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Chinese State Firms’ Debt Hits New All Time High, As Profits Tumble

Chinese State Firms’ Debt Hits New All Time High, As Profits Tumble

Overnight China’s finance ministry reported the latest data on state-owned firms profitability. At a cumulative CNY 2.04 trillion (or $316 billion) for the January-November period, this was another nearly double digit decline, or -9.5% from the year ago period, following a -9.8% drop for the 10 month period the month before.

State-backed financial companies, which in China is redundant as all financial companies are state-backed, were responsible for roughly a third of the cumulative profit decline: excluding financial firms, combined revenues of state-owned firms fell 6.1% in the first 11 months from a year earlier to 40.7 trillion yuan, the ministry said.

According to Reuters, companies in transportation, chemical and power sectors reported a rise in profit in the January-November period, while firms in oil, petrochemicals and building materials – or a vast majority of them – saw a drop in earnings. Firms in steel, coal and non-ferrous metal sectors continued to suffer losses.

“The downward pressure on economic operations remains relatively big, although there are signs of warming up in some indicators,” the ministry said.

This optimism is, however, entirely baseless and we are confident that Chinese corporate profitability is set to go from bad to even worse. The reason for that is that at current commodity prices and production, virtually all of China’s steel industry is loss-making, while over half of commodity companies with debt do not have the funds to make even one coupon payment.

While the logical response to plunging profits would be for the government to enforce a strict discipline for excess capacity reduction, Beijing has been unwilling to do this, afraid of the outcome from the resulting surge in corporate defaults.

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