Charlene Chu, a banking analyst who made her name warning of the risks from China’s credit binge, said a bailout in the trillions of dollars is needed to tackle the bad-debt burden dragging down the nation’s economy.
Speaking eight days after a Communist Party newspaper highlighted dangers from the build-up of debt, Chu, a partner at Autonomous Research, said she was yet to be convinced the government is serious about deleveraging and eliminating industry overcapacity.
She also argued that lenders’ off-balance-sheet portfolios of wealth-management products are the biggest immediate threat to the nation’s financial system, with similarities to Western bank exposures in 2008 that helped to trigger a global meltdown.
The former Fitch Ratings analyst uses a top-down approach to calculating China’s bad-debt levels as the credit to gross domestic product ratio worsens, requiring more credit to generate each unit of GDP.
While Chu is on the bearish side of the debate about the outlook for China, she’s not alone. In a report on Monday, Societe Generale SA analysts said that Chinese banks may ultimately face 8 trillion yuan ($1.2 trillion) in losses and a bailout from the government, citing the scale of soured credit within state-owned enterprises.
Interviewed in Hong Kong last week, Chu estimated as much as 22 percent of all China’s outstanding credit may be nonperforming by the end of this year, compared with an official bad-loan number for banks in March of 1.75 percent.
What do you see as the biggest risk in the financial system?
“China’s debt problems are large and severe, but in some respects a slow burn. Over the near term, we think the biggest risk is banks’ WMP portfolios. The stock of Chinese banks’ off-balance-sheet WMPs grew 73 percent last year. There is nothing in the Chinese economy that supports a 73 percent growth rate of anything at the moment. Regardless of all of the headlines and announcements about the authorities cracking down on WMPs, they have done very little, really, and issuance continues to accelerate.
“We call off-balance-sheet WMPs a hidden second balance sheet because that’s really what it is — it’s a hidden pool of liabilities and assets. In this way, it’s similar to the Special Investment Vehicles and conduits that the Western banks had in 2008, which nobody paid attention to until everything fell apart and they had to be incorporated on-balance-sheet.
“The mid-tier lenders is where these second balance sheets are very large. China Merchants Bank is a good example. Their second balance sheet is close to 40 percent of their on-balance-sheet liabilities. Enormous.”
Who buys a WMP?
“The products used to be predominantly sold to the public, but now they’re increasingly being sold to banks and other WMPs. We’re starting to see layers of liabilities built upon the same underlying assets, much like we did with subprime asset-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, and CDOs-squared in the U.S. The range of assets is much more diverse than mortgages, but we have significantly less visibility on the assets than we did with subprime.”
After the People’s Daily commentary, is it clear that the government is serious about deleveraging?
“The word deleveraging should not be used when discussing China. Deleveraging means negative credit growth, or a contraction in the ratio of credit to GDP. China is nowhere close to deleveraging. Over the years, I have learned from watching the authorities respond to issues like WMPs that there is often a large divergence between official rhetoric and actual action. It’s encouraging to see policy makers acknowledge the severe overcapacity problem, but I am sceptical that much headway will be made any time soon, given how painful implementation will be and the pushback they will inevitably receive at local levels.”
Is a financial crisis or a very dramatic economic slowdown now inevitable?
“Not yet, but we’re getting there because the problem is getting so big. We’re still adding 10 to 20 percentage points to the ratio of credit to GDP every year — that has not changed despite the fact that credit growth has decelerated. If the government was to come out with a very aggressive — and it would have to be incredibly aggressive — bailout package for corporates, as well as financial institutions, it would do a lot in terms of dealing with some of this debt overhang and getting rid of the black cloud that’s hanging over the country. However, the idea that China needs a massive bailout in the trillions of U.S. dollars isn’t something I think the authorities are on board with or accept yet. They still believe they can grow out of it.”
Could your assessment of China’s debt situation be based on faulty assumptions?
“If we’re wrong, and there’s always a chance of that, it’s going to be because we’re under-appreciating the economic growth potential in China — that there is some more strength to the consumption story and services story than we sense now, and that these are about to take off and propel the country out of these debt problems.”
How does China’s debt build-up compare to Japan’s previously?
“If you look at Japan, the credit expansion wasn’t anywhere close to the size of China’s, and China’s continues to grow at a rapid rate. There is also a somewhat Wild West, chaotic nature to a lot of the shadow banking going on in China that is different from the shadow credit we saw in Japan. What’s positive for China is that they’ve got a leadership team that is not as afraid as the Japanese leadership is of radical change. So, if China’s authorities ever do decide debt is the center of their problems and they need to do something about it, we won’t have decades of complacency with nothing really done. On the negative side, China has a much weaker social safety net and a much poorer population, which makes social and political instability a real concern.”
