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China banks seen hiding losses in 'opaque' receivables accounts
[HONG KONG] Chinese lenders are reacting to a regulatory crackdown on shadow financing by increasing activity in their more opaque receivables accounts, a practice Commerzbank AG estimates may result in losses of as much as 1 trillion yuan (US$153 billion) over five years.
Banks are increasingly using trusts or asset management plans to lend and recording them as funds to be received rather than as loans, which are subject to stricter regulatory oversight and capital limits. The German bank's forecast is based on total outstanding receivables of around 11.5 trillion yuan.
"Chinese banks haven't provisioned for receivables and those are essentially riskier loans," said Xuanlai He, credit analyst at Commerzbank in Singapore. "The eventual losses will have significant impact on China's economy because you could have contagion risk in banking sector."
Official data show nonperforming loans at Chinese commercial banks jumped 51 per cent last year to a decade-high of 1.27 trillion yuan amid a stock market rout and the worst economic growth in a quarter century. While Moody's Investors Service doesn't expect a banking crisis in China in the next 12 to 18 months, it said in a Jan. 26 note that it does see higher loan delinquencies, more defaults on corporate debt and some losses in wealth-management products.
"The receivables portfolio in Chinese banks is opaque so we can't make an assumption on the asset quality," said Christine Kuo, analyst at Moody's in Hong Kong. "Provisions for receivables are indeed very low compared to that for loans. We tend to think that the Chinese government is likely to provide support if there is any sign of a crisis."
China CITIC Bank Corp's assets under receivables tripled to 900 billion yuan by June 30, from 300 billion yuan at the end of 2013, according to the bank's financial statements.
Concerns about Chinese banks' creditworthiness are mounting with the cost of insuring Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd.'s debt against default reaching an all-time high of 199.5 basis points on Jan. 21. The credit default swaps were The bank's 6 per cent perpetual notes that count as Additional Tier 1 capital fell to a record low of 99.5 cents last Thursday. The securities traded at 102.5 cents on the dollar Wednesday. The yield spread on China CITIC's US$300 million 6 per cent 2024 notes surged to a one-year high of 336 basis points over US Treasuries Wednesday.
Casting Shadows Calls to China CITIC's media department went unanswered. Wang Zhenning, a corporate communications official at ICBC in Beijing, declined to comment.
Lenders' on-balance-sheet shadow financing grew 25 per cent last year, a jump from the 15 per cent in 2014 when regulators began cracking down shadow banking exposure, according to Sanford Bernstein & Co.
While traditional shadow financing such as lending to local governments and property developers is declining, new forms are rising such as bill financing packaged into wealth management products, said Hou Wei, analyst at the research house in Hong Kong. His estimate for potential losses is about 400 billion yuan.
Bank's shadow financing assets, mostly in wealth management products and trusts, now tend be more highly levered, Hou said. Smaller banks, which account for half of all loans, are more exposed than the big five state-owned lenders, Hou said. "Now the biggest risk is the sudden dry-up in liquidity caused by capital outflow and higher leverage," he said.
Outstanding repurchase agreements in China's interbank market, used by debt investors to amplify their buying power, soared to 9.73 trillion yuan in December, the highest level since at least 2012, before edging down to 8.1 trillion yuan in January, according to data from ChinaMoney.
Risks are large in the receivables items, said Matthew Phan, credit analyst at CreditSights Inc in Singapore. "The provision requirement is less strict for such assets, which are typically loans to the property and overcapacity sectors." In the latest official data released Monday, the industry's bad-loan ratio climbed to 1.67 per cent from 1.25 per cent. New yuan loans in January jumped to a record high of 2.51 trillion yuan as banks front loaded their 2016 lending targets.
"Corporate leverage is rising and around 70 per cent of bank loans in China go to corporations," Moody's Kuo said. "Until we see corporate leverage and profitability stabilize, we will likely see bank assets continue to deteriorate."