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China unlikely to encounter debt crisis

By Chen Yang (Global Times)

13:31, September 10, 2012

China's net sovereign assets amounted to 70 trillion yuan ($11.06 trillion) in 2010, and there is little possibility that the country will encounter a sovereign debt crisis in the long-term period, a senior government adviser said over the weekend.

The figure is a response to increasing international suspicions on China's sovereign debt situation, Li Yang, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said at a seminar on China's sovereign balance sheet held Saturday in Beijing.

China's net sovereign assets, calculated as the country's sovereign assets minus liabilities, continued to increase between 2000 and 2010, which means the country has the ability to pay off its debt, Li said.

But he did not provide the amount of China's sovereign debt.

China's sovereign assets mainly include the government's tax income, international payment surplus and income from natural resources.

"The country has rapidly accumulated its sovereign wealth in the past decade due to the government's extensive involvement in economic activity," Yin Jianfeng, deputy director of the Institute of Finance and Banking with the CASS, told the Global Times Sunday.

"China should conduct reforms and transfer more wealth to the private sector, including encouraging non-State-owned companies to play a more important role in the economy," Yin said.

However, the overall healthy situation can't hide problems in particular sectors.

The Chinese economy still faces short-term risks from property credit and local government debts, as well as long-term risks from the imbalance between foreign assets and liabilities, alarming levels of corporate debt and a gap in the country's pension fund balance, Li said.

According to a study by CASS, the debt-to-GDP ratio of China's corporate sector reached 107 percent in 2011, which is higher than that in the US and South Korea but lower than that in the UK, Japan and Canada.

Li said the Chinese figure far exceeds the generally accepted safety ceiling of 90 percent set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and might pose systematic risks to the world's second largest economy, given that the majority of the debts are in the form of bank loans.

"Chinese enterprises' high debt ratios will not only bring financial risks to the banks, but also affect corporate profitability and result in a decrease in the country's tax revenue," Ma Jinghao, a visiting professor at Beijing-based Central University of Finance and Economics, told the Global Times Sunday.

Companies in sectors such as property, power generation and solar products manufacturing have been saddled with extremely high debt ratios.

For instance, Jiangxi-based LDK Solar Co's debt-to-asset ratio reached 88.1 percent by the end of June.

China can prevent potential risks by maintaining steady economic growth, boosting domestic demand and developing the capital market, Li said.

If companies can raise capital through more channels other than bank loans, systematic risks in the banking system can be avoided, he noted.

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