A Chinese Mega City Is On The Verge Of Bankruptcy

Tyler Durden's picture

While most "developed world" people have heard of Hong Kong and Macau, far fewer have heard of China's province of Guangdong, which is somewhat surprising. With over 100 million people, a GDP of nearly $1 trillion - the biggest of all Chinese provinces, this South China Sea adjacent territory is perhaps China's most important economic dynamo. One of the key cities of Guangdong is Dongguan, which as the map below shows is a stone's throw from Hong Kong, has a population of nearly 10 million, and has long been considered Guangdong's boomtown and one of China's richest cities.

One notable feature about Dongguan is that it is home to the New South China Mall, which is the world's largest. It also happens to be mostly empty ever since it opened in 2005. Which perhaps is a good segue into this story. Because while for the most part the city of Dongguan has been a story of prosperity, a wrinkle has appeared. According to the South China Morning Post, which cites researchers at Sun Yat-sen University, this city is now on the brink of bankruptcy.

Make that a big wrinkle.

The irony, of course, is that as always happens, while everyone has been expecting the muni collapse to take place in the good old US of A, it may be about to strike with a great vengeance and furious anger none other than that credit black hole, in which nobody really knows who owes what to whom, China.

How is it possible that a city which as the SCMP describes was once a backwater farm town until the late 1980s, and then as China boomed was transformed into one of the most important hi-tech manufacturing centres in the world, and about which an IBM vice-president famously said a mere 15-minute jam on the expressway there would be enough to cause worldwide fluctuations in computer prices, could be facing bankruptcy?

The answer is an absolutely fascinating story, one which for the first time exposes what could be the most sordid underbelly of the broken Chinese shadow credit system, and which demonstrates very vividly just what the hard Chinese landing will look like. It also explains precisely what the real creditor-debtor relationships are like in a country in which the banks are the equivalent of government entities, and which do little if any retail crediting in a time when the government is set on contracting the money supply at the wholesale, if not at the bank level (recall the now daily reverse repos conducted by the PBOC).

Most importantly it reveals the monetary dynamic "on the ground" - one which is vastly different than the one in the "western world."

The question is whether the story of Dongguan is an isolated one. Alas, just like there is never one cockroach, we are confident that many more such provinical centers are currently undergoing the same challenges, which if unresolved would lead to a tsunami of municipal, county and city level defaults, that would leave China in ashes.

Ironically, Meredith Whitney may have had the municipal default theme right. She was just envisioning the wrong continent...

From SMCP:

Boom city Dongguan faces bankruptcy

Dongguan's derelict factories and huge deficits send chilling warning to a China in slowdown

After three decades of spectacular growth, Guangdong's boom town of Dongguan is on the brink of bankruptcy.

Up to 60 per cent of its villages are running up deficits and will soon need a bailout from the township, researchers at Sun Yat-sen University have discovered.

It is a dramatic turn of fortune for Dongguan - one of the richest cities in China - and could foreshadow a wider fiscal crisis as the country's economy cools.

Local government debt hit 10.7 trillion yuan (HK$13.16 trillion) nationwide at the end of 2010, equivalent to about 27 per cent of gross domestic product. Credit rating service Moody's estimates the actual figure could be about 14.2 trillion yuan.

Bai Jingming, a senior researcher at the Ministry of Finance, estimated in 2009 the total debt of village authorities could total 10 per cent of the country's GDP, but there is no official data.

Bai said many village chiefs he interviewed had no idea how much debt they had. Yet their failings could bring serious political and financial instability at higher level government right down to the grass roots.

Experts have found Dongguan's village debt woes stem from two factors: a tightly-bound landlord economy, plunged into crisis by failing factories in the global downturn, and political pressure on local village chiefs to pay generous "dividends" to voters under the immature rural election system.

"The financial problems of the villages are much more serious than expected," said Shao Gongjun, the owner of a printing company who blogs on Dongguan's economy. Shao attributed much of the crisis to the local authorities' dependence on rental incomes.

A backwater farm town until the late 1980s, as China boomed Dongguan was transformed into one of the most important hi-tech manufacturing centres in the world.

An IBM vice-president famously said a mere 15-minute jam on the expressway there would be enough to cause worldwide fluctuations in computer prices.

