A fresh debt crisis may break out in the short or medium term, economic experts have warned at the Boao Forum for Asia, which opened on Sunday in south China’s Hainan Province.
 
The world’s major economies are faced with grim economic prospects, with looming uncertainties for the Eurozone and rising levels of debt risks in the United States and Japan, said forum delegates, adding that further crisis may also haunt emerging economies including China.
 
CRISIS SPREADS
 
They discussed how the prolonged Eurozone crisis — accented by the recent sovereign debt and banking crunch in Cyprus, where large bank depositors were forced to take a sizeable loss to recapitalize the country’s banking system — showed the bloc of countries are still at an economic impasse.
 
Gary Parr, deputy chairman of global investment bank Lazard Ltd., said many European countries are now suffering financial crises, and these problems are spreading from one country to another.
 
The zone’s banking system is still crippled by inadequate capital, and the European Central Bank is not a powerful regulator, according to the investment banking veteran, who stressed that unified regulation is needed for repairing market confidence.
 
Tom Byrne, director of analysis for Moody’s Sovereign Risk Group in the Asia and Middle East regions, agreed that more work needs to be done in the Eurozone to eliminate systemic obstacles.
 
The entire bloc should act like Germany, ushering in structural reforms to revive growth and restore market faith, Byrne said.
 
Furthermore, the Eurozone crisis is only one link of a more extensive debt crisis, noted Zhang Qizuo, an economist working on the strategic development of the G20 and emerging economies.
 
Both Europe and Asia are linked by the same chain, Zhang said, adding that the crisis in the Eurozone will have an impact on China’s real economy, stock market as well as the real estate sector.
 
Echoing Zhang’s remarks, Byrne also said that the Eurozone crisis may be transmitted to the rest of the world.
 
Euro assets, held by governments outside the zone and commercial banks around the world, would shrink, and major financial markets would have to take the strain for embattled Eurozone banks as they cut their overseas businesses, the Moody’s analyst explained.
 
A foreseeable fiscal austerity in Eurozone member states may send them into long-term recessions, affecting other countries’ exports to Europe and stagnating economic recoveries, Byrne added.
 
CHINA’S RISKS
 
Apart from external risks, China is now threatened by a growing scale of local government debt.
 
"China’s local government debt, which expands in the form of shadow banking, is a negative, alarming phenomenon," said Hu Shuli, editor-in-chief of Chinese business publication Caixin.
 
Hu said that China’s shadow banking, although lacking the chain of asset securitization of its foreign counterparts, is still susceptible to potential crisis.
 
To rein in swelling local government debts, Hu suggested, a third-party independent institution be introduced to assess local governments’ capacity to service debts. Media should also be encouraged to supervise local debt problems, she said.
 
Former finance minister Xiang Huaicheng, however, denied that China’s government debt has risen to a grave and critical level.
 
China’s debt-to-GDP ratio is not very high, and most of the debts are internal, said Xiang, stressing that the country insisted on being "sustainable" over debt problems.
 
According to official data, the sum of debts of both the country’s central government and local governments amounted to over 30 trillion yuan (about 4.8 trillion U.S. dollars) in 2011, and added another couple of trillions in 2012, Xiang said. He admitted the actual figure for local government debt may be higher than published statistics.
 
But Xiang agreed that administrative measures should be taken in preventing local governments from paying debts for lower-level governments and local companies in a blind way.
 
The former minister added that some credit provided by policy banks is of a similar nature to government debt, and the sum is "not very small."
 
WHO’S NEXT IN DEBT CRISIS?
 
Speaking of where the next debt crisis would emerge, analysts and economists have divided views.
 
Parr forecast that the next crisis may come when central banks cannot settle their huge debts. World banks have at no time in history borrowed on such a large scale, he said.
 
Hu predicted that the debt crisis may stage a comeback in the Eurozone in the next one or two years, but will be less serious than in the case of Cyprus. In the medium and long run, new debt crises are likely to erupt in emerging markets.
 
Hu Zuliu, chairman of China-based investment firm Primavera Capital Group, identified China as the next victim. Compared with major developed countries, it faces a more complex debt situation, he said.
 
The United States., according to Byrne, also faces a grim outlook. Moody’s forecast the size of the U.S. government’s spending in social welfare, including healthcare and pension, will rise out of control and result in higher government debt, which would put its current AAA credit rating under threat.
 
Zhang also forecast the next crisis would happen in the United States once the dollar’s status as the world’s predominant reserve currency is shaken. But in the near term, the Eurozone may suffer a further debt crisis, with Spain or Italy a likely target, the economist said.
 
SOURCE: CRI
 
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