During the so-called Chinese Banking Liquidity Crisis of 2013, the relative cost of funds for non-bank institutions spiked to 100bps. So, the fact that the ‘shadow banking’ liquidity premium has exploded to almost 250 points – by far a record – in the last few days should indicate just how stressed Chinese money markets are.
While interbank borrowing rates have climbed across the board, the surge has been unusually steep for non-bank institutions, including securities companies and investment firms. They’re now paying what amounts to a record premium for short-term funds relative to large Chinese banks, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The premium is reflected in the gap between China’s seven-day repurchase rate fixing and the weighted average rate, which, by Bloomberg notes, widened to as much as 2.47 percentage points on Wednesday after some small lenders were said to miss payments in the interbank market. Non-bank borrowers tend to have a greater influence on the fixing, while large banks have more sway over the weighted average.
“It’s more expensive and difficult for non-bank financial institutions to get funding in the market,” said Becky Liu, Hong Kong-based head of China macro strategy at Standard Chartered Plc. “Bigger lenders who have access to regulatory funding are not lending much of the money out.”
Without access to deposits or central bank liquidity facilities, many of China’s non-bank institutions must rely on volatile money markets. As Bloomberg points out, The People’s Bank of China has been guiding those rates higher in recent months to encourage a reduction of leverage, while also stepping in at times to prevent a liquidity crunch.
The PBOC responded to this week’s jump in borrowing costs by making an unscheduled injection of hundreds of billions of yuan on Tuesday, and it followed that with another addition of cash through daily open-market operations on Wednesday.
“The PBOC is allowing smaller lenders to miss payments in order to force financial institutions to de-leverage,” said Harrison Hu, chief greater China economist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in Singapore.
“But it will keep a fine balance. It doesn’t want the pressures to become out of control. There’s a possibility that the PBOC will directly inject funds in smaller banks, if the cash shortage continues.”
As Goldman noted, the rate surge reflects a combination of:
- A tightening bias by the PBOC. The central bank has shifted policy stance since autumn last year, but the clearer interbank rate rise in recent days suggests that the hawkish bias has stepped up further.
- Diminished clarity of the role of interbank rates in the PBOC’s policy framework. Since mid-2015, interbank rates had been kept largely steady, partly reflecting the PBOC’s efforts to build up a policy rate framework centering on interbank rates. The PBOC has also introduced SLF (standing lending facility), which is understood as a tool to keep volatility in interbank funding conditions low. However, in a signal that deviates from these previous efforts, the PBOC last Thursday tried to dissociate interbank rates from “policy rates”, which the PBOC said should mean benchmark bank lending and deposits rates. The comment appeared to open up a bigger scope for the PBOC to allow interbank rates to move higher (with the possible intention to avoid conflict with its official “stable and neutral” policy stance or potential pushback from other policy authorities).
- The SLF mechanism appears to have not functioned effectively in recent days. There have been occasional breaches of the general 7-day repo rate above the SLF rate (3.35% per PBOC’s official communication, although it was reportedly raised to 3.45% last week). This suggests that SLF has not effectively fulfilled its supposed function of imposing a ceiling to interbank rates. One possible reason is that SLF is accessible only by banks, and much of the spikes of the general 7-day repo rate have been a result of liquidity scramble by NBFIs (which have no SLF access), while banks’ interbank funding cost (as measured by DR007; Exhibit 1) has remained more moderate and still below the SLF rate (note that the 7-day repo fixing rate is partly based on funding cost of NBFIs as well). Nevertheless, the apparent lack of effectiveness of SLF in suppressing interbank rate volatility might have weakened the anchoring of the market’s rate expectations in the near term, and such uncertainty could have compounded the liquidity squeeze.
- Continued high interbank repo borrowing by funds. The wide gap of R007-DR007 reflects continued stress imposed by NBFIs, likely particularly funds, on the funding market. Indeed, as of end-Feb, interbank repo borrowing by funds remained high at over 30% of the interbank repo borrowing (Exhibit 2) despite the increased pressure on the commercial viability of repo trades (borrowing via interbank repo to finance long-dated bond holdings).
- Regulatory impact. The PBOC has tightened the prudential requirements (particularly on the growth of banks’ balance sheet) under its MPA examination, which is to be conducted at quarter-end. This has likely further contributed to, and amplified the impact of, a tightening in the interbank market.
In total, the interbank rate volatility may remain quite high in the coming days, especially in light of the near-term consideration of MPA examination at quarter-end and the PBOC’s apparent deviation from the previous monetary policy framework. Alternatively, today’s plunge in the dollar may have had a secondary purpose of easing Chinese financial conditions, where the ongoing dollar rally has pushed the local financial sector to the brink of illiquid collapse.