BEIJING - Chinese companies are operating with "alarming levels" of corporate debt, even though the country's gross debt remains relatively low, according to a study by a top Chinese think tank.
"The high level of corporate debt deserves our attention," warned Li Yang, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), at an annual public conference held by the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO), which concluded in Beijing Thursday.
After a one-year study on China's government debt, corporate debt and individual borrowing, a research team led by Li will publish their research results next month, as well as submit the results to the International Monetary Fund.
China's debt levels are still rising and will continue to climb in the future if the current global financial crisis persists, Li said at an IOSCO panel discussion regarding securities regulation in emerging markets.
According to the study, China's debt-to-GDP ratio stands at 168.9 percent, lower than the global average of more than 200 percent.
"It's a kind of comfort for China, as the country's gross debt is still within a healthy range," Li said, adding that China's debt levels are still a long way from those of the US and Japan.
However, the debt-to-asset ratio of Chinese enterprises reached 105.4 percent, ranking the highest of the 20 countries Li's team studied.
If China's economy maintains steady growth, high debt levels will be no problem for Chinese companies, Li said, adding that companies will have difficulties repaying their debts in the event of an economic decline.
China's gross domestic product growth slowed to 8.1 percent in the first quarter amid government control policies and weak external demand, approaching the government's target of 7.5 percent this year.
Economic data released this month showed that China's economy experienced weaker-than-expected growth in April, prompting the central bank to cut the reserve requirement ratio for banks by 50 basis points to inject credit into the market.
Li said developing equity markets is a fundamental way of solving the debt problem, as many Chinese enterprises tend to borrow from banks instead of seeking financing in capital markets.
Securities regulators need to grant easier access to the stock market for the country's small- and medium-sized enterprises, as well as make more efforts to develop the country's bond market, he added.