All the pieces of the next Chinese financial bubble and crash are in place.
Regulators, nervous about highlighting the growing rorts and strains and fearful of crimping the stimulus lending splurge, are also fearful of tightening monetary policy to slow China’s lending boom: to do so would bring China to a shuddering halt.
Bank lending is still soaring. More money has been lent in the first six months of this year than in all of 2008, more than was budgeted for in the 2009 national economic plan.
The central bank, the People’s Bank of China, said that at the end of June new bank loans in the first half hit 7.37 trillion Yuan, 4.92 trillion Yuan more than the first half last year.
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The money is following familiar paths: no or low-doc home lending, the issuing of credit cards to people under 18, brokers buying shares in unlisted stocks for clients, rampant speculation in shares that has pushed markets up more than 80% this year, lending on land with prices soaring and suggestions of profiteering … all of them hallmarks of a developing bubble.
Chinese banking regulators know this, but they also know they are powerless to control it, for fear of bringing the whole China recovery to a quick and nasty end.
The central bank and the banking regulatory commission know that interest rates can’t be increased, nor can so-called reserve-asset ratios be tightened, as they were from 2006 onwards to last year as inflation raged and the economy boomed on the back of a property bubble and very strong exports.
Instead, senior banking regulators are jaw-boning the banks through speeches and statements on official websites or at industry functions.
In the last month there have been four separate statements from senior regulators warning banks and lenders against unwise lending practices in business and property.
These reflect the growing unease among Chinese regulators: the seniority of those warning has risen, as has their frequency, with at least three major statements in the past week.
Yesterday the Shanghai Daily was reported by Xinhua as warning that lenders were not to forget the 40% rule for loans on second houses.
On the weekend China’s main bail regulator Liu Mingkang, chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, said in a speech posted on the regulator’s web site, that Chinese banks have to strengthen risk control and optimize credit structure to prevent possible financial risks amid the surge of bank lending.
“Rapid expansion of bank loans in the first half year boosted the country’s economic growth, but it also increased the possibilities of financial risks. He said Chinese banks had seen imprudent and extensive lending, and should be cautious about possible risks including inadequate capital for investment projects, financing risks, concentration of loans, and risks on property market led by rapid loan growth.”
Mr Liu urged lenders to ensure the minimum requirement of capital adequacy ratio and lift the provision coverage ratio above 150% this year. As of the end of June, the provision coverage ratio of commercial banks was 134.3%, which was 10.4% higher than the end of March.
That speech followed comments by the head of the disciplinary section of the Banking Commission, Wang Huaqing, who said last week that banks should be cautious about possible risks in the financial system posed by the current rapid loan growth and a concentration of loans in certain industries and business.
Then there was the decision last week by the Commission to ban banks from investing wealth management funds in secondary-market stocks. It also prohibited banks from investing wealth management funds in secondary-market securities-backed funds, equities of unlisted companies and shares in listed companies but not allowed to be issued or traded publicly. banks were told not to spend clients’ wealth management funds on investment in high risks or too complicated financial products. The circular urged banks to protect clients with medium or low incomes while providing rational investment services for high-end clients.
And the Commission has also told banks not to issue credit cars to students under the age of 18.
And there’s an added irony here: these unsound banking and investing practices are all part of the China recovery story, which is helping keep the economy growing and boosting economies like Australia’s, plus others in the region. So for every subprime-like lending deal, or “funny” stockmarket deal, Australian jobs are saved and the impact of the global recession muted.