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China’s Debt Bomb: No One Really Knows the Payload [Chart]

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China's Debt Bomb [Chart]

China’s Debt Bomb [Chart]

No One Knows if its a Hand Grenade or a Nuclear Explosion

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

The ramp up in Chinese debt accumulation has been a leading concern of investors for years. The average total debt of emerging market economies is 175% of GDP, and skyrocketing corporate non-financial debt has launched China far beyond that number.

The real question is: by how far?

The answer is disconcerting, because nobody really knows.

If the Chinese debt bomb is detonated, the impact on markets is anybody’s guess. Kyle Bass says the losses would be 5x that of the subprime mortgage crisis, while Moody’s says the bomb will be safely disarmed by authorities far before it goes off.

In today’s chart, we look at various estimates to the size of China’s debt bomb, its payload, and what might spark the fuse.

China’s Debt Bomb: The Payload

Mckinsey came out with a widely-publicized estimate of China’s debt at the beginning of 2015. Using figures up to Q2 2014, they estimated that total Chinese debt was 282% of GDP, an increase from 158% in 2007.

Since then, various trusted organizations have come up with follow-up estimates.

On the low end, Goldman Sachs came out with an estimate in January 2016 of 216% total debt-to-GDP for 2015. (A few months later, they put out a separate report saying that total debt-to-GDP was estimated to be closer to 270% for 2016.)

On the high end, Macquarie analyst Viktor Shvets said that China’s debt was $35 trillion, or “nearly 350%” of GDP.

The truth is that it’s anybody’s guess. China’s official estimates are fairly useless, and the country has a massive and quickly evolving shadow banking sector that complicates these projections significantly.

Explosive Materials

Total debt is made up of various components, including government, corporate, banking, and household debts.

In the case of China, it is corporate debt that is particularly explosive. According to Mckinsey, the country’s corporate sector already has a higher debt-to-GDP than the United States, Canada, South Korea, or Germany, even while still being considered an “emerging market”.

S&P Global Ratings now figures that Chinese corporate debt is in the 160% range, up from 98% in 2008. The current number in the United States is a less ominous 70%.

China’s central bank is just as concerned as anyone else. Here’s what the Governor of the People’s Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan, had to say about a month ago:

Lending as a share of GDP, especially corporate lending as a share of GDP, is too high.

Xiaochuan also noted that a high leverage ratio is more prone to macroeconomic risk.

Defusing the Bomb

If there’s something that can ignite the fuse of China’s debt bomb, it’s non-performing loans (NPLs).

An NPL is a sum of money borrowed upon which the debtor has not made scheduled payments. They are essentially loans that are either close to defaulting, or already in default territory.

China has an official estimate for this number, and it is a benign 1.7% of debt. Unfortunately, independent researchers peg it much higher.

Bullish analysts have the number pegged in the high single-digits, while bearish analysts put the range anywhere between 15% and 21%. Even the IMF says that loans “potentially at risk” would be equal to 15.5% of total commercial lending.

If there’s a place to start defusing the bomb, this is it.

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Where the World’s Banks Make the Most Money

Last year, the global banking industry cashed in an impressive $1.36 trillion in profits. Here’s where they made their money, and how it breaks down.

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Where the World’s Banks Make the Most Money

Profits in banking have been steadily on the rise since the financial crisis.

Just last year, the global banking industry cashed in an impressive $1.36 trillion in after-tax profits ⁠— the highest total in the sector seen in the last 20 years.

What are the drivers behind revenue and profits in the financial services sector, and where do the biggest opportunities exist in the future?

Following the Money

Today’s infographic comes to us from McKinsey & Company, and it leverages proprietary insights from their Panorama database.

Using data stemming from more than 60 countries, we’ve broken down historical banking profits by region, while also visualizing key ratios that help demonstrate why specific countries are more profitable for the industry.

Finally, we’ve also looked at the particular geographic regions that may present the biggest opportunities in the future, and why they are relevant today.

Banking Profits, by Region

Before we look at what’s driving banking profits, let’s start with a breakdown of annual after-tax profits by region over time.

Banking Profit by Year and Region ($B)

 2009201020112012201320142015201620172018
Global ($B)$388$530$635$703$859$963$1,070$1,065$1,144$1,356
United States$19$118$176$263$268$263$291$275$270$403
China$95$135$174$225$255$278$278$270$301$333
Western Europe$78$34$21-$70$28$95$154$159$186$198
Rest of World$196$243$265$285$309$327$348$361$387$421

In 2018, the United States accounted for $403 billion of after-tax profits in the banking sector ⁠— however, China sits in a very close second place, raking in $333 billion.

What’s Under the Hood?

While there’s no doubt that financial services can be profitable in almost any corner of the globe, what is less obvious is where this profit actually comes from.

The truth is that banking can vary greatly depending on location ⁠— and what drives value for banks in one country may be completely different from what drives value in another.

Let’s look at data and ratios from four very different places to get a sense of how financial services markets can vary.

CountryRARC/GDPLoans Penetration/GDPMargins (RBRC/Total Loans)Risk Cost Margin
Global Average5.1%124%5.0%0.8%
United States5.4%121%5.0%0.4%
China6.6%147%6.0%1.4%
Singapore13.0%316%4.6%0.4%
Finland3.4%133%2.8%0.2%

1. RARC / GDP (Revenues After Risk Costs / GDP)
This ratio shows compares a country’s banking revenues to overall economic production, giving a sense of how important banking is to the economy. Using this, you can see that banking is far more important to Singapore’s economy than others in the table.

