Corporate Debt

A 'Lehman moment' in China? Not quite, says BlackRock

AIA, Blackrock: Positive on Chinese reforms
AIA, Blackrock: Positive on Chinese reforms

It is wrong to describe a recent corporate debt default in China as a 'Lehman' or 'Bear Stearns' moment, the Asia Pacific chairman for the world's largest asset manager told CNBC on Monday.

Earlier this month Shanghai Chaori Solar Energy Science & Technology failed to make an 89.8 million yuan ($14.46 million) interest payment, marking China's first corporate debt default in at least 17 years.

Given that China's tightly controlled economy does not normally allow defaults, analysts have voiced some concern that the Chaori default could lead to a broader credit crunch. They have drawn parallels with the bailout of U.S. investment banks Bear Stearns in 2008 and the collapse of Lehman Brothers the same year.

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"I think it's a wrong comparison to go with Bear Stearns or Lehman," said Mark McCombe, chairman for Asia Pacific at BlackRock Asset Management, which reported $4.32 trillion in assets under management at the end of 2013.

"What the Chinese are doing is trying to bring some market discipline to the domestic economy. Are we going to see more defaults? Probably. Is that healthy for an economy in the long run? Yes, because it tells investors that you need to be more discerning and think about what you're going into [and] that there isn't always that state guarantee," he added.

Earlier this year, BlackRock was reported to be bidding for a stake in bad debt manager Huarong Asset Management, a firm that was created by China's Ministry of Finance to manage bad debt along with three other firms, according to Reuters.

McCombe did not comment on whether BlackRock was bidding for the firm.

"It's not our typical business model and not one we would typically look at," he told CNBC.

(Read More: 'Incredible' changes coming for bonds)

Mark McCombe, chairman for Asia Pacific at BlackRock, speaks during the Skybridge Alternatives (SALT) Asia conference in Singapore, on Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Bloomberg via Getty Images | Getty Images

However, he added that the creation of such firms was a positive move for China.

"The creation of this firm and the moving of bad assets into it is an indication that Chinese policy makers are thinking about how you get the economy and financial services on a healthy footing. The reality is these are very classical vehicles that are being used around the world," he added.

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McCombe added that BlackRock was cautiously optimistic on China and he was confident that the country's leaders were making progress in moving the economy onto a more sustainable growth path.

China is trying to steer its economy away from one driven by investment to one more centered around consumption. As a result, economic growth has slowed from double digit gains in recent decades.

China's economy grew 7.7 percent in 2013 and the government has a 2014 growth forecast of 7.5 percent.

(Read More: Is China's bond default the tip of the iceberg?)

"We've met with a number of them [China's policymakers] and we feel that they understand the challenges and the issues and they are working through it," he said.

"The argument seems to be that the reform measures that they are taking are going faster than one could have imagined. From that point of view our starting point is positive," McCombe added. "Are there going to bumps along the road? Yes."

— By CNBC's Katie Holliday: Follow her on Twitter @hollidaykatie