China's Financial System: No Guarantees

May 20, 2012 4:21 AM ETFXI, PGJ8 Comments
Patrick Chovanec profile picture
Patrick Chovanec

In my debate with Andrew Batson in The Guardian in March, I noted that:

There really are two related but distinct things people have in mind when they talk about a "hard landing" for China. The first is a rapid deceleration of GDP growth – below, say, 7%. The second is some kind of financial crisis. I think we're already seeing some signs of the first, and the second is a bigger risk than most people appreciate.

In my last several posts, I've focused on the former — the slowdown in China's GDP growth. I want to switch gears here for a moment and call attention to a rather alarming story involving the latter — the risk of financial instability — which somehow slipped under most people's radar screens.

In early April, Caixin magazine ran an article titled "Fool's Gold Behind Beijing Loan Guarantees", which documented the silent implosion of Zhongdan Investment Credit Guarantee Co. Ltd., based in China's capital. "What's a credit guarantee company?" you might ask — and ask you should, because these companies and the risks they potentially pose are one of the least understood aspects of China's "shadow banking" system. If the risky trust products and wealth funds that Caixin documented last July are China's equivalent to CDOs, then credit guarantee companies are China's version of AIG.

As I understand it, credit guarantee companies were originally created to help Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) get access to bank loans. State-run banks are often reluctant to lend to private companies that do not have the hard assets (such as land) or implicit government backing that State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) enjoy. Local governments encouraged the formation of a new kind of financial entity, which would charge prospective borrowers a fee and, in exchange, serve as a guarantor to the bank, pledging to pay for any losses in the event of a

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Patrick Chovanec profile picture
Patrick Chovanec is an associate professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management in Beijing, China, where he teaches in the school’s International MBA Program.His insights into Chinese business, economics, politics, and culture have been featured on CNN, BBC, NPR, and Bloomberg, as well as in Time, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Times, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, and numerous other publications. He is a regular expert commentator on Chinese TV and radio. Professor Chovanec has worked for several private equity funds focused on China, and serves as an advisor to numerous hedge funds, PE funds, corporations, and governments on China. Previously, he served as director of Institutional Investor’s Asia Pacific Institute, based in Hong Kong, and its Global Fixed Income Institute, based in London. Before coming to Asia, Chovanec worked as an aide to political strategist William Kristol and to U.S. House Minority Leader John Boehner. Professor Chovanec first visited China in 1986, and has traveled to every one of its 31 provinces, as well as Taiwan. His travels have taken him to over 45 countries, including Pakistan, Cuba, Vietnam, and Cambodia. He is one of only a handful of U.S. citizens to have visited North Korea. He holds an BA in Economics from Princeton University and an MBA in Finance and Accounting from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, where he graduated as a Palmer Scholar. He is a U.S. Certified Public Accountant (CPA). You can follow his updates on Twitter @prchovanec He can be contacted at

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