[ 美国 外交官 ] 中国的信贷危机

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China's Credit Crunch
A crackdown on micro-lending, aimed atprotecting consumers, is leaving China’s lower class with little access tocredit.


By Andrew McCormick  March 12, 2018

People ride escalators below advertisementsfor an online shopping application in an electronics store in Beijing (July 9,2015).Image Credit: AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein


The website for China Rapid Finance features a cartoon of a young woman on a bicycle.Smiling in a red sweater and earrings, she pedals on an upward slope ofprosperity, boosted along the way by loans of increasing value. With a $100loan, she was able to purchase food. With $1,000, she supported her education.With $10,000 in loans, she might one day afford marriage, a car, and even ahouse. The message is clear: small loans are the ticket to a better life inChina.


China Rapid Finance is one of thousands ofprivate online micro-lending companies in China which, in recent years, havefilled a critical gap in the country’s economy by extending credit to membersof the lower and lower-middle classes, who traditionally have not had access toborrowing under the state-owned banking system.


Proponents of the payday and peer-to-peerloans offered by these companies assert that they offer borrowers upwardfinancial mobility and the opportunity to achieve the trappings of amiddle-class lifestyle. But the rapid proliferation of lending companies in anunregulated market has also led to widespread over-borrowing and a spate ofpredatory debt collection practices. More and more borrowers began to defaulton loans, and financial analysts and government regulators both worried that agrowing debt bubble at the basement rungs of the chinese economy might threatenthe general stability of the country’s financial system.


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In December, in an effort to mitigatesystemic risk and curb consumer exploitation, state financial authoritiesannounced rules aimed at reeling back unchecked growth in the online lendingindustry. Thousands of companies operating without government license werebanned from lending outright. The few hundred that remained in the market —including big names in China like Quidian, PPDai, and Jianpu — became subject to tight restrictions on totallending, the customers they could lend to, and the interest rates they couldcharge. As a result of the regulations, many companies are expected to go outof business, and many would-be borrowers are likely to be left once again withseverely limited credit options.


In a market economy where it takes money tomake money, experts say access to credit is a leading factor separating theeconomic power of the wealthy and politically well-connected from that of thosein lower strata of the Chinese system. New regulations in online lending wereput in place, in part, to protect lower-income consumers — but, at a time ofstark income inequality across China, they might also prove to be one morething holding them back.


“Anytime something bad happens in the market system, there’s a sensein the government that it has to be reversed completely,” said Cheryl Xioaning Long of the Xiamen UniversitySchool of Economics. “Regulations are imposed on the micro-lending industry,rather than addressing the root problem of there being no access to capital forlower members of society. There’s little thought for the idea that maybe havinga loan with high interest is better than having no loan at all.”


The online micro-lending industryofficially counted approximately $150 billion in activity in 2017 and has grownexponentially in recent years, amid dramatic rises in internet access andsmartphone usage across China. Many borrowers in the lower and lower-middleclasses, who grew accustomed to small loans as a routine part of their lives,have expressed frustration in the wake of the December regulations.


“My credit line is suddenly reset to zero?!” complained one user ofthe Baidu lending platform in February. “You can’t play me like this. I waspaying my debts on time!”


“Is this how you treat an old customer?” said another user. “I’m onlytrying to buy something worth a couple hundred dollars, and you turned me downin a second. I’m without words.”


Since the micro-lending industry’sinception in China, financial experts have broadly celebrated its burgeoningdiversity, as companies provided for niche needs whichhad long been unmet by the legacy financial system. Some companies offeredsmall loans for healthcare, for instance, while others targeted specific groupsof people, like farmers.

自小额贷款行业在中国成立以来,金融专家们就对多元化的小额贷款充满了溢美之词,因为企业提供的福利,长期以来一直没有得到传统金融体系的满足。例如,有些公司提供小额医疗贷款,而有的些公司却以农民等特定人群为目标。(注:这里的关键词“niche needs”-我认为是福利需求,没太理解,有请这方面的大神指点)

“Having access to loans, especially for poor, rural families has abig impact on their ability to raise incomes and pursue other opportunities,”said Alfred Park, editor-in-chief of the China Economic Review.“But people don’t always know what they’re getting into.”

《中经评论》(注:英国杂志)总编 Alfred Park 表示:“获得贷款,尤其对于贫困农村家庭,对他们提高收入、寻找商机有着重大影响。但人们不知所措无从下手。”

Xu Xia is one borrower who has seen boththe good and bad of online lending. A Shanghai-based marketing manager in hermid-20s, Xu began borrowing in college to supplement to the small livingstipend she received from her parents. Xu is typical in that she initially usedloans to make day-to-day ends meet: she paid for her smartphone service andcared for her cat. Always just a few clicks away from a new loan, though, Xuquickly found herself prone to overspending.


“Cash loans make you feel richer than you actually are,” Xu said.“It’s addictive. I am now owing a lot of debt.”


Xu said she is aware that new rules aremaking it harder for her friends to get loans. But based on her own experiencewith debt — today Xu spends roughly half her monthly salary just paying off oldloans — she doubts if this is a bad thing.
Still, experts say negative consumerexperiences are not explicit signs that an industry is broken or requiresregulation. In the case of online lending, an institutionalized system offinancial education might also prepare consumers to approach debt responsiblyand ward off loan sharks.


Park explained that diversity and dynamism in any industry must alwaysbe balanced by prudent regulation. Because there has not been significant datakept on who specifically in China has utilized online lending — due, notincidentally, to a lack of regulation — he said it is difficult in this case topredict if the net gain of consumer protection will outweigh a loss of diversityin the market and the reality that, under new regulations, some consumers willlose access to credit.

Park 解释到,任何行业的多样化与活力化都必须通过审慎的监管来平衡。因为没有特定数据可判断出,谁有资格可以进行网上贷款——这并非特意去进行监管。他说道,这种情况下,很难预测保护消费者的净收益是否会超过市场多样化所带来的损失。现实是,按照新规定,一些消费者将失去获得信贷的机会。

The impact of the regulations willultimately depend on how people were actually using small loans, according toMichael Pettis, a Carnegie Senior Fellow and professor of finance at PekingUniversity. If more people were borrowing to invest in small businesses orjumpstart their lives, Pettis said the regulations could damage their prospectsand the Chinese economy in general. If more people were borrowing for vanitypurchases, on the other hand, the regulations could be helpful for China,because this sort of consumption most often leads to compounding householddebt.

据卡耐基高级研究员、北京大学金融学教授michael pettis的说法,法规的出台,终归取决于人们实际使用小额贷款的方式。Pettis说道,如果有些人想贷款创业、改善生活,这些规定可能会令他们失望,还会损害中国整体经济。换个角度来看,如果贷款人是一些爱慕虚荣的人,这些法规反而有利于中国,因为此种贷款往往会导致家庭债务高台。

In any case, Pettis warned that aheavy-handed crackdown on a young lending industry could have long-termnegative outcomes, given credit as a factor in China’s economic inequality.


“As long as money and economic opportunity stay at the top, wherepeople save more than they spend, you have less money being injected into theeconomy,” Pettis said. “That’s when economies eventually stagnate.”


Andrew McCormick is a reporter currently studying at Columbia Journalism School.Additional reporting was provided by Chuan Tian and HaneyaHasan at Columbia Journalism School.

作者:哥伦比亚大学新闻系记者 Andrew McCormick;Chuan Tian 、 Haneya Hasan补充报道。

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