China facing full-blown banking crisis, world’s top financial watchdog warns

China has failed to curb excesses in its credit system and faces mounting risks of a full-blown banking crisis, according to early warning indicators released by the world’s top financial watchdog.

A key gauge of credit vulnerability is now three times over the danger threshold and has continued to deteriorate, despite pledges by Chinese premier Li Keqiang to wean the economy off debt-driven growth before it is too late.

The Bank for International Settlements warned in its quarterly report that China’s “credit to GDP gap” has reached 30.1, the highest to date and in a different league altogether from any other major country tracked by the institution. It is also significantly higher than the scores in East Asia’s speculative boom on 1997 or in the US subprime bubble before the Lehman crisis.

China’s total credit reached 255pc of GDP at the end of last year, a jump of 107 percentage points over eight years. This is an extremely high level for a developing economy and is still rising fast .

Outstanding loans have reached $28 trillion, as much as the commercial banking systems of the US and Japan combined. The scale is enough to threaten a worldwide shock if China ever loses control. Corporate debt alone has reached 171pc of GDP, and it is this that is keeping global regulators awake at night.

The BIS said there are ample reasons to worry about the health of world’s financial system. Zero interest rates and bond purchases by central banks have left markets acutely sensitive to the slightest shift in monetary policy, or even a hint of a shift.

The BIS said one troubling development is a breakdown in the relationship between interest rates and currencies in global markets, what it describes as a violation of the iron law of “covered interest parity”.

The concern is that banks are displaying a highly defensive reflex, and could pull back abruptly as they did during the Lehman crisis once they smell fear. “The banking sector may become an amplifier of shocks rather than an absorber of shocks,” said Hyun Song Shin, the BIS’s research chief.

This conflicts with what the Bank of England has been saying and suggests that recent assurances by Governor Mark Carney should be treated with caution.

Yet it is China that is emerging as the epicentre of risk. The International Monetary Fund warned in June that debt levels were alarming and “must be addressed immediately”, though it is far from clear how the authorities can extract themselves so late in the day.

The risks are well understood in Beijing. The state-owned People’s Daily published a front-page interview earlier this year from a “very authoritative person” warning that debt had been “growing like a tree in the air” and threatened to engulf China in a systemic financial crisis.

The mysterious figure – possibly President Xi Jinping – called for an assault on “zombie companies” and a halt to reflexive stimulus to keep the boom going every time growth slows. The article said it is time to accept that China cannot continue to “force economic growth by levering up” and that the country must take its punishment.

Full article: China facing full-blown banking crisis, world’s top financial watchdog warns (The Telegraph)

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