Asia-Pacific

Downfall of Chinese bank rattles Australian investors

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The G20 spotlight is firmly focused on the trade war between the US and China, but some analysts fear another crisis could be on its way for Beijing.

One Chinese bank has investors around the world worried.

Baoshang Bank is a relatively small lender based in inner-Mongolia. It had appeared to be performing as normal – at least according to its own reports.

But that was far from the truth – the bank recently collapsed, and for the first time in around two decades, regulators seized control, citing serious credit risks.

It's a dramatic intervention, one that has rattled the sector and renewed concerns about the state of small lenders, plagued by rising debt and bad loans.

"This case illustrates the challenges of managing their debts, the stability of the smaller banks because it relies heavily on inter-bank loans, but it also reflects the challenges of managing the risks in the financial systems," UNSW's Heng Wang told SBS News.

And fears about the health of mainland China's financial sector revolve around more than just one bank.

NAB economist Gerard Burg said "bank lending has really ramped up".

Heng Wang is an expert in international business and economic law at University of New South Wales.
Heng Wang is an expert in international business and economic law at University of New South Wales.
SBS News

"It appears Chinese authorities are favouring short term growth over the medium term risks around the already high debt levels. So you could argue this is coming at a very bad time."

Many economists are fearful of what’s being called China’s debt iceberg – public and private debt said to be $50 trillion, but it’s unclear just how much it really is.

Most economists agree China is one of the most indebted countries in the world, with estimates total debt is edging towards 300 per cent of the GDP.

ANZ's Richard Yetsenga said "China accounts for a third of global growth, and the global economy isn't doing that well anyway, debt implies China's growth rate will continue to decline".

Baoshang Bank in Shenzhen city, south China's Guangdong province.
Baoshang Bank in Shenzhen city, south China's Guangdong province.
AAP

Chinese authorities say what happened to Baoshang is an isolated case but the health of many smaller banks is questionable.

Some don’t even publish financial reports, obscuring the full extent of their murky borrowing practices.

And economists fear global repercussions.

"Any weakness within the banking sector could flow through in tightening of lending to consumers, and therefore weakening conditions for household and business sectors, in terms of those end consumers of Australian products," Mr Burg said.

An unwelcome prospect - especially in the middle of a trade war.

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