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商业 - 金融

中国银行业前途未卜

Katherine Ryder 2011年08月16日

把脉中国银行业的健康状况向来无异于打哑谜,但中国银行业风险持续升级却是不争的事实。

    这是一个美国人家喻户晓的故事,而现在它也许正在中国徐徐拉开序幕。

    2008年至2010年期间,中国大型银行向本国政府以及国有企业发放了大量的贷款。由于出口在金融危机中遭受重创,政府不得不采取措施增加就业并扩大内需。结果,高楼大厦和大型商场在中国遍地开花,中国的经济也因此保持了约10%的增长速度。但是部分分析人士和评级机构认为中国的借贷审核标准不够严格。他们说,银行的坏账层出不穷,但金融系统的改革却裹足不前。

    上周,中国银监会(China Banking Regulatory Commission)主席刘明康宣布,最近的银行抗压测试表明即使房价下跌五成,中国银行业也能够承受。中国的银行主要是靠存款来获取资金,而且利润年增长率达到了20%。尽管现在经济增速放缓,相关方面仍预测今年中国的GDP增速仍将维持在9%左右,在理论上,这一增长率足以抵消坏账所带来的损失。

    至少从银行业发展的长期角度来看,刘主席并没有说错。虽然一些分析师人士称抗压测试的压力过小,但是所有的存款仍有央行来做担保。中国的银行业仍处在起步阶段,发展潜力不可限量。目前使用信用卡的消费者仍然不多,这对于金融机构来说是一个巨大的商机。随着中国货币政策的紧缩,银行的借贷收益也会水涨船高。

    在短期内,熊市仍将占据主导地位。目前有三个方面的问题比较突出。首要的问题是中国利率政策过于死板:银行一年期存款的年储蓄利率不能超过3.5%。然而由于中国目前的通胀率高于5%,中国企业和消费者在银行的存款实际利率为负。

三大问题

    结果,希望获得高储蓄利率的公司将目光投向了信托公司。然而中国的信托市场缺乏规范,而且由于政府一直正忙于给过热的房地产市场降温,相关部门对这一领域十分警惕。《中国证券报》(China Securities Journal)的报道显示,前半年信托公司在地产领域的投资约为2,078亿人民币(324亿美元)。信托公司的借贷利率已超过20%,而银行仅为6.7%,不过这一利率也有利于银行坏账的展期(是指贷款人在向贷款银行申请并获得批准的情况下,延期偿还贷款的行为——译注)。

    目前中国信托业务的赞成派和反对派争论的焦点在于信托业务到底会对中国银行业造成多大的冲击。赞成派认为信托业务代表了健康的利率竞争,随之而来的压力将迫使决策者们放宽利率管制政策。反对派则认为信托公司是多年鲁莽放贷之后信用过度扩张的产物,两者最终都会在几年后危及中国经济。

    另外一个问题来自于中国资产管理公司(China's Asset Management Corporations,AMCs),它的表外贷款风险更大。上世纪90年代末,中国政府需要处理亚洲金融危机所产生的坏账。中国资产管理公司应运而生。但是在2009年,中国政府并未偿还剩余的债务,而是将资产管理公司的所有债券展期10年。因此很难预计这一融资平台最终会带来多大的损失。

    最后的问题来自于抵押贷款的继续使用。抵押物一般都是土地或房产。咨询公司毕马威(KPMG)的杰森贝德福德说,一旦遭遇经济不景气,中国的银行可能会面临流动性问题。

    与此同时,贝德福德认为人们对资产负债表中所隐藏的坏账的担忧过于夸大。他说,“我每周都会接到一到两个电话来询问此事。”他还特别提到了穆迪评级公司(Moody’s, MCO)7月所发表的一份报告,其中提到了中国政府实际向地方政府所发放的贷款可能要比公布的总额高出5,000亿美元。贝德福德说他自己的调查并不支持穆迪公司的报告,特别涉及是信用风险的内容。

    评估中国银行业的障碍在于:谁的数据更可信。中国银行系统绝大部分的交易都是内部交易,有关银行健康状况的关键数据都带有主观色彩。中国资本市场很难见到外国公司的身影,关键信息的可信度也难以得到佐证。没有人知道资产价格是否准确,银行债务的报告是否属实,甚至是借贷市场的真实情况也无从证实。

    唯一的办法就是全盘吸收银行财务报表和国家统计局的信息,同时还得考虑执政党的动机因素。虽然中国政府十分害怕出现系统风险,但它仍然需要监控好银行来实现和谐社会这个终极目标。这个本身就存在一定的风险。

    鲁比尼全球经济咨询公司(Roubini Global Economics)最近的报告显示,中国银行业近来不断恶化的信用标准是人们目前最为关心的问题,但由此引发的另外一个担忧是政府拒绝放弃将商业银行业作为其私人储钱罐。

    尽管中国银行业在过去的几十年中取得了快速、惊人的增长,然而其内部存在的问题也开始浮出水面。虽然中国可能已经吸取了美国的教训,但它难免会犯一些中国式错误。

    It's a familiar story to Americans, but now it may be unfolding in China.

