Mounting concern about the financial health of China Huarong Asset Management — a distressed-debt manager controlled by the country’s finance ministry — has fueled a record tumble in the company’s dollar bonds that’s stoking fears of market contagion, reported Bloomberg.
The selloff underscores a historic shift in the world’s second-largest credit market. As Chinese President Xi Jinping dials back support for weaker borrowers to reduce moral hazard, state-owned enterprises have replaced their private counterparts as the country’s biggest source of defaults, said Bloomberg.
SOEs reneged on a record RMB 79.5 billion ($12.1 billion) of local bonds in 2020, lifting their share of onshore payment failures to 57% from 8.5% a year earlier, according to Fitch Ratings. The figure jumped to 72% in the first quarter of 2021.
“China’s credit market is entering a new era as SOEs are emerging as the main source of stress,” said Shuncheng Zhang, an analyst at Fitch Ratings. Whatever the outcome for China Huarong, policy makers will likely allow more defaults in the state sector to reduce moral hazard and cultivate a more mature debt market, he added.