As industry thrived, the population swelled from 1.8 million in the '80s to more than eight million. Most of the peasants cashed in and built matchbox homes on their land, letting the flats to migrant workers. Village authorities leased community land to factories and collected rent as their main source of income.

This worked perfectly until the recent downturn. Shao said many factories had either closed or moved out over the past five years to inland provinces with lower costs.

The number of Hong Kong-backed factories has dropped by 15 per cent since 2007. As factories and migrant workers left Dongguan, rents nosedived.

"I'm so worried that before long I will lose my tenants and the flats would be left deserted," said a 61-year-old woman surnamed Luo. She put together two million yuan from her life savings 10 years ago and with bank loans built a six-storey apartment building in Luowucun in Zhangmutou county. Her family occupied the first floor and let the rest out to migrant workers.

Luo used to collect about 15,000 yuan a month in rent - nearly 10 times what an average worker earned. But rents have dropped by a third since 2007.

The fall in rental values forced 60 per cent of the 584 villages in Dongguan into budget deficits, the study by Professor Lin Jiang of the finance and taxation department of Lingnan College at Sun Yat-Sen University found.

Lin's estimate is based on a study of 30 villages in relatively well-off counties, such as Tangxia, Houjie and Humen, in May.

The figure may not reflect the whole picture, but it gives a good snapshot of the problems authorities face.

"They are in deficit because their incomes are shrinking while their expenses are going up," Lin said.

This is an unexpected sideeffect of China's fledgling grass-roots democracy.

While competitive elections are still absent at almost all levels of government, Beijing has started to let villages choose their leader through universal suffrage. These elections have been getting increasingly competitive, and candidates often promise to pay generous "dividends" to villagers to attract votes.

"In some rare cases, the leader-elect promised to give each household 10,000 yuan per month," Lin said. The money would come from the village community "investment" - effectively, the rent they collected from factories.

Lately, village chiefs have found it difficult to fulfil such election pledges. But instead of reneging on their promises and sparking the anger of villagers, they turn to the rural credit co-operatives - the de facto local banks - for short-term loans at interest rates as high as 30 percentage points.

Banks are willing to lend, because they know that the township government would have to bail villages out if things go wrong.

"Some village leaders are now really worried that the bank may come to call in the loans," Lin said. "If the villages default, the burden would be transferred to the county or the township government."

The Dongguan government is in poor shape to handle a crisis. Its GDP growth slowed to 2.5 per cent in the first half of the year. The average growth in the past eight years was about 11 per cent.

Xu Jianghua, Dongguan's party secretary, urged villages last month to stop raising money to pay dividends. Few took heed.

Village chiefs may argue paying dividends are not the sole cause of their debt. They also have to pay for local fire and police services - even though these are supposed to be the local government's responsibility.

For years, the township government underinvested in such services, knowing they would be taken care of by the cashed-up village authorities.

Eddy Li, president of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Association, said in some counties police would refuse to investigate a crime unless it involved more than 20,000 yuan.

Shao estimated Zhangmutou county authorities alone have accumulated a total of 1.6 billion yuan in debt. Annual revenue is only 600 million yuan.

Shao said the Dongguan government needs structural reform to end its reliance on rental income. He proposed the township give residency to migrant workers so they can contribute more to the local economy.

"Without a radical change in the social structure, the economic transformation will never succeed," he said.



And some pictures from the city that may soon be the first cockroach observed once the light was truly shone:



A row of empty shops that have been idle for more than nine months – a common sight in what was once a hi-tech heartland. Photo: May Tse

Commercialism came storming into rustic residential areas. Photo: May Tse

Boarded up shops in the suburbs of Zhangmutou. Photo: May Tse

Many roads but few cars in the once desirable district of Zhangmutou, a favourite with expats and retirees. Photo: May Tse

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
ebworthen's picture

The 10 million people might be part of the problem.

How many happy meal toys and plastic pet crap does the West need?

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

Ummmm........more than yesterday and less than tomorrow?

Wait, did you say need or want?

Precious's picture

Chinese Mega City?  For a minute there I thought you meant Irvine, California.

knukles's picture

Mega City Chinese Style
All buildings, no people



no tickie no laundry shit all over again, part II

Pure Evil's picture

And, to think, just the other day they showcased their refurbished Ukranian aircraft carrier-sans any aircraft.

