Local governments that borrowed heavily from banks to finance a 4 trillion yuan state-endorsed stimulus programme during the global economic slowdown are now struggling to generate revenues needed to pay them back, the Financial Times reported Tuesday.
Using data reported by local media, the FT said local governments had total outstanding loans of 9.2 trillion yuan as at the end of 2012, compared with 9.1 trillion yuan at the end of 2010. Between those two years, 41 percent of all local government debt had been scheduled to mature.
The FT explained:
The FT, however, said its calculations are imprecise because China’s bank regulator only publishes figures for total outstanding loans to local governments and does not announce details about interest payments or refinancing arrangements.
Last year, credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s said the practice of debt rollovers, while common, undermines investor confidence in the banking sector and casts a shadow of doubt over China’s economic fundamentals and growth prospects.
The agency added that Chinese lenders permitting loan extensions to avoid defaults is a “backward step” that threatens the stability and transparency of the banking system. Without appropriate support from the central government, S&P expects 30 percent of all loans to local governments to sour in the next two years.
Official public debt in China is relatively low at 20 percent of GDP, but Huang Yiping, an economist at Barclays, said Beijing might eventually have to absorb all local government debt – about 25 percent of GDP – since it had directed them to spend the money in the first place. “Rollovers were really the only option available to the government and to the banks. What can you do when three-year bank loans mature while the highway is still being built?”