China Inc.

Understanding Risk in China’s Credit Markets

02 9月 2021
5 Minute Read

Much of the volatility that has recently shaken China’s credit markets has been associated with government interventions. For investors who are worried about the risk implications, fundamental analysis can provide a guide to how the country’s regulators think about companies and sectors.

China’s policy agenda involves a delicate balance between opening up its economy and capital markets and maintaining social stability. The first of these policy strands includes allowing more companies to default on their debt, as a way of enabling risk in credit markets to be priced more accurately—a reform generally welcomed by global credit investors.

The second strand was apparent recently in a crackdown on the education and tech sectors where business practices conflicted with the government’s social aims. The move led to a dramatic sell-off in stocks and in the offshore Chinese currency and credit markets.

Consequently, many investors in Chinese credit are wondering how to assess the risk implications of government interventions.

Which Companies Are Systemically Important?

Understanding which companies are systemically important is the key to understanding risk in Chinese credit markets. While it’s generally assumed that the government will support state-owned enterprises, the government doesn’t publish a list of systemically important companies or sectors. Fundamental analysis, however, can help in this respect.

In the banking sector, for example, it’s relatively easy to determine which entities are systemically important. The top three tiers of banks—three policy banks and the first- and second-tier commercial banks (respectively, six state-owned banks and 12 joint-stock banks) collectively account for between 60% and 70% of the banking system’s balance sheet.

On size alone, they are systemically important, but there are other factors (Display). These include state ownership, interconnectedness with the financial system (such as borrowing in the interbank market), the banks’ importance for social stability and their access to international capital markets.

The other considerations are significant for China’s national agenda. An asset-manager default in offshore bond markets—a concern of some investors—might limit Chinese issuers’ access to foreign capital. That would run counter to Beijing’s policy of internationalizing the renminbi (RMB).

Asset Managers Tick the Box for Systemically Important
Criteria: size, interconnectedness, state ownership, access to international markets, social stability and national agenda.

As of August 17, 2021
Source: AllianceBernstein (AB)

Asset managers are not important for social stability, but they help drive China’s national agenda. Their role is to remove and sell nonperforming loans (NPLs) from bank balance sheets and nonperforming receivables from corporate balance sheets. They help to keep the financial system strong. 

Property Sector Matters More Than Property Companies

The same applies to China’s other privately-owned property companies.

Property developers and the sectors that depend on them, such as suppliers of heavy equipment and building materials, have total debts of RMB 101 trillion—amounting to 35% of China’s financial system and equivalent to 100% of the country’s GDP.

So, while individual property developers might be allowed to default or fail, Chinese authorities are very likely to take steps to ensure that the fallout for the sector will be limited. Our analysis suggests that the government will intervene when conditions in the sector start to move from mild stress (a default rate of 4%) to medium stress (10%).

Since we conducted our stress-test analysis, the default rate for Chinese property developers in high-yield offshore bond markets has already crept up to 4%. This is where, for active investors, opportunities might develop.

Fortune Favors The Well Prepared

Of course, aiming to take advantage of a fall in a property company’s bond price in the hope that the government will step in and cause the price to recover is a risky strategy—particularly given our view that Chinese property defaults and failures are likely. Investors should rigorously research each credit on a stand-alone basis before making a decision.

In investing, fortune doesn’t favor the brave, but it often favors the well prepared. That’s why an active investment approach and sound fundamental analysis are, in our view, the keys to investing successfully in Chinese credit.

The authors wish to thank Rob Hopper and the team for their contributions.

The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams. Views are subject to change over time.

Investment involves risk. The information contained here reflects the views of AllianceBernstein L.P. or its affiliates and sources it believes are reliable as of the date of this publication. AllianceBernstein L.P. makes no representations or warranties concerning the accuracy of any data. There is no guarantee that any projection, forecast or opinion in this material will be realized. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The views expressed here may change at any time after the date of this publication. This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute investment advice. AllianceBernstein L.P. does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. It does not take an investor's personal investment objectives or financial situation into account; investors should discuss their individual circumstances with appropriate professionals before making any decisions. This information should not be construed as sales or marketing material or an offer of solicitation for the purchase or sale of, any financial instrument, product or service sponsored by AllianceBernstein or its affiliates. This presentation is issued by AllianceBernstein Hong Kong Limited (聯博香港有限公司) and has not been reviewed by the Securities and Futures Commission

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