Last summer we outlined how Chinese banks obscure trillions in credit risk.
The powers that be in Beijing aren’t particularly keen on allowing the banking sector to report “real” data on souring loans - especially given the fragile state of the country’s economy. In some cases, the Politburo will pressure banks to simply roll over bad debt, effectively kicking the can.
In addition, banks carry around 40% of their credit risk outside of “official loans.” Here’s what Fitch had to say last year:
“Off-balance-sheet financing (I.e. trust loans, entrusted loans, acceptances and bills) accounted for 18% of official TSF stock at end-2014, up from less than 2% just over a decade ago,” Fitch wrote. “Of the off-balance-sheet exposure reported at individual banks, this is equivalent to 15% of total assets for state commercial banks and 25% for mid-tier commercial banks, on a weighted average basis. These ratios would be even higher if we included entrusted loans (see Figure 2), although this information is not disclosed at all banks. Fitch estimates that around 38% of credit is outside bank loans."
In many cases, channel loans (so credit extended by banks via non-bank intermediaries) are carried as "investments classified as receivables" on the balance sheet.
Now, as more Chinese firms lose access to traditional financing amid rising defaults and increasing economic turmoil, banks are increasingly turning to channel loans as a way of extending credit.
In turn, the amount of "investment receivables" on many mid-tier banks' books is soaring to dizzying levels. "Mid-tier Chinese banks are increasingly using complex instruments to make new loans and restructure existing loans that are then shown as low-risk investments on their balance sheets, masking the scale and risks of their lending to China's slowing economy," Reuters reports. "The size of this 'shadow loan' book rose by a third in the first half of 2015 to an estimated $1.8 trillion, equivalent to 16.5 percent of all commercial loans in China."
Specifically, the banks are using DAMPs and TBRs, but more important than the intricacies of the structures is what the practice means for the market's ability to acurately assess credit risk in China."The concern is that the lack of transparency and mis-categorization of credit assets potentially hide considerable non-performing loans," UBS' Jason Bedford warns.
But that's not all. Investment receivables only carry a 25% risk weighting, which means the banks aren't holding adequate reserves to backstop losses on loans that by their very nature are more risky than traditional financing. "Banks must also make provision of at least 2.5 percent for their loan books as a prudent estimate of potential defaults, while provisions for these products ranged between just 0.02 and 0.35 percent of the capital value at the main Chinese banks at the end of June," Reuters goes on to note.
Just how large is this exposure, you ask? In a word: huge. At Industrial Bank for instance, the size of the "investment receivables" book doubled during 2015 and now sits at a massive $267 billion or, as Reuters adds, more than its entire loan book and equivalent to "the total assets in the Philippine banking system."
And it's not just Industrial Bank. At the aptly named "Evergrowing Bank", investment receivables are CNY290 billion, a figure which is also larger than the bank's pile of traditional loans.
"In the past banks (made loans and) held assets. Now banks manage assets," Zhang Changgong deputy governor of China Zheshang Bank (where investment receivables also doubled last year) says.
Fair enough, but that's just semantics. You can call them "assets" or "investments" or "receivables" or whatever the hell else, but at the end of the day, these are loans. And the bank shoulders the entirety of the credit risk. "To structure these deals, a bank typically engages a friendly trust, securities, or asset management company to set up a financing arrangement for a bank client," Reuters writes. "The bank then buys the beneficiary rights to the investment product using a special purpose vehicle."
Right. Of course if you hold the beneficiary rights, common sense says you also shoulder the vast majority of the risk. Or, as one senior executive told Reuters on the condition of anonymity, "if the originating bank does not promise to pay from its own pocket should any default happens, no trust company would agree to collaborate."
What should jump out at you here is that this is just about the worst case scenario at every turn. Banks are piling up exposure to the riskiest subset of borrowers at a time when economic fundamentals are deteriorating on a near daily basis. Meanwhile, this exposure is being carried on a line item that allows the banks to avoid provisioning for the losses that will almost certainly materialize in the not-so-distant future. At one bank, this one line item is larger than the entire Philippine banking system.
