Thursday, January 31, 2008

Economist: China's Fear of Inflation

From The Economist: China's Fear of Inflation


Chinese policymakers are, in a way, victims of their own success. During the past few years China has enjoyed record current-account surpluses, which have allowed the central government to use ballooning foreign-exchange reserves to recapitalise sickly state-owned banks. Flush with cash, the banks have fuelled spectacular rallies in both property and stocks, which have sent even the prices of their own newly listed shares into the stratosphere.

In heated competition with each other to lend money, banks have flouted both basic risk-management practices and government regulations. They looked the other way when borrowers did not have all the paperwork. Since September buyers have had to make a 40% down payment for a second mortgage. But most banks interpreted the rule as applying only to individuals, and not to households. Thus, a large number of borrowers simply had their spouses or children take out mortgages and kept speculating in the property market. In other instances, CBRC officials discovered that local bank branches accepted false documentation showing proper down payments where none existed. Such lax lending has led to a Rmb1trn increase in housing loans in the first ten months of 2007, or nearly one-third of all new bank loans made during that period. Bank regulators have publicly raised alarm about these highly leveraged mortgages, which look uncomfortably like their sub-prime counterparts in the US.

On the stockmarket front, the CBRC has long-standing regulations forbidding the purchase of shares with bank loans. In reality, though, it is all but impossible to enforce how the money is spent once it leaves bank vaults. And in the great Chinese bull market of 2007, it did not really matter anyway because most people were making a killing on stocks and promptly repaying their loans. Indeed, Chinese banks were indulging their own speculative urges by investing in junk US mortgage-backed securities.


Reminding us that it wasn't just the U.S. which got out of hand..

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