China’s financial system is robust overall, but faces a steady build-up in vulnerabilities. While significant progress has been made towards developing a more commercially-oriented financial sector, and supervision and regulation are being strengthened, risks stem from the growing complexity of the system and the uncertainties surrounding the global economy. Further reforms are needed to support financial stability and encourage strong and balanced growth, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) says in its first formal evaluation of China’s financial sector published today.
The IMF’s first Financial Sector Assessment Program (FSAP) review of China was carried out jointly with the World Bank. China is one of 25 systemically important countries that have agreed to mandatory assessments at least once every five years. The FSAPs are part of the IMF’s activities in financial surveillance and the monitoring of the international monetary system.
“China’s banks and financial sector are healthy, but there are vulnerabilities that should be addressed by the authorities,” says Jonathan Fiechter, deputy director of the IMF’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department and the head of the IMF team that conducted the FSAP. “While the existing structure fosters high savings and high levels of liquidity, it also creates the risk of capital misallocation and the formation of bubbles, especially in real estate. The cost of such distortions will only rise over time, so the sooner these distortions are addressed the better.”
According to the FSAP report, China’s financial sector is confronting several near-term risks: deterioration in loan quality due to rapid credit expansion; growing disintermediation by shadow banks and off-balance sheet exposures; a downturn in real estate prices; and the uncertainties of the global economic scenario. Medium-term vulnerabilities are also building and could impair the needed reorientation of the financial system to support the country’s future growth. Moving along this path will pose additional risks, so priority must be given to establishing the institutional and operational preconditions that are crucial for a wide-ranging financial reform agenda.
The main areas of reform should include:
- Steps to broaden financial markets and services, and developing diversified modalities of financial intermediation that would foster healthy competition among banks;
- A reorientation of the role of government away from using the banking system to carry out broad government policy goals and to allow lending decisions to be based on commercial goals;
- Expansion of the use of market-based monetary policy instruments, using interest rates as the main instrument to govern credit expansion, rather than administrative measures;
- An upgrading of the financial infrastructure and legal frameworks, including strengthening the payments and settlement systems, as well as consumer protection and expansion of financial literacy.
The Chinese authorities have begun to move on many of its recommendations, and the IMF stands ready to provide technical cooperation in areas relating to strengthening the financial stability framework in China.
Stress tests conducted jointly by the Fund and Chinese authorities of the country’s largest 17 commercial banks indicate that most of them appear to be resilient to isolated shocks, which include: a sharp deterioration in asset quality (including a correction in the real estate markets), shifts in the yield curve, and changes in the exchange rate. If several of these risks were to occur at the same time, however, the banking system could be severely impacted, the report warns.
About the FSAP
The Financial Sector Assessment Program, established in 1999, is an in-depth analysis of a country’s financial sector. The IMF conducts mandatory FSAPs for the 25 jurisdictions with systemically important financial sectors, and any member countries that request it. Assessments in developing and emerging market countries are conducted jointly with the World Bank. FSAPs include two components: a financial stability assessment, which is the responsibility of the Fund; and, in developing and emerging market countries, a financial development assessment, conducted by the World Bank.
To assess the stability of the financial sector, IMF teams examine the soundness of the banking and other financial sectors; rate the quality of bank, insurance, and capital market supervision against accepted international standards; and evaluate the ability of supervisors, policymakers, and financial safety nets to respond effectively to a systemic crisis. While FSAPs do not evaluate the health of individual financial institutions and cannot predict or prevent financial crises, they identify the main vulnerabilities that could trigger one.
In September 2010, the IMF made financial stability assessments under the FSAP a mandatory part of IMF surveillance every five years for jurisdictions deemed systemically important based on the size of the financial sector and their global interconnectedness. The countries affected by this decision are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong SAR, Italy, Japan, India, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.