The shadow banking problem in China

With all the massive growth in China, there are serious problems below the surface. The basic problem is that the huge national and local governments are corrupt and cronyism rules. This has led to huge real estate loans that make little sense.

Meanwhile, small businesses who legitimately need capital have to resort to a shadow banking system, and that poses a whole new set a problems. The Chinese government is trying to address the issue.

Risks stemming from China’s shadow banking system and private lending must be “strictly controlled,” and such loans will be curbed, the head of the nation’s banking regulator said.

Loans to local government financing vehicles and the real- estate industry, which also pose dangers for the banking system, can be managed, Liu Mingkang, chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, said at a conference.

The government and regulators have already implemented “effective measures” that will ensure the overall risks are “controllable,” Liu said, according to a transcript of his speech posted on the regulator’s website yesterday.

Premier Wen Jiabao last week pledged to support smaller companies after media reports highlighted a credit squeeze that has driven many businesses to the so-called shadow banking system to obtain loans. More than 80 businessmen in the eastern city of Wenzhou have disappeared, committed suicide or declared bankruptcy to avoid repaying debts to informal lenders, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Oct. 12.

The story in China is much more complicated than you would learn from conventional wisdom and simple headlines.


Popping the China real estate bubble

SHANGHAI, CHINA - JULY 28: (CHINA OUT) A view of the skyscrapers in the Lujiazui Financial District opposite the Bund is seen on July 28, 2008 in Shanghai, China. Shanghai is the financial hub of China and will host the 2010 World Expo. (Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)

Many financial experts have been worried about China for quite a while. Specifically, many have been concerned that a real estate bubble has emerged in China, as local governments have spent like mad as they pushed for more economic development for their region.

Concerns are also growing in the Chinese government, and Bloomberg reports that Chinese banks will now be subjected to even more rigorous stress tests.

China’s stress tests of banks will assess the risk that a possible slump in property prices may strain developers’ finances and cause homebuyers to default, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

The banking regulator told lenders to include worst-case scenarios of prices dropping 50 percent to 60 percent in cities where they have risen excessively, the person said, declining to be identified because the regulator’s requirement hasn’t been publicly announced. Previous stress tests carried out in the past year assumed home-price declines of as much as 30 percent.

That’s a staggering assumption, but when you read about what’s been going on in China, this shouldn’t be a surprise.

Short-seller Jim Chanos was sounding the alarm back in April.


It’s going to be that bad for China?


I think it’s going to be that bad for the property market in China. Let’s be clear: What we’re talking about is a world-class—if not the world-class—property bubble.

What makes it a bubble?

What we define as a bubble is any kind of debt-fueled asset inflation where the cash flow generated by the asset itself—a rental property, office building, condo—does not cover the debt incurred to buy the asset. So you depend on a greater fool, if you will, to come in and buy at a higher price. We’re seeing behavior [we saw] in 2005 in Miami or ’06 or ’07 in Dubai.

You have said it’s a thousand times worse than Dubai.

Well, we said that [with tongue] firmly planted in cheek. But then again, according to a news report this week, there’s a developer that’s going to put in a new Times Square in suburban Beijing, replete with 32 Broadway theaters. You’re beginning to hear about these bizarre developments in China, indoor ski resorts similar to what we saw in Dubai.

There’s plenty more projects like that one. Let’s see if the government can create a soft landing here.


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