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《经济学人》还有多少“恒丰银行”存在风险?

2019 年 09 月 06 日 • 经济学人

本期经济学人杂志【经济金融板块】关注了中国中小银行的风险,恒丰银行成了近三个月中第三家被救助的银行。今年五月,监管机构接管了内蒙古的包商银行,七月国有工商银行对东北的锦州银行进行了救助,而如今山东的恒丰银行又接受了国有主权财富基金的现金注资。

The Economist, September 7th-13th 2019.

官员们表示这些陷入困境的小银行对整个中国经济的影响微乎其微。恒丰银行在 2017 年巅峰时期的资产有 2100 亿美元,仅为整个中国银行系统的 0.5%。虽然包商银行出事后,央行很快通过向其注入资金稳定了局面,但一些金融人士对此仍有一些担忧。

一是,多年来这些小银行相互间资金的拆借利率跟大银行差不多,但自从包商银行出事后,这些小银行的融资成本至少增加了 0.5% (见下图)。二是,自工商银行注资锦州银行后,其股价下跌了 10%,这出乎它们的意料。因为工行是通过其子公司来支持锦州银行的,这样可以和工行其他部分的资产负债表隔离开来,但投资者并没有这样来看。有分析师认为,工行救助锦州银行是在行使“国家服务”,人们担心今后还会有其他大银行被要求这么做。

根据央行数据,4,327 家金融机构中 (注一) 有 420 家是高风险的。这 420 家金融机构中,除了 9 家以外其余都是弱小的农村金融机构,比如农村信用社、村镇银行和农村商业银行等。所以一旦这些高风险的农村金融机构有问题,处理起来不是很棘手。

中国的小银行往往特别激进,在过去五年中它们的资产增加了 144%,而比它们大的银行的资产只增长了 53%。这些小银行的资金更多依赖银行同业拆借,这意味着随着经济增速放缓,大银行开始关注对待对手方风险时,这些小银行的风险将会暴露出来。

尽管中国有能力防范大规模的违约事件发生,但随着银行的风险规避偏好上升,可能会对中国经济产生影响。因为许多小银行已经成为小企业主要的资金来源,

In banking as in farming, it is good to know which way the wind is blowing.

注释 & 配图

注一: 可以补充阅读这篇新闻报道,报道中的数据应该来自《中国金融稳定报告2018.pdf》

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英文原文 (默认折叠)

英文原文: Expelling the poison

Expelling the poison

After three Chinese banks are bailed out, how many more are at risk?

Widespread defaults are unlikely, but risk aversion is a danger in itself

Working at Hengfeng Bank, an embattled Chinese lender, requires a thick skin these days. On August 30th the bank’s Communist Party committee summoned its members, including top executives, for a self-criticism session, of the sort common in the Maoist era. “No one talked about their achievements. They talked only of their shortcomings and problems. They pointed the knife blade at themselves,” the bank reported afterwards. “Blushing and sweating, they expelled their poison.”

The revival of self-criticism under Xi Jinping, China’s president, has raised alarm about the direction in which he is steering the country. Other banks have also conducted similar sessions, a testament to Mr Xi’s assertion of party control over the economy. But in the case of Hengfeng, ravaged by corruption scandals and bailed out last month by the government, the sight of its employees examining their misdeeds was, in a way, reassuring. It suggests that officials are getting a handle on one of the worst actors in the banking system, even if their techniques sometimes owe more to Lenin than to Dodd or Frank.

The question now is how many more Hengfengs there are. It was the third bank to be rescued in the space of three months. In May regulators took over Baoshang Bank in Inner Mongolia. In July Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (icbc), a state-owned giant, propped up the Bank of Jinzhou in the north-east. Then in August Hengfeng, based in Shandong province, received a cash infusion from China’s sovereign-wealth fund.

Officials have portrayed these troubled banks as peripheral to the economy. The assets of Hengfeng, the biggest, peaked in 2017 at 1.4trn yuan ($210bn at the time), just 0.5% of the total for Chinese banks. Regulators have also been prompt in fixing holes. When the Baoshang rescue spooked investors as the first instance of losses on interbank loans, the central bank quickly calmed them by injecting cash into the banking system.

Nevertheless, many financiers suspect that the rot is deeper. Their nerviness is visible in two ways. The first is small banks’ elevated funding costs. For years they paid roughly the same interest rates as big banks to borrow from each other. Since Baoshang’s rescue, their costs have been half a percentage point higher (see chart).

The second is the 10% fall in icbc’s shares since its Jinzhou investment, a performance that has fallen short of other banks. An auditor who worked with icbc says the bank was surprised by the blowback. It had used a subsidiary to support Jinzhou, hoping to quarantine the rest of its balance-sheet. But investors did not see it that way. As analysts with China Merchants Bank said, it looked as if icbc was performing “national service”. The fear is that big banks will be conscripted into service again and again.

Many more banks do indeed need help. By the central bank’s count, 420 of China’s 4,327 lenders are at high risk of distress. However, all but nine are puny rural lenders, so it should be possible to mop up their messes. To get a sense of the scale, Jason Bedford of ubs assessed capital levels, bad loans and loss provisions at a large sample of banks. He estimated that banks with total assets of 9.2trn yuan ($1.3trn) are in danger, amounting to about 4% of the commercial banking system, or nearly a tenth of gdp. That is a big problem, but not an insuperable one.

The banks rescued in recent months were atypical in various ways. Baoshang was the piggy bank of a disgraced tycoon; Bank of Jinzhou’s auditors resigned amid signs of loan fraud; multiple executives at Hengfeng were felled by corruption charges. “There doesn’t appear to be other banks left with the same scale and toxicity as these three,” says Mr Bedford.

Yet much about them was also normal. China’s smaller banks have been especially aggressive, increasing their assets by 144% over the past five years, compared with 53% for large banks. They have also relied more on interbank borrowing. The implication is that as the economy slows, and as big banks grow wary of counterparty risk, more small banks will be exposed.

Charlene Chu of Autonomous Research has long estimated that bad loans in China are much higher than reported: more like 20% of bank assets rather than the official 2%. She thinks this year’s turbulence is a preview of what lies ahead. But she also says that China has ways to delay the reckoning, potentially for a long time. When defaults spread to brokerages in June, regulators brought them and their creditors, mostly banks, together in emergency meetings. “It is a rare tool that Chinese authorities have,” says Ms Chu. “They called in all parties, and said no one is defaulting any more.”

Even if China can prevent widespread defaults, its banks’ newfound risk aversion poses dangers itself. Small banks had been big lenders to small companies, which in turn are big drivers of growth. Now, the outlook for all is more subdued.

At Hengfeng it is no coincidence that, when not engaged in self-criticism, bankers are talking up their role in helping small firms. In a recent news broadcast, Hengfeng’s chairwoman was shown visiting a local food company. She gazed over a rice field, trimmed to look like Tiananmen, complete with a portrait of Mao. A slogan was cut into the field: “I love my motherland”. In banking as in farming, it is good to know which way the wind is blowing. ■

This article appeared in the Finance and economics section of the print edition under the headline "Expelling the poison"