One month ago, when we last looked at the incredible amount of Chinese new loan issuance, a topic which even the mainstream media is slowly starting to circle in on as the primary source of hot money flow creation in the world, we found the highest loan notional issued by the country’s semi-sovereign banks since 2009, and the largest one-month ever monthly total in the largest aggregated, Total Social Financial, series, which rose by an unprecedented CNY2.6 trillion, or over $400 billion in one month! That was just before the tremors surrounding first the potential defaults of several Chinese shadow-banking Trusts, and certainly before the first official corporate bond default which took place last week.
Overnight, the PBOC released its latest, February, loan data. As expected, it reveals something else entirely.
In the month in which there were pervasive fears that China would let one or more Trusts go bankrupt (a fear which was unfounded as China did bail out two shadow trusts in February, only to finally allow a corporate bond default last week), loan creation ground if not to a halt, then certainly was significantly impacted, and its collapse may explain the abysmal February trade data as well, which far more than merely indicating calendar effects from the Chinese Lunar New Year, shows that something dramatically changed with the well-greased Chinese economic machine. That something was an abrupt drop in credit.
To wit: Chinese banks made 644.5 billion yuan ($105.21 billion) worth of new yuan loans in February, lower than a forecast of 716 billion yuan and below the previous month’s 1.3 trillion yuan, central bank data showed on Monday.
Looking at the bigger picture, total social financing in February stood at 938.7 billion yuan, well below the previous month’s 2.58 trillion yuan, and also well below expectations.
It gets worse: as SocGen calculates, Total social financing (TSF) recorded a gain of CNY 939bn in February. The sharp decline from the January level (CNY 2580bn) can be mostly attributed to seasonality but the TSF was also down yoy (1071bn last February), which dragged total credit growth down to a 20-month low of 17.1% yoy from 17.5% yoy, according to our estimate.
Breaking down the loan creation by various components, va SocGen:
Yuan loans increased notably less than expected by CNY 645bn (Cons. 730bn, SG 750bn). Although it was still 25bn more yoy, growth of outstanding loans inched down to 14.2% yoy from 14.3% yoy. However, once again, non-bank credit saw a much bigger slowdown. Entrusted loans increased CNY 80bn, CNY 63bn less yoy and the lowest in 20 months. Probably due to easier interbank liquidity conditions lately, the net increase in bond financing was up to CNY 99.5bn from the very depressed levels in the past two months. However, the first bond default that occurred on 7 March will likely reverse this nascent improvement trend. New trust loans had a sharp fall of CNY 104bn from January to CNY 78bn, the second smallest monthly increase since mid-2012. Reportedly, formal banks have started to distance themselves from the trust sector by scaling back trust product distribution to banks’ clients. It may also be the beginning of investors adjusting for the long over-due first defaults of trust products. Whichever the case, the near-term prospect for trust financing is not beautiful.
This latest money and credit report again supports our view that credit growth is still sliding and will likely remain so in the near term. In H2 2013, the credit slowdown was mostly responding to higher interbank rates, as intended by the PBoC. From here onwards, the downward pressure will come from follow-up regulatory tightening of the Document 107 issued by the State Council in January and, more critically, from financial market participants’ adjustments to fast rising default risk. Such adjustments are necessary for China in the long run to develop a healthy financial market, but are nothing if not risky in the short term. We think that the policymakers will run more default experiments, but at the same time stand ready to intervene so as to avoid a systemic financial crisis. Our central scenario remains that there will be disruptions but not a meltdown, but the risk is tilting to the downside.
Finally, the French bank’s conclusion is hardly welcome for China bulls:
China’s total credit growth slowed further in February, again driven by shadow banking deceleration. Lower interbank rates have not really helped ease credit conditions. It seems that the rising default risk has started to erode Chinese investors’ confidence. Together with continued regulatory tightening on banks’ off-balance-sheet activity, we are certain that this slowing credit trend has further to go and will inflict real pain on the economy. The season of weak Chinese data has just begun.
That’s ok, all of the above, too, is priced into the USDJPY algos.