China's local governments roll over more debt to ease risks

Published Mon, Jul 5, 2021 · 07:17 AM

[BENGALURU] Local governments in China have more than doubled bond sales to roll over maturing debt this year, helping to ease their repayment risk.

Cities and provinces sold about 1.9 trillion yuan (S$395 billion) of so-called refinancing bonds in the first six months of the year, according to data from the Ministry of Finance and compiled by Bloomberg News.

That's a sharp increase from about 700 billion yuan sold in the same period of 2020, and 660 billion yuan in 2019.

The refinancing bonds are sold to replace maturing securities, reducing pressure on local authorities to pay back the debt.

"The amount of debt due will keep growing, so the scale of refinancing isn't likely to fall," said Ding Shuang, chief economist for Greater China and North Asia at Standard Chartered in Hong Kong. "That's the case unless policy makers seriously look to reduce the absolute value of the debt, which is unlikely."

At the same time, local governments have slowed the pace of special bond sales used to finance spending on infrastructure like highways and houses, in part due to a lack of quality projects and Beijing's stronger focus on debt control.

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Infrastructure investment contracted in May from a year earlier, and economists from China International Capital expect it to stay negative in June and July.

"The incentive for local governments to invest is small," Mr Ding said. "On the contrary, the discussion of tackling hidden debt has been on since the start of the year."

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