China’s ratio of debt to its economic size is seen climbing for at least another four years, underscoring the risks facing policy makers as they strive to prevent a deeper slowdown without triggering a credit blowout.
Seven out of 12 economists see the debt-to-gross-domestic-product ratio increasing through at least 2019, with four expecting a peak in 2020 or later, according to a Bloomberg News survey. Debt will peak at 283 percent of GDP, according to the median estimate of eight economists.
Policy makers grappling with the fallout from a credit binge after the global financial crisis are also being confronted by anemic demand for exports and an aging workforce, pushing economic growth to the slowest pace in a quarter of a century. With robust consumption and services struggling to pick up the slack from slowing investment and manufacturing, China’s communist leaders are striving to put a floor under growth to ensure average expansion stays around 6.5 percent through 2020.
“We doubt the debt ratio will peak before 2020,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, a China economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in Singapore. “Our model puts the peak in the debt ratio in 2024, but the ratio could rise further beyond that if Chinese policymakers fail to implement the necessary structural reforms required to improve credit allocation.”
Concerns over China’s borrowing came to the fore last week, when a report showed the country’s banks extended a record 2.51 trillion yuan ($385 billion) of new loans in January. The increase in debt could pressure the country’s credit rating, Standard & Poor’s said on Tuesday, less than a week after the cost to insure Chinese bonds against default rose to a four-year high.