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企业债务危机恶化,中国经济管控压力剧增

Indebted Chinese Companies Increase Pressures on Government
企业债务危机恶化,中国经济管控压力剧增

HONG KONG — Sainty Marine Corporation started small, buying and selling a few ships in the 1980s. But the state-owned Chinese company went on a debt-fueled binge over the last few years, opening its own shipyards and signing orders worth hundreds of millions of dollars apiece.

香港——舜天船舶股份有限公司一开始是家小公司,在1980年代曾经买卖过一些船只。但过去几年,这家中国国有企业依靠贷款大肆扩张,开了几间造船厂,还签下几个价值数亿美元的订单。

Now, heavily indebted companies like Sainty Marine are at the center of the economic troubles in China that have unsettled currency, commodity and stock markets of late.

现在,中国的经济问题引起了货币汇率、大宗商品和股市的波动,而像舜天这样负债累累的公司,则处在问题的核心。

Sainty Marine just found itself in court, as one of China’s biggest banks asked to dismantle the company to recoup overdue loans. Government regulators are investigating the accuracy of the company’s financial reports, its bank accounts have recently been frozen and its shares have not traded on the Shenzhen stock market since August.

舜天公司刚刚发现自己成了法庭上的被告,中国最大的一家银行要求法院判处这家公司破产,以便赔偿它所欠下的逾期贷款。政府监管者正在调查这家公司财务报告的真实性,其银行账户最近已被冻结,这家深圳上市公司的股票从去年八月开始停止交易。

“It’s pretty dire,” said Matthew Flynn, a Hong Kong shipping consultant.

“情况很糟,”香港船运业咨询人士马修·弗林(Matthew Flynn)说。

Shipbuilding is part of a long list of Chinese industries, including steelmaking, coal mining and auto, that borrowed heavily from state-run banks to expand during the good years, helping to propel the country’s three decades of double-digit economic growth. But growth has now slipped to around 7 percent, and many companies are running low on cash.

在经济行情好的时期,许多行业会从国有银行大量贷款以支持扩张,造船业只是其一,其他还有钢铁制造、采矿和汽车制造等,它们助推中国经济在过去三十年保持了两位数增长。但中国经济增长率现在已经下滑至大约7%,很多企业开始出现资金匮乏的情况。

It is adding to concerns about the direction of the Chinese economy, which has made global investors nervous and weighs on the price of oil. And troubled companies like Sainty Marine are clouding the outlook.

这加重了外界对中国经济走向所持的各种担忧,全球投资者紧张不安,由此给石油价格带来很大压力。像舜天这样的企业让这一前景更加不明朗。

For years, state-owned companies could regularly mark up their prices to help them pay their loans. As customers now pull back and deflationary pressures set in, companies are being forced to cut prices, while facing the same debt payments.

多年来,国有企业一直能持续提高产品价格,助其偿还贷款。随着消费者收紧荷包,通缩压力显现,这些企业被迫降低产品价格,但它们背负的贷款并没有减少。

The corporate crunch is clouding the government’s efforts to manage the economy. To keep growth from falling off a cliff, authorities are pushing a raft of stimulus measures, like building more high-speed rail lines and encouraging state-owned banks to keep lending.

企业的困境给政府的经济管控雪上加霜。为避免经济增长速度出现剧烈下滑,中国当局正加紧实施一系列刺激措施,比如建造更多高铁线路,鼓励国有银行持续提供贷款。

But ever more borrowing leaves China vulnerable, as company blowups add to the pressures. Last year, total debts of all sorts in China — household, corporate and government — increased by an amount equal to 12 percent of the entire country’s economy. Overall lending expanded in December at the fastest pace since June, figures released by the central bank on Friday show.

但随着企业破产给中国带来更多压力,贷款持续增多只会让中国经济愈发脆弱。去年,中国各类债务——家庭、企业和政府债务——增长的总额,相当于中国经济总量的12%。中央银行周五发布的数据显示,总体贷款额度在去年12月大幅增长,增速达到去年6月以来的最高水平。

Companies in industrial sectors, which accounted for the bulk of borrowing, are navigating a treacherous environment.

借贷大部分银行贷款的工业企业,正在进入一个十分危险的环境。

Low or falling prices mean that companies need to sharply increase their sales volume every year to have enough revenue to cover their debt payments. But increasing sales is hard in a slowing economy.

