Coal industry digs for solutions

By Li Jiabao and Sun Ruisheng (China Daily)
Updated: 2014-03-12 07:22

Coal industry digs for solutions

A coal transportation station in Taiyuan,Shanxi province. The coal industry in Shanxi faces an uphill battle to get financing amid price cuts and the near default of a related investment product. Yan Yan / Xinhua

The coal industry in North China's Shanxi province faces mounting pressure to get financing amid slumping coal prices and increasing debts, as experts call for greater freedom for non-governmental financial institutions.

"The performance of China's manufacturing sector has not been very good in recent years," Li Xiaobo, chairman of Taiyuan Iron and Steel Corp, said during a panel discussion at the 12th National People's Congress. "While big companies can manage to get capital, financing difficulties for small-and medium-enterprises are huge.

"Banks should make professional judgments on an enterprise's prospects when determining whether to provide it with loans," he continued.

"At present, the mutual guarantee programs in one form or another have added to the burdens of SMEs, and it is possible that the default risk of an individual enterprise can lead to systemic risks," Li said.

A 3 billion yuan ($490 million) investment product known as Credit Equals Gold No 1 avoided a default on Jan 31 when it was due to mature.

The product had been issued three years ago by China Credit Trust, a leading Chinese company. The money was raised for a coal-mining enterprise Shanxi Zhenfu Energy Group, with advertised annual returns of about 10 percent. The fund was sold to wealthy investors by Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd, China's biggest bank.

The near-default caused ripples of fear throughout the financial sector. But an anonymous third party stepped forward and bailed out the product.

Earlier this month, Shenzhen-listed Shanghai Chaori Solar Energy Science & Technology Co announced it had failed to fully service an 89.8 million yuan interest payment, widely described as China's first ever corporate bond default.

In addition to difficulty getting access to funds, SMEs also are being confronted by high rates, according to Li.

"The interest rates at home are much higher compared with the costs of financing in overseas markets. As for loans to the SMEs, the benchmark interest rate floats up a lot, causing these businesses to turn to private funds," Li said.

"It's more important to boost the real economy with better financial services than to keep giving the banks huge profits. This is a serious problem in China."

Shang Fulin, president of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, said the SMEs' financing problems stem from the "information asymmetry" between the banks and the enterprises as the guarantee for loans pushed up financing costs.

Linghu An, a member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, attributed the financing difficulties to slow reforms of private capital.

"I think the slow reforms could lead to financial turbulence," he said. "We need to give more opportunities for private capital and expand the trial program for private banks..

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on March 5 when delivering the Government Work Report that China will steadily promote the establishment of small-and medium-sized banks and other financial institutions by private capital.

Liu Jianzhong, chairman of the Shanxi Coal Transportation and Sales Group Co Ltd, called for the provincial government to give approval for enterprises' capitalization of resources and to set up an exchange platform for capital flow to ease financing pressure.