Of course this also reflects a theme we've been discussing for quite some time: namely that China is trying to deleverage and re-leverage at the same time. The channel loans described above are part and parcel of the shadow banking system which ground to a halt after years of explosive growth. Now, Beijing can't decide if it's better to kick the can by allowing banks to mask bad debt and pile up still more exposure outside of their traditional loan books or crack down, let the whole thing unwind, and start from scratch after the misallocated capital has been purged.
Whatever the case, this cannot last forever, and when the unwind finally comes and trillions in defaults on channel loans, trusts, and WMPs ripple through China's economy, even the NBR won't be able to say "7% growth" with a straight face.
TIPPING POINTS, STUDIES, THESIS, THEMES & SII
COVERAGE THIS WEEK PREVIOUSLY POSTED - (BELOW)
MOST CRITICAL TIPPING POINT ARTICLES THIS WEEK - Jan 31st, 2016 - Feb 6th, 2016
TIPPING POINTS - This Week - Normally a Tuesday Focus
RISK REVERSAL - WOULD BE MARKED BY: Slowing Momentum, Weakening Earnings, Falling Estimates
JAPAN - DEBT DEFLATION
EU BANKING CRISIS
MACRO News Items of Importance - This Week
GLOBAL MACRO REPORTS & ANALYSIS
US ECONOMIC REPORTS & ANALYSIS
CENTRAL BANKING MONETARY POLICIES, ACTIONS & ACTIVITIES
Market Analytics - WEDNESDAY STUDIES
STUDIES - MACRO pdf
TECHNICALS & MARKET ANALYTICS
COMMODITY CORNER - AGRI-COMPLEX
THESIS - Mondays Posts on Financial Repression & Posts on Thursday as Key Updates Occur
Dr. Lacy Hunt joins FRA Co-Founder Gordon T. Long in an in-depth discussion on the current debt dilemma and the decisions of the Federal Reserve. Dr. Lacy H. Hunt, an internationally known economist, is Executive Vice President of Hoisington Investment Management Company, a firm that manages over $5 billion for pension funds, endowments, insurance companies and others. He is the author of two books, and numerous articles in leading magazines, periodicals and scholarly journals. Included among the publishers of his articles are. Barron’s, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, the Journal of Finance, the Financial Analysts Journal and the Journal of Portfolio Management.
Previously, he was Chief U.S. Economist for the HSBC Group, one of the world’s largest banks, Executive Vice President and Chief Economist at Fidelity Bank and Vice President for Monetary Economics at Chase Econometrics Associates, Inc. A native of Texas, Dr. Hunt has served as Senior Economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Dr. Hunt received his Ph.D. in Economics from the Fox School of Business and Management of Temple University. Furthermore Dr. Hunt served on the Board of Trustees of Temple University from 1987 to 2010 and is now an honorary life trustee. He received the Abramson Award from the National Association for Business Economics for “outstanding contributions in the field of business economics.” He is a life member of the American Finance Association. He was a member of the Economic Advisory Board of the American Bankers Association and Chairman of the Economic Advisory Board of the Pennsylvania Bankers Association. He served on the Monetary and Fiscal Policy Affairs Committee of the National Chamber of Commerce.
TACTICS OF THE FED
“Debt only works if it generates an income to repay principle and interest.”
Research indicates that when public and private debt rises above 250% of GDP it has very serious effects on economic growth. There is no bit of evidence that indicates an indebtedness problem can be solved by taking on further debt.
One of the objectives of QE was to boost the stock market, on theory that an improved stock market will increase wealth and ultimately consumer spending. The other mechanism was that somehow by buying Government securities the Fed was in a position to cause the stock market to rise. But when the Fed buys government securities the process ends there. They can buy government securities and cause the banks to surrender one type of government asset for another government asset. There was no mechanism to explain why QE should boost the stock market, yet we saw that it did. The Fed gave a signal to decision makers that they were going to protect financial assets, in other words they incentivized decision makers to view financial assets as more valuable than real assets. So effectively these decision makers transferred funds that would have gone into the real economy into the financial economy, as a result the rate of growth was considerably smaller than expected.
