BEIJING, Jan 30 (Reuters) - China’s banks have rescheduled at least three quarters of loans made to the country’s local governments that were due to be repaid by the end of 2012, according to Financial Times calculations from official data.
The paper said banks had rolled over an estimated 3 trillion yuan ($482 billion), or even more, of 4 trillion yuan in loans and interest that had fallen due for repayment by the end of last year.
The paper’s calculations were based on data reported by local media showing that local governments had total outstanding loans of 9.2 trillion yuan as at the end of 2012. That figure was 9.1 trillion yuan at the end of 2010.
Between those two years, 41 percent of all local government debt had been scheduled to mature, according to China’s national audit office.
“The implication of a stable outstanding loan volume is that the vast majority of local government loans that were to come due over the past two years have simply been extended. Accounting for interest payments of 6 percent a year, local governments have paid back a maximum of about 1 trillion yuan,” the paper said.
The significance of China’s local government debts to the wider economy is difficult to quantify. Such numbers in developed economies would alarm investors, but China’s low overall level of central government debt suggests Beijing could absorb all local government lending and still have a debt ratio much lower than is typical in the United States and Western Europe.
The paper said its calculations were imprecise because China’s bank regulator, the China Banking Regulatory Commission, only publishes data for total outstanding loans to local governments. It does not publish data about refinancing or interest payments.
China’s local governments borrowed heavily at Beijing’s behest to fund massive infrastructure spending at the heart of a 4 trillion yuan economic stimulus plan unveiled in 2008, at the depths of the global financial crisis.
It left them saddled with debts due to be repaid in many instances far earlier than the projects which the loans funded were due to be completed.
China said in late December that local governments would be barred from injecting public assets, such as government buildings, schools and hospitals, into local government financing vehicles (LGFVs) in the latest bid to curb borrowing and reduce potential risks to the world’s second-largest economy. ($1 = 6.2243 Chinese yuan) (Reporting by Nick Edwards; Editing by Edmund Klamann)