China local governments' hidden debt could total $5.8 trillion: S&P
Off-balance-sheet borrowings by Chinese local governments could be as high as 40 trillion yuan ($5.78 trillion) and amount to “a debt iceberg with titanic credit risks”, S&P Global Ratings said in a report on Tuesday, Reuters reports.
When including so-called “hidden” local government debt, the ratio of government debt to gross domestic product (GDP) could have reached an “alarming” level of 60 percent in 2017, according to S&P.
China has said it would take steps to measure, assess and curb local government debt. Such off-balance-sheet borrowing is done outside the annual debt quota approved by the central government and via non-bond channels.
As of the end of last year, China’s outstanding government debt on balance sheets amounted to 29.95 trillion yuan, of which local authorities have raised 16.5 trillion yuan through bond issuances since 2015.
S&P said local governments’ off-balance-sheet borrowings might be as high as 30 trillion to 40 trillion yuan.
“That’s a debt iceberg with titanic credit risks,” it said.
Local government financing vehicles (LGFVs) have accumulated much of such hidden debt, and while firm plans are needed to reduce these debts, progress has been limited so far, S&P said.
LGFVs are entities created by local governments to skirt borrowing limits set by Beijing.
Concerns about debt levels in China, particularly local borrowing, are on the rise as the economy cools amid deepening trade frictions with the United States.
Beijing has once again turned to stimulus spending and easier credit, announcing a series of billion-dollar infrastructure projects in recent months and lowering cash reserves that commercial banks need to set aside as buffers.
China has vowed to keep debt levels under control and persist with its multi-year financial de-risking campaign, even as it rolls out economic stimulus measures.