What's happening to my beautiful world.

Ahmeexnal's picture

What did you expect from a city called "Don Juan"?

Pool Shark's picture



Yeah, looks like the Chinese citizens "Don Juan" it around...


AldousHuxley's picture

Chinese copied everything including bankrupt public financing policies.


Vietnam is where it is at these days in terms of slave labor.


In the future north korea.

prains's picture

and after that Manhattan

markmotive's picture

China: Communism without the benefits...

Child drags mother through the street to beg


dbomb12's picture

Guandong is that anywhere near Longdong

toady's picture

Just wait until they default on the unions pension fund. Those damn public sector pukes are gonna riot!

Daily Bail's picture

Our day of default is coming soon enough.

When you read this story, remember that we borrow 42 cents of every dollar we spend.

Taxpayers Spent $1.4 Billion On Obama Family Last Year

saturn's picture

Buildings are people.

Bobbyrib's picture

Did the Supreme Court have another ruling?

nmewn's picture

Yes...they decided the fine is really a tax. Apparently, because there is no way to escape a fine unless you buy something.

We used to call this extortion.

fourchan's picture

the bigger they are the harder they fall

kaiserhoff's picture

Careful my friend.  Public display of sanity may piss off Grindel.

yrbmegr's picture

These days, we call it a mortgage.

fockewulf190's picture

"Buildings are people."

I see dead buildings.

dryam's picture

Two words....

Hugh Hendry

Freddie's picture

Jim Chanos too.   I love the scenic drainage ditch aka river.  Looks like some craphole in Calli-Porn-Ia like Venice.  The shiity shops with living hovel above the shop looks like crap house in San Fran-psycho. 

Kobe Beef's picture

I am dumbfounded. Corrupt governors buying votes with public funds, then buying foreign cars, shipping their sons off to Harvard and Oxford. Millions taking loans they can't afford and pretending they are rich. Then when shit hits the fan, everybody blames Japan and loots Rolex and Christian Dior..

I don't get it. Have we been lied to again? Are the Chinese niggers? Is this kind of systemic fraud, jive, bubblepop and tantrum what AnAnonymous means by US citizenism? If that is so, he has reason to be concerned. I thought they were smarter than this. What happened to ethics, principles and standards? Are they as eroded there as they are here?

I know lots of overseas Chinese, and they are smart, capable, hardworking people, even their daughters. I thought the mainlanders were similar. Am I wrong?




_ConanTheLibertarian_'s picture

also Patrick Chovanec and China Law Blog. Have been following them all for some time. I've been short China for months and will hold on.

Withdrawn Sanction's picture

All buildings, no people

The Texas translation would be "all hat and no cattle."

RiverRoad's picture


Maybe they'll rethink that one-child policy.


FubarNation's picture

I thought Vancouver, BC Canada.

Ahmeexnal's picture

On a similar note, the largest Vietnamese city, San Jose CA, is also in trouble.

mr. mirbach's picture

Chairman Mao's push to become Westernized has reached it's peak - strangely enough at roughly the same time as California cities...New defiintion of westernized in the making - something along the lines of the ponzi scheme getting unsustainibly top heavy.

Skateboarder's picture

We have the best Pho places here. Come check 'em out sometime.

conspicio's picture

Agenda 21 in action, Bitchez. China is like a time accelerator of economic and central planning cycles. You are peering into the future and it is merely a movie set. A movie set. A movie set. A movie set. Damn echo. I bet all their doorbells go Dong Dong, cause hey, if I wanted to design that trickery it'd be standard issue for these pimped up hoods of vacancy and predeliction.

californiagirl's picture

Irvine is not the only one in big fiscal trouble.  Just wait until the hangovers from all the CABs (Capital Appreciation Bonds) issued in California in recent years (many underwritten by Stone & Youngberg who wine and dine the public officials) hit the taxpayers and municipal and school district budgets throughout California.  Now that the Poway voters know how badly they have been duped by their elected officials, having been tricked into the equivalent of a reverse amortization, subprime, Ponzi bond from hell with no early redemptions allowed, that requires them to repay almost $1 billion on borrowings of $105 million (that is more than $20,000 for every man, woman and child in Poway), they are starting to wake up and the word is slowly spreading.  However, there will be a large list of bonds rushed through on November's ballots in California, many of them probably CABs so they can kick the can down the road. I imagine the politicians are in a rush to get these through before the CAB taxpayer ripoffs go viral, or hell freezes over and the MSM actually begins reporting on it effectively. 

