债券利息的太阳能电池制造商,拖欠银行贷款的钢厂,以及行将破产的地产开发商。

任何听到这一连串灾难的人如果认为这些中国之星的光芒正在快速消退,我觉得也情有可原。

确实,中国企业现在正面临严峻挑战。过去5年,它们的债务水平一路飙升。从债务高点跌落下来总是会很痛。

然而,针对眼下的调整局面,一些耸人听闻的简称——“中国的雷曼时刻”(China’s Lehman moment)、“中国的贝尔斯登时刻”(China’s Bear Stearns moment)、“中国庞氏大骗局”(China’s giant Ponzi scheme)的破产——所造成的认知混乱,要多于它们对真相的阐明。

对中国企业(从银行到地产开发商)而言,生意要比以前难做得多,但如果你认为2008年金融危机将在它们身上重演,那你的看法就太肤浅了。

在遇到那些极度看好或极度看衰中国的观点时,我们有必要静下心来回想一下中国最关键的特征:其巨大的规模。这一特征为心理学家所称的“确认偏误”(confirmation bias)提供了滋生的沃土。

想举例说明中国地产市场处于危险之中?只消看看浙江兴润置业(Zhejiang Xingrun Real Estate)的例子即可。这家位于中国东部小城市的开发商,无力偿还35亿元人民币(合5.66亿美元)的债务。或者,你更愿意举例说明一切安好?那么来看看上海,上周该市的新房销售面积增加了46%,逼近3个月高点。

当然,中国的经济规模应当不会妨碍分析师、投资者和记者们做出有用的归纳,人们应该警惕的是那些从三五个逸闻中得出的结论。

从更广阔的视角审视一下中国的违约恐慌,可以看出三点值得注意的地方。

首先,过去5年,中国企业债务大幅增长。非金融企业债务与国内生产总值(GDP)之比,从2008年的约85%升至今天的约120%。这是一个在短期内出现的非常大的增幅——在其他国家,这已称得上是金融危机的前兆——同时,它也让中国企业的负债水平位居新兴市场企业的前列。

其次,中国政府没有无视这些危险。中国企业当前的困境是由政策行动直接引发的。

去年6月,中国央行策划了一场“钱荒”,而后在去年下半年听任货币市场利率逐步走高。这是在告诉商业银行要更为谨慎的放贷,告诉企业要减少对廉价信贷的依赖。

通过听任超日太阳能(Chaori)本月不如期偿付债券利息(这是当代中国债券市场发生的首次真正违约),监管部门又向投资者传达了一条信息:他们不能指望政府出面纾困。监管部门希望,这会迫使投资者更为谨慎地评估风险,以免将资金投入不值得投资的企业。

第三,我们有理由谨慎乐观地认为,中国的去杠杆过程导致的将是经济放缓、而非崩盘。中国政府仍掌握着本国经济的重要杠杆(这既有好的一面,也有不好的一面)。利率、汇率和银行放贷仍在很大程度上掌控在中央政府手中——这种掌控程度肯定令任何发达经济体的政府望尘莫及。

政府控制是中国陷入眼下困境的一个原因:太多的廉价信贷流入了效率低下的国有企业。

然而,在努力摆脱困境时,政府控制也有其优势。如同去年启动去杠杆过程一样,过去一个月里,中国央行念了“松箍咒”,放松了货币环境。7天期质押式回购利率(衡量短期流动性的一个指标)从今年初的水平下跌了220个基点,至2.9%。这并不意味着去杠杆过程已经结束,但它是一个缓冲,旨在帮助企业度过痛苦时期。

另外,中国政府在让投资者认识道德风险这一概念方面一直是有选择性的。在听任民营企业倒闭的同时,它却为国有企业兜底。这种做法如果持续太长时间,会变得非常令人担忧——最终,中国不得不允许境况不佳的国有企业破产。但相对于休克疗法,一点一点地“放气”要更加可取。

关于中国的雷曼时刻,就说到这里。中国的企业困境看上去更像是一波缓慢和有管控的去杠杆浪潮,而非一场突如其来和不该有的金融海啸。

本文作者是英国《金融时报》驻上海记者

译者/梁艳裳

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