Cracks are showing in China’s Debt Markets

“You only learn who has been swimming naked when the tide goes out…” ~ Warren Buffett

Beijing’s de-leveraging campaign, to set the economy on a sustainable path, is starting to expose some of the excesses in financial markets.

Local Government

Local governments owe some 49 trillion yuan (about $7 trillion or 50% of China’s GDP) in off-balance-sheet debt through local government finance vehicles (LGFVs). LGFVs generate no income themselves and are reliant on revenue flows from the city government to service the debt. Local governments in the past generated substantial revenue through land sales but dwindling sales make debt servicing a challenge. Many LGFVs are experiencing cash flow problems and have resorted to borrowing in shadow finance markets to meet their commitments. Interest rates are close to 10% and will simply accelerate the inevitable implosion.

This map from Rhodium highlights the most severely affected LGFVs, where debt in some cases exceeds 30 times local government revenues:

China: City Level Financial Stress

China’s Ministry of Finance (MOF) is attempting to keep a lid on the problem, offering long-term low interest loans from China Development Bank to repay shadow financing. Zhenjiang, an eastern city of Jiangsu province was one of the first beneficiaries, in March 2019. But debt substitution merely prolongs the crisis unless the city can sell off marketable assets to repay debt. Marketable assets which are, in many cases, proving hard to find.

This detailed report from Rhodium examines the problem.

State-owned Enterprises (SOEs)

We are also witnessing a $1.25 billion default by local government-owned Tewoo Group:

“China’s Tewoo Group has forced investors to take losses on a US dollar bond, marking the largest failure to repay dollar debt by a state-owned company in two decades….The commodities trader, which is wholly owned by the city government of Tianjin, completed an exchange offer this week that made investors take significant discounts on their holdings in the company’s debt.”
“The offer was ‘tantamount to a default’, S&P Global Ratings said on Thursday.” ~

Based out of Tianjin, Tewoo is a bulk trader of commodities such as metals (ferrous & nonferrous), energy, minerals and chemicals….

In 2017, it had a turnover of $66.6 billion with profits of $122 million and was ranked 129th in the Fortune Global 500 list & 28th in the Chinese enterprises list. The company employs more than 19,000 professionals and has operations across the US, Germany, Japan and Singapore.

Tewoo’s financial challenges are closely linked to Bohai Steel Group, a business associate which has filed for liquidation due to high leverage. Bohai’s bankruptcy in 2018 triggered systemic risk in Tianjin’s financial market and Tewoo has been facing serious liquidity challenges in recent months. ~ MoneyControl

Bank Bailouts

Many small and medium-sized banks are overly reliant on wholesale markets for funding and tightening credit has left them high and dry.
Barclays Research highlighted a number of banks that had failed to submit their 2018 annual reports on time (source Zero Hedge/Macrobusiness):

China: Troubled Banks

  • Baoshang Bank underwent a state takeover in May.
  • Bank of Jinzhou was taken over by state-owned strategic investors in July.
  • Heng Feng Bank was taken over by China’s sovereign wealth fund in August.
  • Troubled Anbang Insurance Group is selling a 35% stake in Chengdu Rural Commercial Bank to “an investment firm owned by the southwestern city of Chengdu.” (Caixin)

While, according to Caixin:

“China’s Hengfeng Bank will raise 100 billion yuan ($14.21 billion) through a private placement to a group of state and foreign investors…..The troubled Shandong-based lender will issue 100 billion shares, Hengfeng said Wednesday in a statement.”

Foreign investment is simply window-dressing, with Singapore’s United Overseas Bank subscribing for 4% of the new issue. Probably with a “put” on the other state-owned purchasers.

“The bailouts for China’s troubled small banks roll on……China’s sneaky system-wide bank bailout is well underway.” ~ Trivium China

Efforts by Beijing to curb exponential debt growth are praiseworthy, but are likely to come at a substantial cost. Expect GDP growth to slow and gradual “Japanification” as the state attempts to avoid hard choices, supporting the continued existence of “zombie” companies ……and sclerosis of the Chinese economy.