A new, made-in-China subprime crisis

As China's banks struggle under the weight of never-to-be-repaid subprime loans (which were turned into bonds using the same trick that produced the US/EU subprime crisis), the Chinese government is throwing money at them to loan out to ever-dodgier borrowers, just to change the ratio of delinquent debts to ones that have yet to turn delinquent.

China's new yuan loans jumped to a record 2.51 trillion yuan in January, the People's Bank of China reported on Tuesday, way above the 1.9 trillion yuan median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. Aggregate financing, the broadest measure of new credit, also rose to a record, at 3.42 trillion yuan.China's bad loans have grown 256 percent in six years even as their ratio to total lending dropped. The true amount of debt that isn't being repaid is open for debate. One example of how the data can be distorted: Banks are making increasing use of their more opaque receivables accounts to mask loans and potential losses, as Bloomberg News reports today. Still, adding special-mention loans to those classed as nonperforming gives some measure of the size of the bad-debt problem. Unfortunately, the CBRC started to publish special-mention loan numbers only last year, so it's hard to put them in historical context.

The dynamic is clear. A splurge of new lending can help to dilute existing bad loans, but only at a cost. This is a game that can't continue forever, particularly if credit is being foisted on to an already over-leveraged and slowing economy. At some point, the music will stop and there will have to be a reckoning. The longer China postpones that, the harder it will be.

China's Subprime Crisis Is Here [Christopher Langner/Bloomberg]

(via Naked Capitalism)