500,000 . . . is the total tonnage of soya bean cargoes on which Chinese importers have defaulted recently, unsettling markets already nervous about the world’s second biggest economy.
Those defaults look alarming. Commodity markets can provide livid symptoms of an economic malaise and the numbers seem to offer evidence of rising credit risk in China. The country’s first corporate bond default earlier in the year merely sharpened sensitiv-ity to any sign of contagion.
Shipping industry sources in Singapore and Tokyo believe that there are six soya bean cargoes at Chinese ports that cannot be unloaded and the same number still at sea. Their total value is somewhere around £180 million, which makes this China’s highest-stakes soya bean default since 2004. This in a country that imports nearly two thirds of all the soya beans traded worldwide.
Explanations are focused on China’s tightening credit markets and the inability of soya bean buyers to secure the necessary letters of credit from banks. It does not take much of a leap to wonder what that type of credit contraction is having on an economy that has been fuelled lately by an epic creation of new credit.
As with other vulnerable sectors in China, the companies that process soya beans have been making losses: suddenly the banks are unprepared to take risks on them and the cargoes have been stranded.
The defaults have highlighted other market distortions that go far beyond the inability of an oilseed processor to turn a profit from a hill of beans. Trading companies have routinely used soya bean cargoes, in common with shipments of copper and other commodities, as collateral to secure cheap financing for potentially more lucrative deals and businesses. Because the interest payable on letters of credit is low and the payment terms generous, some have sold the product itself at a loss simply to get their hands on the cash.
The reality of these defaults, though, is that they are probably a good thing — or at least part of a well-intentioned plan. Beijing has been uncharacteristically relaxed about these defaults for the same reason that it has been uncharacteristically relaxed about internet giants such as Alibaba infuriating the banks by introducing innovative financial products. Beijing knows it has to reform the financial sector, realises that it will face huge resistance and is looking for leverage. Creating a series of micro crises forces China’s banks to become better at what they are supposed to do. Defaults (on soya beans and bonds) have been noisily paraded in state media to show the banks that they are expected to start pricing risk accurately and coldly.
via China in numbers: beans means trouble as commodity markets highlight rising credit risks | The Times.