    From 2008-2010, China's largest banks made scores of loans to local governments and state-run companies. Exports had fallen in the wake of the financial crisis, so the government wanted to create jobs and boost local demand. As a result, developers erected high rises and shopping malls across the country and the Chinese economy grew at roughly a 10% clip. But some analysts and ratings agencies assert that lending standards weren't strict enough. Too many bad loans were made, they say. Financial reform didn't come fast enough.

    Last week, Liu Mingkang, the chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, announced that a recent round of stress tests proved that Chinese banks could handle up to a 50% drop in property prices. Banks, which fund themselves mainly through deposits, are growing their profits at 20% per year. Though the economy appears to be slowing, it is still estimated to grow around 9% this year, which could theoretically offset any losses incurred by bad loans.

    Liu may well be right, at least in looking at the sector over the long term. Though some analysts balk at the lack of stress in the stress tests, the Chinese central bank essentially backs all deposits. Banking in China is still in its infancy, with huge upside potential. Few consumers use credit cards yet, which represents a major opportunity for financial institutions. And as China tightens its monetary policy, lending margins are tilting even more in favor of the banks.

    In the near-term, however, the bears may win out. Three areas of concern stand out. The first is China's overly managed interest rate policy: Banks are only allowed to offer its customers a maximum 3.5% interest rate on one-year deposits. With China's inflation rate currently above 5%, Chinese companies and consumers investing in banks face the prospect of a negative real savings rate.

Three areas of concern

    As a result, companies that want better rates of return are looking at trust companies, which are unregulated and have caught the wary eye of Chinese authorities, particularly as the government has attempted to cool the countrys supposedly overheating property market. The China Securities Journal reported that trusts invested about RMB 207.8 billion ($32.4 billion) in the property market in the first half of the year. The rate at which they're lending is upward of 20%, compared to the banks' 6.7%, a rate at which it is easier to roll over bad loans.

    The extent to which these trusts will have a major effect on the health of the Chinese banking industry is a major area of disagreement between China's bulls and bears. The bulls say that trusts represent healthy interest rate competition, a way for corporations to put pressure on regulators to liberalize interest rate policy. The bears argue that trusts are an example of excessive credit in the aftermath of years of reckless lending, both of which will come back to haunt the Chinese economy over the next few years.

    Another source of worry is China's Asset Management Corporations (AMCs), which present more measurable off-balance-sheet loan risk. In the late 1990s, the Chinese government needed a place to dump bad loans left over from the Asian financial crisis. AMCs were created to serve this purpose. But in 2009, instead of paying off the rest of the debt, the government rolled over all the AMC bonds another ten years. The depth of the potential losses in these vehicles remains unclear.

    A final source of concern is the continued use of collateralized lending. Much of this collateral is typically in the form of land or property. In an economic downturn, Chinese banks might face liquidity issues, says Jason Bedford of KPMG, a consultancy.

    All the same, Bedford thinks the fears about the bad loans lurking off the balance sheet are overblown. "I'm getting one or two phone calls per week from overseas asking me about this topic," he says, specifically referring to a July report in which Moody's (MCO) said the Chinese government may have underreported loans made to local governments by half a trillion dollars. Bedford says his own analysis doesn't support some of the claims in Moody's report, particularly those relating to credit risk.

    And herein lies the problem in assessing Chinas banks: figuring out whose data to trust. The Chinese banking system trades disproportionately with itself, and much of the critical information about bank stability is colored by the data sources.There are so few foreign companies trading within China's capital markets that critical pieces of data can never be corroborated. No one knows whether asset prices are accurate, whether banks liabilities are accurately reported, or even the true depth of the lending market.

    The only way to judge, then, is by examining it all -- banks' financial statements and information from national statistics bureaus, keeping in mind the motivations of the ruling party. Though the Chinese government is terrified of systemic risk, it also needs to control its banks in order to promote its ultimate vision of a harmonious society. This cause presents risks of its own.

    A recent report from Roubini Global Economics says the most critical concern for Chinese banks is the recent deterioration of credit standards, but that a major side concern is the state's refusal to stop using the commercial banking sector as its personal piggy bank.

    Though China's banking system has undergone decades of rapid and impressive growth, underlying cracks are starting to appear. China may have learned from America's mistakes, but it will inevitably make some of its own.

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