A gauge of financial companies soared 6.7% on rumors Chinese banks will be allowed to issue preferred stock to boost capital levels. Shanghai Pudong and Agricultural Bank each jumped 10% on speculation they will be the first to participate in a trial offering.
Separately, Ping An Bank gained 10% after announcing plans to raise $2.4B by selling 1.32B shares to parent Ping An Insurance Group. The purchase will raise the parent's stake to 59% from 52.4%.
Last week's PBOC rate cut looks like a step to ending Chinese banks' comfy 3-6-3 arrangement (borrow at 3%, lend at 6%, golf course by 3). A major step towards a market-oriented interest rate regime, the central bank now allows lenders to offer up to a 20% discount from the state-mandated rate, a move expected to shave cushy profit margins.
Jim Chanos brushes off chatter about the large Chinese banks being broken up, calling them "arms of state policy. They loan because the local party official ... tells them we need a new stadium ... I really doubt the party is going to give up a lever of power." (Chanos earlier on "the party.")
"China's banks (aren't) really the villains here," writes Patrick Chovanec, responding to Premier Wen's comments about their monopoly power. "They are creatures of the State; they do what they are told and incentivized to do," - that is lend, without counting the cost, for projects that "carry the imprimatur (and implicit guarantee) of the Mother State."
"The Chinese government has said similar things for many, many years," without following up with action, says Victor Shih, reacting to yesterday's comments from Premier Wen about breaking up the big bank cartel (there, not here) and liberalizing the financial sector.
China's biggest banks are expected to post solid profits when they report Q4 income later this month, but will also higher non-performing loans for the first time in 3 years. "It's the beginning of a worrisome trend," says an analyst urging investors to cash in profits following a 42% rise in bank shares over the last 5 months.
"The notion that Chinese banks have 1% non-performing loans is patently ridiculous," writes Patrick Chovanec of the record annual profits posted by the lenders. "That provisions for 2.5X this amount are somehow 'generous' are equally absurd." Based on the banks' valuations - Industrial Bank (IDCBF.PK) trades at a PE of 6 - investors don't buy it either.
China Construction Bank joins the country's other major lenders, reporting increasing profits in Q3 with strong loan demand and a falling bad debt ratio. Time will tell, but the reports don't square with anecdotal evidence of a lending slowdown and an increase in non-performing loans. China financial ETF: CHIX +26% this month.
Of the Chinese bank stock buys, the folks at beyondbrics note the last time China stepped in to buy the lenders was September 2008 - the stock market bottomed shortly afterwards. Off 28% this year, a popular China ETF, FXI is +2.3% premarket.
Reports that 85% of local government borrowers in Liaoning missed loan payments in 2010 ought to raise the eyebrows of those who think Chinese banks are cheap. Chinese lenders aren't as nearly as well-capitalized as Tier 1 ratios would indicate, and owners are likely to face dividend cuts, dilution, or both. China financial ETF: CHIX -24% YTD.
Hot fund manager Rajiv Jain begs to differ with consensus forecasts for big gains in beaten down Chinese banking shares. "Non-performing loans are going to be shockingly high," he says, "if you look at the accounting, I don't see how anyone could put a penny there." China fin'l ETF: CHIX -11.6% YTD.
Temasek Holdings - Singapore's SWF - unloads 49% of its Bank of China (BACHY.PK) and 8% of its China Construction Bank (CICHY.PK) holdings, apparently getting as jittery as others over the scale of bad debt on (and often hidden off of) the banks' books. Already down sharply in past weeks, both lenders fell nearly another 4% in Hong Kong last night.
Credit Suisse downgrades China's banks, swinging from overweight to underweight without stopping at neutral. Importantly, the bank tags what could be the next sovereign risk issue, as massive local off-balance sheet financing begins to move onto Beijing's books. CHIX -4.3% YTD.
Contrarians may have interest in the increasing conviction of short-sellers of Chinese shares. One example: in Wednesday trade in Hong Kong, 1/5th of the turnover of Chinese bank stocks was shorted. "The divergence (between bulls and bears) has never been so huge," says an analyst.
Capital targets for China's 5 largest banks have been raised above the 11.5% minimum ratio by banking regulators. The higher level allows the banks a greater cushion in the event of losses and may also help stem the country's gusher of credit growth. CHIX +7.6% YTD.