It would be great if the Tylers and ZeroHedge readers would help the CAB scams go viral before the election. California is not the only one using this method to rip off taxpayers.  You all should worry about what is happening here in California because we are syphoning off a lot of federal taxpayer dollars for our spending binges.  For example, most of the funding for the bullet train will be Federal and the first $3.4 billion federal taxpayer money has already been grabbed to start the building of the track from nowhere to nowhere (Fresno to Bakersfield). You would think they would at least start in a busy traffic corridor.   I wouldn't be surprised if they will have used well over a hundred billion in federal taxpayer dollars on this travesty by the time the first phase is completed in 2028.  What major Caltans project ever came in anywhere close to budget?!  Heck, maybe the bullet train project will lose funding from angry taxpayers before it ever gets to construction in a major corridor and all we get is expensive rail in the desert.

One of my friends is the one that that investigated the Poway school district bonds and actually got a newspaper to publish it.  Now there is an effort to get CABs banned in California.  She also works for the SEC but is one of those who is too busy to watch porn because she is actually going after crooks. The Poway/CAB thing was on her own time.  Not everyone at the SEC is useless.

Here are the articles:




Withdrawn Sanction's picture

Not everyone at the SEC is useless.

Perhaps not, but she sounds like the exception that proves the rule.

As for the crooks who think they've pulled a fast one, two points:  (1) a debt that cannot be paid, wont be (a billion on $105 million...really?  I guess if you're going to steal, steal large), and (2) a legislature, by definition, writes (and can unwrite) rules/laws.  It can just change the terms of the contract, and everyone knows, contracts are nothing special anymore....the GM "bankruptcy" proved that, as did AIG, BS, LEH, ML, PFG, MFG....  

And should no. 2 fail, see no. 1.

californiagirl's picture

True. However if we just stop trying, then it will only get worse.  We need to get off our buts and do something. Educating the uneducated masses and waking people up is at least a move in the right direction.

vato poco's picture

A noble goal, but it just ain't gonna happen. You can buy your own TV station; buy your own newspaper; start your own website......pointing out, showing, *proving* to Californians how their elected scum teamed up with the banksters to buttfuck the taxpayers. You can put up billboards, run ads on every radio station 24/7.

And they'll still go 65%+ Democrat in every elction, and re-elect the same scum who gleefully & openly screw 'em. (It ain't like they're even trying to hide it anymore, is it.)("Bend over, bitchez! Here it comes again! If you don't like it, tough shit!") It's gonna get worse whether you try or not. At some point, you gotta realize the tide's going to come in no matter how hard you fight it. Gravity's _always_ gonna win. Just get out! Save yourself and your loved ones!

californiagirl's picture

Except that my friend managed to get a CAB cancelled in her own home town, replaced by conventional revenue bonds, thus saving the taxpayers lots of money while pissing of the School Board and the underwriters. Yup! Getting of your butt and attempting to do something is completely useless.

The Navigator's picture

When the shit hits the fan, we're all gonna wish we bought a bigger fan - 'cus when the shit comes, it'll be by boat loads.

Latest CA BK case coming is Atwood CA, reported earlier in the week on the ZH channel.

Meridith Whitney was right, but timing a bit off - muni debt collapse coming and 2013 should show either the tsunami forming or approaching land.


vato poco's picture

You're not looking at the big picture, Darlin'. There may be a few isolated successes here & there, but in the main....Compare CA 1989 to CA today. The schools - better or worse? The State Reserves - better or worse? State budget? Tax rates? Tax base? Employment? Number of people on welfare/food stamps? Number of government employees/leeches? Business starts? Businesses leaving the state? Central Oakland? Santa Ana? Westminster? Long Beach? Traffic? Bakersfield? Stockton? The # and aggressiveness of the bums in Frisco? The Central Valley? etc etc

