There appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel of China's mounting debt problem, as the country's five biggest banks reported a combined loss of 274 billion yuan (around US$40 billion) from writing off bad debts for the first nine months this year.
At the end of September, the average ratio of non-performing loans, the percentage of a bank's loans that is unlikely to be repaid, had risen to 1.72% from 1.69% at the end of June, reports the South China Morning Post, according to China's Banking Regulatory Commission.
Of the five banks, which include ICBC (idcby) and China Construction Bank (cichy), the Agricultural Bank of China (acgby) has the most bad debt on its books, setting an industry record with a nonperforming loan ratio at 2.39%, according to the Post. The big five's losses from such write-offs have climbed by 54.6% from a year ago, while growth in net profit stagnated at just 0.89% when excluding one-off financial gains. The Post reports that the jump in reported bad debt-related losses could be partly because of pressure from the Chinese government for the problem to be resolved.
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Cash provisions held by these banks for buffer against bad debts have also dipped by 11% from the last quarter, hovering at an average 152.8% of nonperforming loans on their books—just above the 150% level required by the Chinese government. An analyst from DBS Vickers told the Post that while China's banking regulator has no clear guidance of actions taken when banks breach that provision level, some "informal discipline measures" might be taken against them.