Finance and economics: China's bond market Pricing risk
Debt issuance booms despite a wave of defaults.
China's domestic bond market has never been riskier.It was only last year that it suffered its first default.This year at least six companies have defaulted.The miscreants are a diverse lot, including a beverage bottler, a solar-panel maker and a cement company.
As economic growth grinds lower, defaults will inevitably rise.A gloomy outlook of this kind would normally lead investors to demand a premium before buying bonds.Instead, they have lapped them up, making it cheaper for China's companies to borrow.Bond issuance has boomed this year, reaching almost 12 trillion yuan ($1.9 trillion) so far, up from the record 7.7 trillion sold in all of 2014, according to Wind Information, a data provider.This has prompted warnings that, much like the stock market earlier this year, China's bond market is swelling into a bubble.
Banks accounted for almost all lending in China until a decade ago.Today, for every five yuan of loans companies take out, they also finance themselves with one yuan of bonds.That has made China the world's third-biggest bond market, behind America and Japan—a development that should help shield the economy from the expensive busts to which banks are prone.At the moment, though, the bond market seems to be stoking risk.For most of the past five years, yields on highly rated corporate bonds were two or three percentage points higher than on government bonds of the same maturity.
This year the spread has narrowed, hitting a low in early November of just 1.3 percentage points.This implies that investors think corporate bonds have become less risky, despite the proliferation of defaults.Look at individual bonds, and signs of excess are even more obvious.Vanke is China's biggest listed property developer and, by most accounts, a well-managed company.