纽约时报中英文网 www.qqenglish.com

产品价格低,或不断下降,意味着企业需要每年大幅增加销售额才能有足够的收入偿还贷款。但在经济增长放缓的时候,企业实现销售增长比较难。

China is not the only country with falling producer prices. They are also down in the United States from a year ago amid weak prices for oil and other commodities.

中国不是唯一一个生产价格下降的国家。由于石油和其他大宗商品价格疲软,美国的生产价格也从一年前开始下降。

What makes China unusual is that companies are coping with sharply rising labor costs. Blue-collar wages are up nearly 10 percent a year, as the work force ages and more young people prefer white-collar jobs. Overinvestment in many sectors is also resulting in too many factories and other businesses chasing the same limited sales.

中国特别的地方在于,它还要应对劳动力成本急剧上升的问题。随着劳动力年龄增大,以及更多的年轻人倾向于找白领工作,蓝领工人的工资一年要增长将近10%。很多行业出现过度投资,也导致有太多工厂和其他企业在争夺有限的生意。

“The combination of rising staff costs and lower prices is a real challenge,” said Sabine Bauer, a senior director for financial institutions in the Hong Kong office of Fitch Ratings.

“劳动力成本上升,产品价格下降,这两项加在一起是个不小的挑战,”惠誉金融机构香港办公室高级董事鲍冰娜(Sabine Bauer)说。

Shipbuilders like Sainty Marine illustrate the litany of problems.

从舜天等造船企业的情况可以看出这些问题的严重程度。

Up and down the Chinese coastline, in harbors and along coastal rivers, companies bought big plots of land, purchased cranes, and hired large numbers of welders. China expanded from one-fifth of global shipbuilding capacity in 2008 to two-fifths by last year.

中国的海岸线沿岸各个港口和沿海诸河两岸,都有不少企业买下大块土地,购买起重机,聘用大量焊工进行建设。中国的造船产能在全球所占比例从2008年的五分之一,增长到去年的五分之二。

Quality control was a problem from the start. “In China, building what are supposed to be two identical ships in two adjacent slips, you get two different vessels,” said Basil Karatzas, a Manhattan ship broker. “In Japan, they can build 10 ships and they are all the same.”

质量控制从一开始就是个问题。“接连制造出来的两艘船原本应该一模一样,但在中国就是两艘不同的船,”曼哈顿船舶经纪人巴兹尔·卡拉察斯(Basil Karatzas)说。“在日本,他们连着造十船,也是一样的。”

With many Chinese shipyards dogged by complaints, competition was fierce. Japanese and South Korean shipyards demanded 20 percent down payments for orders, plus a guarantee from an international bank to pay the rest of the cost if the buyer defaulted. Although Chinese shipyards demanded the same deposits, they did not require the guarantees, and accepted orders from what were effectively shell companies with weak finances.

尽管不少中国造船厂都遭到很多这样的投诉,但这个行业竞争非常激烈。日本和韩国造船厂要求买家为订单支付20%的定金,另外还要有一家国际银行为其担保,如果买家违约,将由银行负责支付剩余款项。尽管中国造船上也要求同样买家预付同样比例的定金,但他们不要求国际银行担保,会接受那些财务状况并不稳固、实际上是空壳公司的企业所下的订单。

That put Chinese shipyards at risk. 纽约时报中英文网 http://www.qqenglish.com

这让中国造船厂处在非常危险的境地。

If ship prices fell sharply, buyers could forfeit their deposits and not pay for the rest of the vessel, leaving the shipyard stuck with the project. As global demand for commodities withered in the last two years, ship prices dropped more than 20 percent — and in some cases, more.

如果船只价格剧降,买家可以放弃定金,不再支付剩余船只费用,让造船厂自己解决这个烂摊子。因为全球大宗商品需求在过去两年有所萎缩,船只价格下降了逾20%——有些情况下降幅要更大。

For the 58,000-ton bulk freighters that Chinese shipyards were churning out, prices have plunged from nearly $30 million in 2013 to just $16 million now. Buyers who bought at the high end chose to forfeit their deposits instead of paying for finished vessels worth less.

