China’s Banks Face $6 Trillion Coronavirus Cataclysm If Epidemic Is Not Contained Soon

China’s banks are already suffering record loan defaults as the economy last year expanded at the slowest pace in three decades. What would happen if Chinese Q1 GDP growth printed negative for the first time on record?

Cross-posted from Zero Hedge

In a little noticed post back in November, we reported that as part of a stress test conducted by China’s central bank in the first half of 2019, 30 medium- and large-sized banks were tested; In the base-case scenario, assuming GDP growth dropped to 5.3% – nine out of 30 major banks failed and saw their capital adequacy ratio drop to 13.47% from 14.43%. In the worst-case scenario, assuming GDP growth dropped to 4.15%, some 2% below the latest official GDP print, more than half of China’s banks, or 17 out of the 30 major banks failed the test. Needless to say, the implications for a Chinese financial system – whose size is roughly $41 trillion – having over $20 trillion in “problematic” bank assets, would be dire.

Why do we bring this up now? Because according to many Wall Street estimates, as a result of the slowdown resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic, China’s economic growth is set to slow sharply, with some banks such as JPMorgan now expecting as little as 1% GDP growth in Q1 assuming the epidemic is contained in the next few weeks; if it isn’t, Chinese Q1 GDP growth may print negative for the first time on record.

This is a big problem, because as noted above if the PBOC’s 2019 stress test is credible, more than half of China’s banks would fail the “stress test” should GDP drop to just 4.15%; and one can only imagine what happens to China’s banks if GDP prints negative.

Or, alternatively, one can read the fine print, where we find that among the immediate first order consequences of a GDP crunch is that the bad loan ratio at the nation’s 30 biggest banks would rise five-fold, flooding the country with trillions in non-performing loans, and potentially unleashing a tsunami of bank defaults.

Of course, regular readers are well aware that China’s banks are already suffering record loan defaults as the economy last year expanded at the slowest pace in three decades. As extensively covered The slump tore through the nation’s $41 trillion banking system, forcing the not only the first bank seizure in two decades as Baoshang Bank was nationalized , but also bailouts at  Bank of Jinzhou, China’s Heng Feng Bank, as well as two very troubling bank runs at China’s Henan Yichuan Rural Commercial Bank at the start of the month, and then more recently at Yingkou Coastal Bank.

All that may be a walk in the park compared to what is coming next.

“The banking industry is taking a big hit,” You Chun, a Shanghai-based analyst at National Institution for Finance & Development told Bloomberg. “The outbreak has already damaged China’s most vibrant small businesses and if it prolongs, many firms will go under and be unable to repay their loans.”

While the market is filled with optimistic speculation that the Chinese economy will be spared the worst, we already know that China’s top aluminum buyers have already voided contracts with some of the world’s biggest copper producers citing “force majeure” provisions. We doubt they will be the only ones, or that China’s banks will somehow escape unscathed a millions of businesses freeze their operations, refusing to pay the coupon or debt maturities. This means that China’s banks – already undercapitalized from nearly two years of trade war with the US – will bear the brunt of the coming operational and liquidity squeeze, and Beijing will be forced to chose between bailing out hundreds of banks, or letting them fail

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