Thursday, 20 September 2012

Some worrisome signals from China

Chinese banks and companies looking to seize steel pledged as collateral by firms that have defaulted on loans are making an uncomfortable discovery: the metal was never in the warehouses in the first place.

China's demand has faltered with the slowing economy, pushing steel prices to a three-year low and making it tough for mills and traders to keep up with payments on the $400 billion of debt they racked up during years of double-digit growth.

As defaults have risen in the world's largest steel consumer, lenders have found that warehouse receipts for metal pledged as collateral do not always lead them to stacks of stored metal. Chinese authorities are investigating a number of cases in which steel documented in receipts was either not there, belonged to another company or had been pledged as collateral to multiple lenders, industry sources said.

Ghost inventories are exacerbating the wider ailments of the sector in China, which produces around 45 percent of the world's steel and has over 200 million metric tons (220.5 million tons) of excess production capacity. Steel is another drag on a financial system struggling with bad loans from the property sector and local governments.

"What we have seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg," said a trader from a steel firm in Shanghai who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media. "The situation will get worse as poor demand, slumping prices and tight credit from banks create a domino effect on the industry."

The above news comes from Reuters.

Mish commented on it:

The big question is not whether it happened, but to what degree. Let's just no go overboard thinking rehypothecation is a widespread practice in every asset class around the globe, even if it's likely this is the tip of the iceberg in China.

From "alsosprachanalyst" the following graph regarding capital flow in and out of China:

Several months of net outflow, similar to what happened during the economic crisis in 2008.

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