中国造船厂大量生产的5.8万吨散货船,价格已经从2013年的3000万美元降至现在的1600万美元。这种情况下,在价格比较高的时期下单的买家会放弃定金,而不是全款买下已经贬值的完工船只。

Chinese shipyards are now littered with half-finished shells, like immense steel earthworms cut in two. Many shipyards lack the money to complete vessels and sell them at a discount that might allow them to recover some costs.

在中国造船厂随处可见造了一半的船体,看起来就像被切成两半的钢铁蚯蚓。很多造船厂没有资金完成船只的建造,以便将其折价卖给别的卖家,那样或许还能让它们拿回一些成本。

Even strong buyers are balking at completing deals. Sainty Marine has four finished vessels that were rejected by Precious Shipping of Bangkok. Precious Shipping backed away, in a dispute over the quality that has triggered an arbitration case in London.

即便是实力比较强的买家也无法完成交易。舜天有四艘完工船只,都被曼谷的珍宝航运公司拒收。之前交付的一艘船也因质量争端被要求退回,在伦敦引发了一起仲裁案件。

The Bank of China, one of the country’s biggest commercial banks, pushed Sainty Marine into court on Tuesday in the shipyard’s hometown Nanjing, in Jiangsu Province. The bank requested the appointment of a liquidator, as Sainty Marine is already overdue on $81 million in loans.

周二,中国最大的商业银行之一中国银行将舜天公司告上法庭,地点是该造船公司创始地江苏省。中国银行要求对该公司进行清算,因为它的违约贷款已经达到8100万美元。

A Sainty Marine official who gave only her family name, Ma, said that the court had held hearings this week, but added that she was not aware of any decisions. The bank and the court had no comment.

舜天公司一位马姓高级职员表示,法院本周举行了几场听证会,但她同时表示,据她所知法院尚未做出任何裁决。中国银行和法院都没有对此事置评。

It is rare for state-owned banks to pursue debts so aggressively.

国有银行如此积极地索偿债务,在中国非常少见。

Authorities periodically send signals about shutting down such zombie companies. “Zombie enterprises are not new, but as the economy feels downward pressure, their seriousness and danger becomes evident,” People’s Daily, recently said.

中国当局不时发出关闭此类僵尸企业的信号。“僵尸企业并非新生事物,随着经济下行压力加大,其严重性和危害性日益凸显,”《人民日报》最近表示。

But banks usually keep rolling over debts and lending more, particularly for state-owned companies like Sainty Marine.

不过,银行往往继续让贷款展期并提供更多贷款,尤其是对舜天这样的国有企业。

The shipbuilding industry, though, is in complete disarray, with dozens of Chinese companies lacking any orders. The government, which has halted export credits for the sector, seems determined to force some closings.

然而,造船业正处于彻底的混乱之中,有几十家公司没有任何订单。政府下令停止给该行业提供出口信贷,似乎已经下定决心要强制关停一些企业。

In other circumstances, a weaker currency might offer relief.

若非如此,人民币贬值或许本可以让情况有所缓和。

When the currency drops, it makes imported goods more expensive. That helps stave off deflationary pressures that hurt companies’ ability to raise prices. It also makes labor costs look lower in dollar terms, which in turn can help attract overseas investment.

人民币汇率下降,会使进口商品价格上涨。这有助于减轻会损害企业提高产品价格能力的通缩压力。它也使中国劳动力价格在换算成美元后显得比较低,有助于吸引海外投资。

Those dynamics are a big reason the Chinese government has been letting the renminbi fall.

这些因素是中国政府近期一直在让人民币贬值的一个重要原因。

But the currency is also challenging.

但货币问题也颇具挑战性。

A weaker renminbi could further dampen Chinese demand for imported commodities, which are typically priced in dollars. As Chinese appetite wanes, freight stagnates and shipping companies have even less need for new vessels.

人民币走低可能会进一步遏制中国对通常以美元定价的进口商品的需求。随着中国需求的减少,货运业停滞不前,船运公司对新船只的需求会变得更少。

It’s a disastrous situation for Sainty Marine. “Even for what’s in the order books,” said Mr. Flynn, the shipping consultant, “people don’t want to take delivery of the vessels.”

对舜天这样的企业而言,这种状况是灾难性的。“即便是已经签下订单,”船运业咨询人士弗林说,“买家现在也不想收货。”

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