BEIJING • Chinese banks extended a record 12.56 trillion yuan (S$2.61 trillion) of loans last year as the government encouraged more credit-fuelled stimulus to meet its economic growth target, despite worries about the risks from an explosive jump in debt.
China's top leaders pledged after a key meeting last month to stem the growth of asset bubbles this year and place greater importance on the prevention of financial risk, while keeping a "prudent and neutral" monetary policy.
But in December alone, Chinese banks extended 1.04 trillion yuan in net new yuan loans, far more than expected and lifting the yearly total well above the previous all-time high set in 2015.
New bank loans last year surpassed the levels of China's massive credit-led stimulus during the global financial crisis in 2009, according to Reuters calculations based on central bank data. The total was some 8 per cent above the previous all-time high of 11.72 trillion yuan in 2015.
Lending continued to be driven heavily by robust mortgage growth despite a slew of measures rolled out by local governments late last year to cool sizzling housing prices and contain property bubbles.
Household loans accounted for 50 per cent of total new yuan loans last year, while corporate loans accounted for 48 per cent.
Medium- to-long-term loans accounted for 78 per cent of total new loans, while short-term loans accounted for 11 per cent.
China's total social financing (TSF), a broad measure of credit and liquidity of the economy, slid to 1.63 trillion yuan in December from 1.74 trillion yuan in November. But for the full year, TSF also hit a record of 17.8 trillion yuan. TSF includes off-balance sheet forms of financing that exist outside the conventional bank lending system, such as initial public offerings and bond sales.
The surge in aggregate financing suggested that off-balance sheet financing and possibly shadow banking activity continued to pick up in December, despite Beijing's effort to contain risks.
China's economy expanded by a steady 6.7 per cent in the third quarter and looks almost certain to hit the official full-year 2016 target of 6.5 to 7 per cent, fuelled by ample credit, higher government spending and a red-hot property market.
But corporate debt burdens continue to grow, increasing risks to the economy and the financial system as policymakers look to push structural reforms and encourage deleveraging.
China's overall debt has jumped to more than 250 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) from 150 per cent at the end of 2006, the kind of surge that in other countries has resulted in a financial bust or sharp economic slowdown, analysts say.
The chief of China's state planning agency vowed on Tuesday to contain high company leverage ratios, saying it will not allow debt of non-financial firms to rise beyond current levels. China's corporate debt has soared to 169 per cent of GDP.