Bad Debts and Chinese Banks 

Chinese banks have for years been reluctant to disclose any information on poorly performing loans or outright bad debts. They go to extraordinary lengths to hide these problems usually teaming up with an AMC (Asset Management Company)* where a transaction takes place that removes these loans from their books. So it came as a surprise when the Bank of Jiujiang on the 19th of March 2024 announced that profits for the previous year will probably fall by Circa 30% due to loans performing poorly.

*AMC’s – Chinese Asset Management Companies came into existence in 1998 and were established by the Ministry of Finance with the purpose of professionally managing third-party assets and was considered at that time to be a major landmark in the development of China’s financial system. It marked the transition from an unregulated environment to one where these specialist companies would operate with a defined set of financial parameters, regulations, and standards. 

The deal with AMC’s to hide these bad debts or poorly performing loans is as follows. First, the bank lends to the AMC who in return purchases the toxic loan(s) from the bank. Within the contract between the two parties it stipulates that the AMC will avoid any and all credit risks in regard to the toxic loans they are purchasing. Furthermore, the contract is also riddled with confidentiality clauses that keep either party from disclosing the arrangement, indeed sometimes even to courts. The result is that when the bank comes to declare their profits for the year to their investors they can produce a relatively clean balance sheet. 

For a long time the financial regulators were hoodwinked into believing that many of the banks were actually solving their bad debt problem, when in fact things were just getting worse and a number of experts suggest for literally hundreds of banks across China these toxic loans now represent a ticking time bomb. However, NAFR (The National Administration of Financial Regulation established 10th March 2023) the new financial regulatory body has caught on to these subterfuges and have been handing out fines left right and centre some in the region of Yuan200 Million (USD30 Million). Indeed, NAFR, with new heightened enforcement capabilities, are taking debt concealment much more seriously. 

Sadly for the banking institutions many AMC’s have themselves become distressed and are now reluctant to take more bad debt on board. Some decades ago China actually created four centrally controlled AMC’s to take on bad debt and are now currently struggling with one needing a bail out in 2021 to the tune of USD6.6 Billion. This is becoming a runaway freight train of bad debt, and with Bank of Jiujiang’s bad loan book increasing 700% between 2015 and the end of 2023, the whole banking system may soon become imperilled.