What’s your assessment of China’s capital flows?
“The party line is that outflows are all about offshore debt repayment, but that accounts for a minority of the flows we are seeing. We think most of the money is leaving through trade mis-invoicing, which is very hard to shut down. Although capital outflows have quieted down, the underlying motivations for people to move their money out of the country are still there. This problem has not gone away.”
Unlocking Investments into Africa’s Renewable Energy Market
The African Energy Guarantee Facility (AEGF) is launching a virtual roadshow of free webinars allowing a deeper understanding of risk issues for renewable energy projects on the continent, and conversations around risk mitigation solutions. The first webinar will take place on Thursday, 23 September from 14:30-16:00 hrs. EAT.
The session will be oriented on how to get more energy projects from the drawing board to the grid. While the energy demand in African economies is expected to nearly double by 2040, and although the potential for renewable energy is 1,000 times larger than the demand, only 2GW out of almost 180GW of this new renewable power were added on the African continent.
Clearly not good enough! To improve the situation within the next two decades, new solutions need to be implemented urgently. De-risking and promoting private sector investments will play a crucial part of it.
In this 90-min interactive session, AEGF partners: the European Investment Bank (EIB), KfW Development Bank, Munich Re and the African Trade Insurance Agency (ATI) will share their experience and provide valuable insights on how they were able to come together and design practical solutions for investors and financiers of green energy projects in Africa aligned with SDG7 objectives.
Across Africa, the complexity of renewable energy projects and their long tenors hold back crucial energy investment. Tailored to the specific needs and risk profiles of sustainable energy projects, AEGF will tackle the investment challenge by providing underwriting expertise and capacity tailored to market needs.
The AEGF will significantly boost private investment in sustainable energy projects, both expanding access to clean energy and contribute to achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals. The scheme supports new private sector investment in eligible renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy access projects in sub-Saharan Africa.
Shell Signs Agreement To Sell Permian Interest For $9.5B to ConocoPhillips
Shell Enterprises LLC, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell plc, has reached an agreement for the sale of its Permian business to ConocoPhillips, a leading shales developer in the basin, for $9.5 billion in cash. The transaction will transfer all of Shell’s interest in the Permian to ConocoPhillips, subject to regulatory approvals.
“After reviewing multiple strategies and portfolio options for our Permian assets, this transaction with ConocoPhillips emerged as a very compelling value proposition,” said Wael Sawan, Upstream Director. “This decision once again reflects our focus on value over volumes as well as disciplined stewardship of capital. This transaction, made possible by the Permian team’s outstanding operational performance, provides excellent value to our shareholders through accelerating cash delivery and additional distributions.”
Shell’s Upstream business plays a critical role in the Powering Progress strategy through a more focused, competitive and resilient portfolio that provides the energy the world needs today whilst funding shareholder distributions as well as the energy transition.
The cash proceeds from this transaction will be used to fund $7 billion in additional shareholder distributions after closing, with the remainder used for further strengthening of the balance sheet. These distributions will be in addition to our shareholder distributions in the range of 20-30 percent of cash flow from operations. The effective date of the transaction is July 1, 2021 with closing expected in Q4 2021.
Shell has been providing energy to U.S. customers for more than 100 years and plans to remain an energy leader in the country for decades to come.
Oil Gains 1 Percent on Possible Tight Supply
Oil prices rose on Tuesday as analysts pointed to signs of U.S. supply tightness, ending days of losses as global markets remain haunted by the potential impact on China’s economy of a crisis at heavily indebted property group China Evergrande.
Brent crude gained 95 cents or 1.3% to $74.87 a barrel by 0645 GMT, having fallen by almost 2% on Monday. The contract for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) , which expires later on Tuesday, was up 91 cents or 1.3% at $71.20 after dropping 2.3% in the previous session.
Global utilities are switching to fuel oil due to rising gas and coal prices, and lingering outages from the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Ada that imply less supply is available, ANZ analysts said.
“While slowing Chinese economic growth and uncertainty around the (U.S.) Fed’s tapering timetable weighed on market sentiment, other developments still point to higher oil prices,” ANZ Research said in a note.
Still, investors across financial assets have been rocked by the fallout from heavily indebted Evergrande (3333.HK) and the threat of a wider market shakeout in the longer term.
“Evergrande’s woes are threatening the outlook for the world’s second-largest economy and making some investors question China’s growth outlook and whether it is safe to invest there,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA.
While that view of the state of China’s economy is weighing on markets, the U.S. Federal Reserve is also expected to start tightening monetary policy – likely to make investors warier of riskier assets such as oil.
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