2. Loans Penetration / GDP
Loans penetration can be further broken up into retail loans and wholesale loans. The difference can be immediately seen when looking at data on China and the United States:

CountryRetail LoansWholesale LoansLoan Penetration (Total)
United States73%48%121%
China34%113%147%

In America, banks make loans primarily to the retail sector. In China, there’s a higher penetration on a wholesale basis — usually loans being made to corporations or other such entities.

3. Margins (Revenues Before Risk Costs / Total Loans)
Margins made on lending is one way for bankers to gauge the potential of a market, and as you can see above, margins in the United States and China are both at (or above) the global average. Meanwhile, for comparison, Finland has margins that are closer to half of the global average.

4. Risk Cost Margin (Risk Cost / Total Loans)
Not surprisingly, China still holds higher risk cost margins than the global average. On the flipside, established markets like Singapore, Finland, and the U.S. all have risk margins below the global average.

Future Opportunities in Banking

While this data is useful at breaking down existing markets, it can also help to give us a sense of future opportunities as well.

Here are some of the geographic markets that have the potential to grow into key financial services markets in the future:

  1. Sub-Saharan Africa
    Despite having 16x the population of South Africa, the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa still generates fewer banking profits. With lower loan penetration rates and RARC/GDP ratios, there is significant potential to be found throughout the continent.
  2. India and Indonesia
    Compared to similar economies in Asia, both India and Indonesia present an interesting banking opportunity because of their high margins and low loan penetration rates.
  3. China
    While China has a high overall loan penetration rate, the retail loan category still holds much potential given the country’s population and growing middle class.

A Changing Landscape in Banking

As banks shift focus to face new market challenges, the next chapter of banking may be even more interesting than the last.

Add in the high stakes around digital transformation, aging populations, and new service opportunities, and the distance between winners and losers could lengthen even more.

Where will the money in banking be in the future?

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Why Anti-Money Laundering Should Be a Top Priority for Financial Institutions

Anti-money laundering cost financial institutions about $25.3B in 2018. How can organizations improve their processes & gain a competitive advantage?

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anti-money laundering

Why AML Should be a Top Priority for Financial Institutions

The to-do list for any financial executive is surely daunting. From navigating technology changes to managing talent effectively, there’s many initiatives competing for attention.

One issue that’s been in the headlines for many years is anti-money laundering (AML). When criminals are able to successfully hide the illicit origins of their cash, both the financial institution and society suffer. So, what makes AML more important now than it has been in the past?

Rising up the Priority Ladder

Today’s infographic from McKinsey & Company explains the factors which have brought anti-money laundering urgently to the forefront in recent years.

1. Regulatory Action

Enforcement actions related to AML have been on the rise. Since 2009, regulators have levied approximately $32 billion in AML-related fines globally.

2. Threat Evolution
Criminals are using more sophisticated means to remain undetected, including globally-coordinated technology, insider information, and e-commerce schemes.

3. Reputational Risk

AML incidents put a financial institution’s reputation on the line. There’s a lot at stake: today, the average value of each of the top 10 bank brands is $45B.

4. Rising Costs

Most AML activities require significant manual effort, making them inefficient and difficult to scale. In 2018, it cost U.S. financial services firms about $25.3B to manage money laundering risk.

5. Poor Customer Experience

Compliance staff must have multiple touch points with a customer to gather and verify information. Perhaps not surprisingly, one in three financial institutions have lost potential customers due to inefficient or slow onboarding processes.

It’s no wonder anti-money laundering has now become a top priority for many CEOs in the financial industry.

A Wave of Innovation

In the last five years, there has been an explosion of “RegTech” startups—companies that address regulatory requirements using technology.

Global RegTech Investments, 2014-2018

YearAmount Invested (USD)
2014$923M
2015$1,110M
2016$1,150M
2017$1,868M
2018$4,485M

Over 60% of these are focused on solving Know Your Customer (KYC) and AML issues. What does this technology look like in practice?

Customer onboarding

A hypothetical U.S. retail firm, ABC Electronics, applies online to open an account at AML Innovators Bank. Their information is verified and screened using a fully automated process.

If they are determined to be a lower-risk client, they will be fast-tracked through the approval process with decisioning in six hours or less. For high-risk clients, decisioning occurs within about 72 hours.

Transaction Monitoring

ABC Electronics requests to send multiple international wire payments to various beneficiaries. Each transaction is automatically screened based on various factors:

  • A same name or subsidiary transfer carries the lowest risk
  • Transfers to a known, similar industry in a high-risk jurisdiction carry medium risk
  • Transfers to an unknown industry in a high-risk jurisdiction carry high risk

These transaction scores, combined with algorithms that track a client’s expected vs. actual transaction behavior, will update ABC Electronics’ risk rating in real time.

Management oversight

As risk updates occur, ABC Electronics’ rating is integrated into AML Innovator Bank’s overall portfolio risk.

Senior risk management teams will be able to view a heat map that highlights the highest risk areas of the business.

Structural Change, Big Gains

Just as financial crimes continue to evolve, so do AML schemes.

How can organizations stay ahead of the game? They can focus on actively managing risk, deliberately investing in technology and analytics, and prioritizing areas where RegTechs will have the highest near-term impact.

By investing in AML, financial institutions create competitive advantages:

  • Improved efficiency
  • Superior customer experience
  • Scalability
  • Readiness to adapt to new regulations
  • Reduced reputational risk
  • Ability to attract top talent

With such benefits on the table, one thing is clear: Anti-money laundering efforts are more important now than they have ever been.

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