JPMorgan Warns "Avoiding China Defaults Now Will Amplify The Future Problem"

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Investors in China have been running scared of a default on a high risk trust product; but, as Bloomberg's Tom Orlik notes, they should embrace it. The implicit guarantee that no investments will go sour is one of the key problems with China’s financial system as Orlik adds it encourages reckless lending often to borrowers whose only merit lies in backing from a deep-pocketed government. Crucially, as JPMorgan warns in a recent note, "avoiding defaults is not the right answer, as it will only delay or even amplify the problem in the future."

A default that encourages lenders to price in risk would be a positive development and the CEG#1 was an ideal product to 'fail' with its 11% yield and clear idiosyncratic company problems. However, regulators won't have to wait long for a second chance as JPM warns "There will be a default in China’s shadow banking industry this year as economic growth momentum slows."

 

Via Bloomberg's Tom Orlik,

Investors Should Embrace Defaults in China’s Fragile Financial System

 

...

 

In the years before the 2008 financial crisis, nominal growth outstripped the lending rate. Outstanding credit relative to GDP was low, keeping a lid on the burden of repayment. Against that backdrop, most borrowers were able to cover their costs and the chances of a default were low.

 

 

The situation today is different. Nominal growth has more than halved to 9 percent in 2013 from close to 23 percent in 2007.

 

Borrowers from trusts and other parts of the shadow financial system face interest rates in excess of 20 percent. An explosion in lending has increased the burden of repayment to more than 30 percent at the end of 2013 from about 19 percent of GDP at the end of 2008.

 

Lower growth, higher borrowing costs and mounting repayment costs mean defaults by borrowers and even bankruptcy at some small lenders are likely. After initial turmoil, that could actually be beneficial.

 

...

And JPMorgan adds:

  • China may narrowly escaped the first default in its shadow banking industry
  • Absence of default has become a major market distortion
  • The challenge is to contain the contagion risk if a default happens

 

...local media reported that the China Credit Trust has reached a last-minute agreement with investors, with all principal and most accrued interest to be repaid. That means China will again narrowly escaped the first default in its shadow banking. However, the worries remain.

 

The absence of default has become a major distortion in China’s shadow banking, and we believe that default will happen in 2014 amid economic slowing. The concern is that, if a default occurs, whether investors will walk away and put the whole shadow banking market into a liquidity-driven credit crisis.

But contagion is possible...

The concern about the contagion risk is not groundless. In the past several years, non-bank financing (or the so-called shadow banking) has grown rapidly.

 

We estimate that the gross amount (i.e. with possible overlapping among sub-components) of non-bank financing in China reached RMB 36 trillion by the end of 2012 (or nearly 70% of GDP), compared to RMB 18.3 trillion in 2010 (or 46% of GDP).

 

Non-bank financing continued to grow fast in 2013. An update of our estimate suggests that nonbank financing has further increased to RMB 46.7 trillion by September 2013 (or 84% of GDP). The increase was most dramatic for trust assets (an increase of RMB 2.66 trillion in the first nine months of 2013), wealth management products (an increase of RMB 2.82 trillion), entrust loans (an increase of RMB 1.8 trillion) and bank-security channel business (i.e. banks use security firms as a channel to extend loans, which more than doubled in the first three quarters in 2013 and reached RMB 2.79 trillion).

 

 

The rapid growth in non-bank financing activities, especially for trust loans, WMPs and banksecurity channel business, has been driven by the perception of implicit guarantee from product issuers and distributors. The absence of default confirmed such perception.

 

...

 

In addition, there is substantial overlap between interbank assets and other components, for instance WMPs investing on interbank assets or claims on trust assets being traded in interbank markets. Nonetheless, banks are closely connected to shadow banking activities, hence possible turbulence in shadow banking will also affect the banking system.

We believe that default will happen in 2014 as the growth momentum slows down, and it will help restore market discipline and mitigate the moral hazard problem in the long run. However, the challenge is how to contain the near-term negative impact, as there could be three possible outcomes (in the order of increasing severity) if a default occurs.

The first possibility is that it is perceived as an idiosyncratic event, i.e. no spillover at all. This is the least likely outcome.

 

The second possibility is that the contagion risk is contained within a manageable level, i.e. only to similar products or sectors. For instance, if "Credit equals Gold No 1" defaults, investors will move away from collectively trust products that are only sold to wealthy individuals (but not affecting WMPs that are sold to retails investors); investors will worry about the credit quality of similar loans (non-SOE borrowers in mining industry), but not spillover to other products (e.g. local government debt, real estate companies and SOEs); investors question about the safety of trust companies but not banks. We can call it "limited spillover".

 

The third possibility is a “systemic spillover”. In a mild scenario, it will affect the vulnerable components such as trust loans (48% of trust AUM), WMP investment on non-standard credit products (estimated to be 35-50% of total WMPs) and bank-security channel business. In a worse scenario, it will affect the whole trust industry, WMPs and channel business (with a total gross size of RMB 23 trillion). Rollover of trust products (we estimate 30-35% trust products will mature in 2014) and WMP (64% WMPs has maturity less than 3 months) becomes extremely difficult. The liquidity stress could evolve into a full-blown credit crisis.

What can the government do? In our view, avoiding defaults is not the right answer, as it will only delay or even amplify the problem in the future. Meantime, there are measures the government can take to contain the contagion risk.

First, let defaults happen but establish a transparent legal process (rather than under-table arrangements) to resolve the dispute between different parties.

 

Second, regulators should tighten supervisory and regulatory framework to contain regulatory arbitrage activities, and clarify the responsibilities in various shadow banking products. The uncertainty in regulatory and legal responsibility behind each product is an important caveat in the market, and could amplify the contagion risk.

 

Third, impose hard budget constraints on local governments and SOEs, so as to avoid crowding out of credit to other business borrowers and establish risk-based pricing practices.

 

Finally, avoid defaults that could be easily linked to systemic concerns, such as the default of banks (rather than non-bank financial institutions as the perception of government protection on banks is stronger) or local government financial vehicles or SOEs. Similarly, the default of a WMP could have a bigger impact than a trust product, as the latter does not have maturity mismatch problem and are sold to wealthy individuals rather than retail investors. In that sense, China may miss an "ideal” first default if “Credit Equals Gold No 1” gets bailed out.

Investors in China have been running scared of a default on a high risk trust product; but, as Bloomberg's Tom Orlik notes, they should embrace it.

And they are going to get a chance again soon as there are considerably more of these maturing in the next quarter...

 

Perhaps that is why 3mo SHIBOR has been rising 9 days in a row...