China’s Growing Debt Problem
Isn’t Quite What It Seems
China’s debt pile is huge and – more worryingly – growing fast. And credit isn’t delivering the same kind of economic boost it once did. But most debt is in local hands in a largely closed financial system, giving China’s leaders some breathing space to fix the mess. And that’s good for the global economy.
The debt landscape
China’s total debt is now about two and a half times the size of its economy. It takes almost a third of gross domestic product just to service it. Corporations are by far the biggest debtors, especially state-owned enterprises.
How that stacks up globally
While China’s total debt doesn’t look so scary when compared with economies such as those of the United States or Japan, it’s the speed of debt growth that has alarmed investors. Another worrying sign is that China isn’t getting quite the bang for its buck in raising its GDP, as shown by a flatter line for its debt growth against GDP per capita.
So who’s on the hook?
As with Japan, China’s debt is largely locally funded and is backed by a huge hoard of domestic deposits. That makes any Asian financial crisis-style blow-up unlikely.
Broad money (including deposits)
What about the assets?
Often overlooked, too, is the other side of the balance sheet: assets. China’s state companies – which are responsible for so much of the debt – also own assets that can be sold, with proceeds going to repay loans, if needed.
552% of GDP
The way forward
So, as leaders from the Group of 20 nations prepare to meet in Hangzhou to explore ways to boost a sluggish global economy, much will depend on whether China can tame its rampant credit growth and help create new growth drivers.
Chinese debt is building up. The question is when, not if, real trouble will hit