Chinese banks ditch bad loans amid property woes

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HONG KONG — During their recently concluded earnings season, Hong Kong-listed Chinese banks sent a positive signal about their asset quality. Even as China’s property market faltered, their nonperforming loan ratios — which measure bad debts as a percentage of the total — remained steady overall.

The reports of the Chinese banks also demonstrated the considerable financial engineering that was involved in keeping the ratios stable. Lenders last year sold off 2.7 trillion yuan ($392 billion) in NPLs, according to the mainland regulator, with many of the delinquent debts winding up on the books of state-owned distressed asset management companies that often absorb troubled credits in China.

Credit-rating agencies have responded by raising the alarm about the asset managers. China Great Wall Asset Management, one of the four major “bad banks” set up by Beijing in the late 1990s to support troubled state-owned lenders as they sought stock market listings, was placed on negative credit watch by Fitch Ratings on April 3. Moody’s Investors Service placed Great Wall’s peer, China Huarong Asset Management, under review for a downgrade on March 23.

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China, banks, bad loans