Hell, had to spend some time recently in Orange Cty and Santa Barbara - 2 of CA's richest and (theoretically) best run counties. Garbage not picked up off the freeway; 5-ft high weeds by the side of the freeway; the potholes quick-&-dirty patched if patched at all. In areas that were once absolute **showcases** for CA. When a high tide comes in, invariably, there are spots on the beach the tide seems to be missing: high ground, lucky spot, a fluke of fluid/tidal dynamics, whatever. But eventually, the tide wins and covers it all. Everything. The tide *always* wins. "Probability is like gravity - you can't negotiate with it." - James 'Sonny' Crockett

californiagirl's picture

Oh, I get the big picture, Sugar.  I just think that a few small victories are better than zero small victories. If more people got off their asses instead of whining, we might have a few more of them.  And if any of those small victories have a positive effect on my pocketbook, then all the better.

Kobe Beef's picture

I'm glad your friend fought the parasites and WON. In the long run, maybe there are enough true California patriots to derail the grand socialist train to bankruptcyville. Keep Fighting!


Angus McHugepenis's picture

"Educating the uneducated masses and waking people up is at least a move in the right direction".

I love reading your comments but have you seen the video of the Clevland woman about the Obama phone that's been posted all over ZH comments recently? I wish you luck trying to educate and wake up morons like that. Your time is far more valuable than wasting your breath on those brainwashed idiots. Folks as dumb as that are simply a lost cause. Take care of your own and educate your immediate family and friends. And take time out for yourself. I have bankers in my immediate family. Last time I talked to anyone in my family was 8 years ago.

The only advantage of having bankers in your family is that even after years of not seeing them they will still recognize you. It gives you an advantage to get close enough to them without setting off their justified paranoid alarm bells to wring their fucking necks and leave them semi-comotose on the sidewalk.

Just want to give a "shout out" to my bro... who shall remain nameless for now. And FUCK YOU, you scumbag banker!

ronaldawg's picture

Am from CLE Ohio - have "special" type of neegro there - don't judge people by those cartoon characters living in the "mistake by the lake."

unrulian's picture

It actually makes more sense to use payday loans

RiverRoad's picture

They don't call CA a bellweather state for nothing:  Could that bullet train be the 2nd Great Depression's modern version of a Work Program???

californiagirl's picture

Sure, but a huge chunk of the money is going to import the materials and trains from overseas, creating jobs elsewhere.  At least in the Depression they used mostly made in USA materials.

californiagirl's picture
Patterson Unified, located in Patterson, California, sold a $77,500 CAB that will cost taxpayers $8 million ... 105 times par!  The Hartnell Community College District sold a $167,000 CAB that will cost $14 million. Poway's $105 million CAB offering was packaged into 11 mini bonds, the worst one being a $13.9 million CAB that will cost $321 million.  Apparently, there are already laws in California that would prohibit the sale of CABs if the law was not being violated. Specifically, Education Code 15146(e) states that bonds may be sold at a discount not to exceed 5%. Poway's CABs sold at discount rates as high as 94%.  Case law (Golden Gate Bridge vs. Filmerrequires public officials to obtain the best financial terms for bonds (cited by the California Attorney General in his opinion 06-1102).  Schools can sell bonds under the Government Code...but this code says if the bonds are sold on a "Negotiated," private basis, then the bonds must follow the conditions of Education Code 15146. Michigan banned CABs by prohibiting the sale of bonds at discounts exceeding 10%.
Deathrips's picture

I grew up in Scripps. Poways the back yard. Canary in the coal mine. California is bust. Government here spends cash on nonsense. I would elaborate....but it pisses me off. Doug Manchesters paper publishing this...and still no attention. Retarded. Guess when theyre all drunk at the keg party..they forget somones got to pay for the next keg.

Silver mo fo.


stocktivity's picture

C'mon Tylers ...If this is true, it's worthy of a story before elections.

californiagirl's picture

Thanks! :-). I think so. I have been a long-time fan of ZH and a story would make one Californian that still has some functioning brain cells very happy!

Yen Cross's picture

 Cali Girl.  

   Speak with athorita/ cartman style.   Secondly, you are not a literary major/minor.  Third and most important, "KISS" you all over.

 " Keep It Simple Stupid"

   Irvine is the "MOTHER of UCSD"! Hell I use that Heliport off Torry Pines, once in a while!  Get creative!