However, there’s a chance that despite the fiscal largess, overall infrastructure investment growth could still disappoint. First, while Beijing is letting local governments issue more bonds, it’s still telling them to reduce so-called “hidden” debt -- off-balance sheet borrowing from banks by state-owned companies, which has financed a large chunk of China’s infrastructure over the last decade.
Second, fiscal funds need to be supplemented by lending from commercial banks and private investors -- both of which may be reluctant to lend in a risky environment. Finally, local governments in recent years struggled to find infrastructure projects that could generate returns large enough to repay the special bonds. Some economists estimate local governments left 2 trillion yuan of funds unspent last year.
While Beijing is telling local authorities to speed up spending, it remains to be seen if attitudes will shift.
“Funds are less of a constraint for infrastructure investment this year, while the bottlenecks lie mainly with project pipelines and government incentives,” Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economists including Xinquan Chen wrote in a note last week. In a sign that the fiscal push is yet to rev up construction, sales of excavators in China have been sinking since April last year. In January-June, the sales plunged 53%.
Arguing China needs more high-speed railways is a bit difficult when the national railway already has almost $1 trillion in outstanding debt and no passengers. That begs the question whether the new debt being issued will be used to retire/bring off balance sheet on balance sheet or on new projects.Click HERE to subscribe to Fuller Treacy Money Back to top