China Takes Investment And Lending Risks Others Won’t In Going Global (Feb 2013)

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Source: Yahoo! Finance – China takes investment and lending risks others won’t in going global

Notable excerpts:

Over the past five years they(China) have loaned Venezuela more than $35 billion.

All over the world, from Latin America to the South Pacific, a cash-flush China is funding projects that others won’t, seemingly less concerned by the conventional wisdom of credit ratings and institutions such as the World Bank.

The Chinese play by other rules,” said Kevin Gallagher, a Boston University international relations professor who has studied Chinese lending to Latin America. “We’ll give you financing with no conditions, and we’ll finance things the International Monetary Fund won’t fund, things others won’t fund anymore, like big infrastructure projects. It allows countries to shop around, which has good and bad sides.

The loans have added to Venezuela’s $95.7 billion in public foreign debt as of mid-2012, which has risen even as the country rakes in record-high oil revenue.

China has emerged in recent years as the largest provider of development loans not only to Venezuela but also to Ecuador and Argentina, according to the Gallagher report. All three are junk bond countries, ratings agencies say. In contrast, the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank remain larger lenders in Brazil and Mexico, both countries with higher bond ratings.

In cases such as the tiny South Pacific islands of Tonga, China is lending enormous sums to countries few expect will be able to repay.

What has surely given the Chinese banks courage is the trillions of dollars in reserves the country holds in U.S. Treasury bonds, investments that pay almost nothing in interest. Making that money work harder for a return overseas has become nothing less than a national priority, part of China’s trumpeted “going out” strategy.

China’s economy is the second largest after the U.S., and many of the deals stipulate repayment in oil and natural gas, locking in the commodities China will need to sustain its growth for decades to come.

In 2009 and 2010 alone, the China Development Bank extended $65 billion in such loans to energy companies and government entities from Ecuador to Russia and Turkmenistan, according to a report by Erica Downs, a China expert at the Brookings Institution, a U.S. think tank.

In dozens of cases, the Chinese have also demanded that their own companies build the infrastructure that will help governments extract and ship the commodities used to pay back the loans. In Argentina, that means agreements to bring in Chinese companies to revamp the country’s decrepit rail system, which would speed up shipments of soy to Chinese consumers.

“The money goes from one account in the China Development Bank into the hands of small- and medium-sized businesses in China,” Gallagher said, while noting the majority involve big state companies.

The Chinese also hold a valuable trump card: They’re betting that Chavez and other financial pariahs won’t dare alienate their last source of affordable money by defaulting on Chinese loans or seizing Chinese assets.

The investments and loans have contributed to a substantial shift in commerce toward China. Venezuela, for example, saw its trade with the U.S. drop from 26 percent of its GDP in 2006 to 18 percent in 2011, according to an Associated Press analysis of IMF databases. Meanwhile, Chinese trade grew from virtually nothing in 2001 to nearly 6 percent a decade later, much of it in the form of oil to repay loans.

Opposition politicians in Venezuela have slammed the deals for locking in contracts for everything from Chinese-made refrigerators to Chinese construction workers while giving Chavez free rein to spend billions of dollars.

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