SHANGHAI China's banking regulator said on Monday that new non-performing loans (NPL) held by Chinese banks more than doubled in 2015 from the previous year, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.
The people, who declined to be identified as they are not allowed to speak to the media, told Reuters the regulator said at a government work conference that total NPLs reached 1.95 trillion yuan ($296.8 billion) in 2015, while net profit grew at a slower pace of 2.3 percent from the year before.
The NPLs in China's banking sector increased 257.4 billion yuan ($39.2 billion) to 1.43 trillion yuan during 2014, suggesting that new NPLs last year surged more than 500 billion yuan, according to data from the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC).
"At the end of 2015, commercial bank non-performing loans increased for 17 consecutive quarters, and the non-performing loans increased for 10 consecutive quarters," Shang Fulin, chairman of the CBRC, told the 2016 national work conference on banking supervision on Monday, according to the two sources.
Chinese banks are often accused of under reporting their non-performing loans by using methods such as re-financing unprofitable state-owned enterprises and under recognizing overdue debt to muddy the numbers.
Shang pointed out that as China's economic growth slowed to around 7 percent last year from 9.5 percent in 2011, banking profit growth plummeted to 2.3 percent from 39.5 percent over the same period in 2014.
This meant non-performing loans rose to 1.95 trillion yuan at the end of last year from 1.05 trillion yuan in 2011.
"We should promptly introduce corporate financial debt restructuring rules, enhance support for firms with debt difficulties," said Shang.
The central bank has taken a raft of policy measures, including cutting interest rates and banks' reserve requirement ratios, in a bid to support the world's second-biggest economy.
A Reuters poll last week showed banks likely made 700.0 billion yuan in new loans in December, down slightly from November's 708.9 billion yuan.
In an online statement published on Monday, the CBRC said it would try to contain risks connected with real estate developers.
The regulator did not respond to Reuters' request for comment.
(Reporting by Shanghai Newsroom; Writing by Ruby Lian; Editing by Kazunori Takada and Jacqueline Wong)