Credit-Driven China Glut Threatens Surge Into Bank Crisis

China has had a $6.6 trillion credit binge during the past five years, encouraged by Beijing policy makers as stimulus to combat a global economic slowdown, now threatens to stoke a debt crisis. At stake are trillions of yuan in bank loans that companies producing everything from ships to steel to solar power are struggling to repay as the world’s second-largest economy heads for the weakest annual expansion since 1999.

China’s biggest banks are already affected, tripling the amount of bad loans they wrote off in the first half of this year and cleaning up their books ahead of what may be a fresh wave of defaults. Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. and its four largest competitors expunged 22.1 billion yuan of debt that couldn’t be collected through June, up from 7.65 billion yuan a year earlier, regulatory filings show.

“In the next three to four years, industries with excess capacity will be the main source of credit loss for banks and their nonperforming loans as China cleans up the legacy,” said Liao Qiang, a Beijing-based director at Standard & Poor’s. “The speed of the process will depend on the government’s determination and whether they are willing to incur short-term pain for long-term gain.”

Credit Deterioration

China’s credit quality started to deteriorate in late 2011 as borrowers took on more debt to serve their obligations amid a slowing economy and weaker income. Interest owed by borrowers rose to an estimated 12.5 percent of China’s economy from 7 percent in 2008, Fitch Ratings estimated in September. By the end of 2017, it may climb to as much as 22 percent and “ultimately overwhelm borrowers.”

Meanwhile, China’s total credit will be pushed to almost 250 percent of gross domestic product by then, almost double the 130 percent of 2008, according to Fitch.

The nation might face credit losses of as much as $3 trillion as defaults ensue from the expansion of the past four years, particularly by non-bank lenders such as trusts, exceeding that seen prior to other credit crises, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. estimated in August.

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