Over the past year, we have frequently warned that the biggest financial risk (if not social, which in the form of soaring worker unrest is a far greater threat to Chinese civilization) threatening China, is its runaway non-performing loans, which at anywhere between 10 and 20% of total bank assets, mean that China is one chaotic default away from collapsing into the post “Minsky Moment” singlarity where it can no longer rollover its bad debt, leading to a debt supernova and full financial collapse. And as China’s total leverage keeps rising, and according to at least one estimate is now a gargantuan 350% of GDP (incidentally the same as the US), the threat of a rollover “glitch” gets exponentially greater.
To be sure, in recent months the topic of China’s bad debt has gained increasingly more prominence among the mainstream, and notably none other than Kyle Bass has made the bursting of China’s credit cycle the basis for his short Yuan trade as noted here previously:
What I think the narrative will swing to by the end of this year if not sooner, is the real issue in China is not simply that profits have peaked. The real issue is the size of their banking system. Do you remember the reason the European countries ended up falling like dominoes during the European crisis was their banking systems became many multiples of their GDP and therefore many, many multiples of their central government revenue. In China, in dollar terms their banking system is almost $35 trillion against a GDP of $10 and their banking system has grown 400% in 8 years with non-performing loans being nonexistent. So what we are going to see next is a credit cycle, and in a credit cycle you see some losses, but if China’s banking system loses 10%, you are going to see them lose $3.5 trillion.
And judging by the surge in recent and increasingly louder calls for a Chinese devaluation, some advocating a major one-off currency debasement, Bass’ perspective is certainly prevalent among the trading community. Bank of America goes so far as to speculate that the “upcoming G20 meeting in Shanghai offers an opportunity for policy makers to seize the “expectations” initiative via a one-off China devaluation.” It does, however, also add that the “risk is markets need to panic first” before instead of piecemeal devaluation, China follows through with a Plaza Accord-type currency intervention.
Friday’s adoption of NIRP by Japan, which send the US Dollar soaring, has only made any upcoming future Chinese devaluation even more likely.
But whether China devalued or not, one thing is certain: it is next to impossible for China – under the current socio economic and financial regime – to stop the relentless growth in NPLs, which even by conservative estimates at in the trillion(s), accounting for at least 10% of China’s GDP.
Sure enough, a cursory skimming of news from China reveals that even Chinese bankers now “admit the NPL situation is dire, but will keep on lending” anyway.
As the Chiecon blog notes, NPL “ratios might be closer to 10%… supported by revelations in this article, where Chinese bankers complain of missing performance targets, spiraling bad loans, and end of year pay cuts.”
“Right now, we’ve nowhere to issue new loans” said Mr. Zhang, a general manager in charge of new loans at one of the listed commercial bank branches. Zhang believes NPL ratios have yet to peak, with SME loans the worst hit area. Ironically this has forced Zhang to direct lending back to the LGFVs, property developers and conglomerates, industries which the Chinese government had previously instructed banks to restrict lending to, based on oversupply and credit risk fears.
But the main reason why China is now trapped, and on one hand is desperate to stabilize its economy and stop growing its levereage at nosebleed levels, while on the other hand it is under pressure to issue more loans while at the same time it is unwilling to write off bad loans, can be found in the following very simple explanation offered by Mr. Zhou, a junior banker at a Chinese commercial bank.
“If I don’t issue more loans, then my salary isn’t enough to repay the mortgage, and car loan. It’s not difficult to issue more loans, but lets say in a years time when the loan is due, if the borrower defaults, then I wont just see a pay cut, I’ll be fired, and still be responsible for loan recovery.“
And that, in under 60 words, explains why China finds itself in a no way out situation, and why despite all its recurring posturing, all its promises for reform, all its bluster for deleveraging, China’s ruling elite will never be able to achieve an internal devaluation, and why despite its recurring threats to crush, gut and destroy all the evil Yuan shorts, ultimately it will have no choice but to pursue an external devaluation of its economy by way of devaluing its currency presumably some time before its foreign reserves run out (which at a $185 billion a month burn rate may not last for even one year).
However, before it does, it will make sure that it also crushes every Yuan short, doing precisely what the Fed has done with equity shorts in the US over the past 7 years.