1t debt swap quota assigned to China's regional govt

Updated: 2015-03-13 13:57


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BEIJING -- The Ministry of Finance's 1 trillion debt swap line has been assigned to local governments, regional delegates to China's annual parliamentary session said on Thursday.

China's Ministry of Finance has recently confirmed a debt restructuring program that lets local government to convert some of their most urgent debts into municipal bonds with a longer tenor.

The ministry has confirmed a swap totalling 1 trillion that will begin this year. Each province will be assigned a quota for replacing its soon-to-mature debts with bond issued to commercial banks and other financial institutions.

So far 50 billion yuan were granted to southern Chinese province Guangdong, 40 billion earmarked for Shandong, 30 billion for Anhui and 20 billion for Jiangxi, Xinhua-affiliated business newspaper Economic Information Daily reports on Thursday, citing local deputies to the National People's Congress.

The restructuring quota is granted based on existing liabilities set to come due this year, said Zeng Zhiquan, director of Guangdong's department of finance.

The debt restructuring program also triggered a rally of banking stocks on the Chinese mainland on Thursday as investors view it as a positive development to improve bank balance sheets, especially those that have lent heavily to local governments.

A government audit of local government debt as of June 2013 shows 2.78 trillion yuan of debts will mature this year, two thirds of which are a direct liability for local governments. Total debt for local governments, including contingent liabilities, currently stands at 17.9 trillion.

China's Ministry of Finance says the restructuring program will save local governments up to 50 billion yuan in interest payments.

Extending the maturity of debt will significantly ease the burden for local governments. A simple projection shows that the debt repayment will be lowered by 50 percent in the next three years if tenors are extended from three years to seven, says China economists Liu Ligang and Zhou Hao at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ)

China has also earmarked a 600 billion quota for local government debt this year and has expanded its municipal bond pilot scheme in a bid to wean local government from unsustainable and risky borrowing through designated financing vehicles.

Up to 70 percent of financing vehicles that raise funds on local governments' behalf have borrowed new loans to service old debts from 2011 to 2013, Moody's Chinese mainland rating arm CCXI found in an analysis of more than 1,100 local government financing vehicles' balance sheet.

Authorities also designed guidelines last year to encourage private investments into infrastructure and utilities to ease local governments' spending in the hope that alternative funding will reduce government's financing needs.

The debt-to-bond swap fuelled speculation that China central bank may purchase bonds issued by local governments, a move that many likened to the quantitative easing (QE) of the United States.

But officials quickly dismissed any notion of a Chinese version of QE, saying the country's law currently prohibits its central bank from purchasing sovereign bonds from any country, including those issued by the Chinese government.

ANZ economists say the debt swap is more like "Operation Twist", which the US Federal Reserve has used to buy and sell bonds of short and long terms to guide interest rates lower.

"[China's debt-to-bond program] could help smooth out debt repayment for local governments and thus facilitate the de-leveraging process in China." ANZ economists said.