SYDNEY (Reuters) - China has told its banks to start a huge roll-over of loans to local governments, the Financial Times reported, aiming to give itself more time to deal with a $1.7 trillion debt hangover from the global financial crisis.
The move underscores China's determination to contain its 10.7 trillion yuan debt mess and forestall a potential loan crisis in the world's No. 2 economy, analysts say.
As early as June 2011, the Chinese government had vowed to clean up its local debt either by shifting 2-3 trillion yuan of debt off local governments, forcing state banks to take some bad debt losses and selling select projects to private investors, sources told Reuters earlier.
Investors worry that China's banks would suffer billions of bad loan losses and hobble the world's growth engine at a time of anaemic global economic growth.
China's mountain of local debt piled up after the 2008-09 financial crisis when Beijing ordered local governments to spend massively on infrastructure projects to buoy economic growth, which they did by borrowing heavily.
Analysts say Chinese banks are already rolling over or restructuring troubled loans to cash-strapped local governments unable to repay their debt. But the amount of loans being rolled over is not known as banks -- and Beijing -- are tight-lipped.
Worse, analysts say Chinese banks are hiding troubled loans by adamantly refusing to mark them as non-performing loans in financial statements before restructuring them, as per global best practice.
"This is bad regulation but I don't think we are going to get a bank crisis," said a bank analyst in Hong Kong.
In some cases, loans are being restructured by extending their maturities by as much as four years, the Financial Times said, citing bankers and analysts familiar with the matter.
Not all local government loans would be rolled over, the paper said, citing a person with knowledge of the plan.
Banks would determine if there was real demand for the investment. Continued funding for the construction of highways would be approved but less important projects, like massive city squares, might be cut off.
Banks would also consider whether investments were consistent with the government's five-year plan for industrial upgrading and cleaner growth.
China has said that about half of the 10.7 trillion yuan of loans will mature over the next three years.
(Reporting by Richard Pullin in MELBOURNE and Koh Gui Qing in SINGAPORE, Editing by Dean Yates & Kim Coghill)