“The main reasons are the intense competition in the P2P industry, the liquidity squeeze at the end of the year and a loss of faith by investors,” said Xu Hongwei, chief executive of Online Lending House. He estimated that 80 or 90 per cent of the country’s P2P companies might go bust.
People in the industry had hoped that P2P lenders would fill a hole in China’s financial system by helping small businesses obtain funding and by giving investors higher returns than they can obtain from banks.While proponents believe that will still eventually prove to be the case, many believe the industry has expanded too quickly and with insufficient oversight.“A lot of P2Ps have blindly copied each other and they don’t have a business plan that is robust enough to react to market changes. They’ve just focused on sales, scale and bragging to each other,” said Roger Ying, founder of Pandai, one of the websites that is still active.Wangying Tianxia, a Shenzhen-based lender, was one of the biggest P2Ps to fail, according to the Shanghai Securities News, an official newspaper. Between its founding in March last year to its failure in October, Rmb780m ($129m) of loans were disbursed via its platform.A second China-wide cash crunch at the end of December heaped more pressure on P2P lenders. Fuhao Venture and Guangrong Loans posted notices on their websites in the first week of the new year warning investors that loan repayment might be delayed.
Write-offs have multiplied in recent months. Over-the-counter asset exchanges have sprung up as a way for banks to find buyers for collateral seized from defaulting borrowers and for bad loans they want to spin off. Provinces have started setting up their own “bad banks,” state-owned institutions that can take over nonperforming loans that threaten banks’ ability to continue lending.“In recent years, Chinese banks have been exploring new avenues to resolve their bad loans,” said Bank of Tianjin, which is based in northeastern China. The lender recently listed more than 150 loans for sale on a local exchange. “We will continue to recover, write off, spin off and use other avenues in order to resolve bad loans,” it said.China’s banks reported 563.6 billion yuan ($93.15 billion) of nonperforming loans at the end of September. That is up 38% from 407.8 billion yuan, the low point in recent years, two years earlier.
“The last time Beijing confronted bad-loan problems, in 1999 and 2000, the sums involved had crippled the banking system. Banks became far less able to make new loans, forcing the government to take action. Some 1.3 trillion yuan of bad debt was spun off the books of the biggest state banks and swept into four purpose-built bad banks.This time, to avoid a costly bailout in the future, the government is pushing the banks to clean up their mess early. It is giving them new tools to do so: the exchanges to sell bad assets, provincial-level bad banks and permission to raise fresh capital using hybrid securities, complex products that combine aspects of debt and equity.”
A potential constraint on the bad-debt cleanup is the inexperience of buyers at pricing and dealing with distressed debt, never a significant asset class in China. Finding buyers for a failed factory or commercial property seized as collateral can be difficult, particularly in cities with weaker economies.“There’s an immature market for collateral. So the banks’ capacity to resolve loans is more determined by the market than their own abilities,” said Simon Gleave, regional head of finance services at KPMG China.Analysts see the bad-loan problem as a growing issue. Although figures as of the end of September indicate bad debt represents only about 1% of total loans inChina’s banking system, a range of major industries are plagued with overcapacity and local governments are struggling to repay money borrowed to fund a construction binge. Investors broadly believe the actual bad-loan figure is much higher. The share prices of Chinese banks listed in Hong Kong have fallen, to trade below their book value.
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