Asia-Pacific News

China’s debt soars to 250% of GDP

Not worried about rising China debt: Motley Fool
Not worried about rising China debt: Motley Fool

China's debt has soared to two and a half times its economy, Standard Chartered estimates, highlighting the difficulties Beijing faces in balancing growth with the risk of bubbles forming in its economy.

Total financial credit has surged to 251 percent of gross domestic product from 147 percent at the end of 2008, the bank said.

"The economy will continue to leverage up, and the market will remain concerned," said Stephen Green, chief China economist at Standard Chartered.

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Since the financial crisis of 2008, China has relied heavily on credit to spur its high growth rates, but the alarming pace of credit growth has triggered worries for investors, especially as rapid build-ups in debt have signaled the onset of financial crises in other economies.

As a result, policy makers in China have faced the difficult task of trying to slow economic growth to more sustainable levels without causing a hard landing scenario – when an economy rapidly shifts from growth to slow growth to no growth.

The Pudong Lujiazui financial district in Shanghai, China.
Jeff Greenberg | age fotostock | Getty Images

In recent months the government has implemented a number of easing measures designed to mildly stimulate the economy. Measures included cutting the reserve ratio requirements for banks which provided loans to the agricultural sector, for example.

And their efforts appeared to have worked as second quarter growth for 2014 came in at a 7.5 percent, in line with the government's annual target and up from 7.4 percent in the first quarter.

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But many analysts remain concerned about China's growing level of credit and the risks it poses to the country's economic health.

"People have been ignoring a lot of risks out of China; look at the property market, look at how fast bad debts have been showing up in the financial system," said David Cui, head of China equities at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Are China stocks on the cusp of collapse?
Are China stocks on the cusp of collapse?

"Things have got so bad – it will probably take a financial crisis to cleanse the bad stuff out of the system – for the government to write off debt, to let banks raise more equity... and also severely reduce overcapacity," he added.

Earlier this year China experienced its first corporate credit default in 17 years sparking fears the incident could prompt a domino effect.

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"I think there will be an avalanche of defaults coming out of the system. This is only the beginning," said Cui.

"The key issue is excessive capacity and overleverage when you combine these two factors it makes defaults almost inevitable," he added.

China's state auditor said in late December that local governments had outstanding debts of $3 trillion as of the end of June 2013, up 67 percent from the last audit in 2011.

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Meanwhile country's corporate debt hit a record $12 trillion at the end of last year, Standard & Poor's estimated, equivalent to 120 percent of GDP.

China's debt to GDP level is still lower than other major world economies, however.

The U.S. had a total debt-to-GDP ratio of about 260 per cent by the end of last year, while the U.K.'s ratio was at 277 per cent. Japan topped the world table at 415 per cent, according to Standard Chartered.