The legacy of the soon-to-retire PBoC governor, Zhou Xiochuan, will be that in sharp contrast to his western brethren, he warned that China’s credit bubble would burst before the fact. Two weeks ago, Zhou warned during the Party Congress that China’s financial system could be heading for a “Minsky moment” due to high levels of corporate debt and rapidly rising household debt (see here).
“If we are too optimistic when things go smoothly, tensions build up, which could lead to a sharp correction, what we call a ‘Minsky moment’. That’s what we should particularly defend against.”
Perhaps sensing that nobody in the Middle Kingdom was paying attention, we noted two days ago his lengthy essay published on the PBoC website. It contained another warning that latent risks are accumulating in the Chinese system, including some that are “hidden, complex, contagious and hazardous.” He also highlighted “debt finance disguised as equity” as a concern. Talking of which, there’s a new growth market in the gargantuan Chinese corporate debt market – we are referring to perpetual notes. Are you ready for the clever part about perpetual notes – they are debt but it’s permissible under Chinese accounting regulations to classify them as “equity” – et voila, corporate gearing has fallen. According to Bloomberg.
Under pressure to trim borrowings, China’s companies have found a way to reduce their lofty debt burdens — even if some of the risk remains. Sales of perpetual notes – long-dated securities that can be listed as equity rather than debt on balance sheets given that in theory they could never mature — have soared to a record this year as Beijing zeros in on leverage and the threat it poses to the financial system.
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