“In essence the way in which it worked was by signaling that real assets were inferior to financial assets. The Fed, by going into an untested program of QE effectively ended up making things worse off.”
THE FLATTENING YIELD CURVE
“Monetary policies currently are asymmetric. If the Fed tried to do another round of QE and/or negative interest rates, the evidence is overwhelming that will not make things better. However if the Fed wishes to constrain economic activity, to tighten monetary conditions as they did in December; those mechanisms are still in place.”
They are more effective because the domestic and global economy is more heavily indebted than normal. The fact we are carrying abnormally high debt levels is the reason why small increases in interest rate channels through the economy more quickly.
If the Fed wishes to tighten which they did in December then sticking to the old traditional and tested methods is best. They contracted the monetary base which ultimately puts downward pressure on money and credit growth. As the Fed was telegraphing that they were going to raise the federal funds rate it had the effect of raising the intermediate yield but not the long term yields which caused the yield curve to flatten. It is a signal from the market place that the market believes the outlook is lower growth and lower inflation. When the Fed tightens it has a quick impact and when the Fed eases it has a negative impact.
The critical factor for the long bond is the inflationary environment. Last year was a disappointing year for the economy, moreover the economy ended on a very low note. There are outward manifestations of the weakening in economy activity. One impartial measure is what happened to commodity prices, which are of course influenced by supply and demand factors. But when there are broad declines in all the major indices it is an indication of a lack of demand. The Fed tightened monetary conditions into a weakening domestic global economy, in other words they hit it when it was already receding, which tends to further weaken the almost non-existent inflationary forces and for an investor increases the value.
FAILURE OF QUANTITATIVE EASING
“If you do not have pricing power, it is an indication of rough times which is exactly what we have.”
The fact that the Fed made an ill-conceived move in December should not be surprising to economists. A detailed study was done of the Fed’s 4 yearly forecasts which they have been making since 2007. They have missed every single year.
The Fed begins the year with the high forecast and ts declines each forecast after that and by December it isn’t much of a forecast because you already have 11 months of data. An empirical indication that QE has failed is the fact that their models have relied on them to be indications and the models were wrong which means the policies have also been a failure.
“Another risk which may very well lead to a worse result is the Fed going to negative interest rates. First we must consider if the Fed can engineer negative interest rates and it is very likely they do have that capability. There will be severe consequences which we will not even be able to anticipate.”
There is a trend that in weak economic times the fed will continue untested experiments. Even though QE 1, 2 and 3 have failed, in dire times they will implement QE 4. But if the Fed resorted to negative interest rates it will have an adverse impact on bank earnings, particularly small banks and greatly harm savers who have already been hurt. Negative interest rates will simply penalize people to a far greater degree. It will have devastating consequences to the money market mutual funds; difficult to see how they would operate at all.
Pushing interest rates in a negative territory will greatly increase the unfunded liabilities of the corporate pension plans. Pension plans will either be dropped or for those already covered it will explode the liabilities causing them to cut expenditures in the real economy to fund the pension liabilities.
“If the Fed went into negative interest rates they would ultimately be required to call in the currency and force people to use their bank deposits.”
We are no closer to solving our indebtedness problem in 2016 as we were in 2009.
Gordon T Long is not a registered advisor and does not give investment advice. His comments are an expression of opinion only and should not be construed in any manner whatsoever as recommendations to buy or sell a stock, option, future, bond, commodity or any other financial instrument at any time. Of course, he recommends that you consult with a qualified investment advisor, one licensed by appropriate regulatory agencies in your legal jurisdiction, before making any investment decisions, and barring that, we encourage you confirm the facts on your own before making important investment commitments.
THE CONTENT OF ALL MATERIALS: SLIDE PRESENTATION AND THEIR ACCOMPANYING RECORDED AUDIO DISCUSSIONS, VIDEO PRESENTATIONS, NARRATED SLIDE PRESENTATIONS AND WEBZINES (hereinafter "The Media") ARE INTENDED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY.
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