China Defaults Hit Record in 2018. 2019 Pace Is Triple That
This year is shaping up to be the biggest by far for defaults in China’s $13 trillion bond market, highlighting the widening fallout from the government’s campaign to rein in leverage.
Companies defaulted on 39.2 billion yuan ($5.8 billion) of domestic bonds in the first four months of the year, some 3.4 times the total for the same period of 2018, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The pace is also more than triple that of 2016, when defaults were more concentrated in the first half of the year, unlike 2018. The trend is clear: unless something changes, 2019 will be the new high.
China continues to press banks to extend credit to the private sector, and small and medium-sized companies especially. The latest move came Monday, when the central bank loosened some reserve-requirement rules for lenders. But President Xi Jinping’s team has also focused on shrinking the shadow-banking system, where credit decisions were made with less regulatory oversight and where it was easier to build up unsustainable leverage.
It’s that funding squeeze that explains the default surge that began in late 2017 and continues today. By contrast, 2016 was more a story of China’s push to shrink excess industrial capacity having reverberating effects in credit markets.