Ghost Warehouse Stocks Haunt China’s Steel Sector
Chinese banks and companies looking to seize steel pledged as collateral by firms that have defaulted on loans are making an uncomfortable discovery: the metal was never in the warehouses in the first place.
China’s demand has faltered with the slowing economy, pushing steel prices to a three-year low and making it tough for mills and traders to keep up with payments on the $400 billion of debt they racked up during years of double-digit growth.
As defaults have risen in the world’s largest steel consumer, lenders have found that warehouse receipts for metal pledged as collateral do not always lead them to stacks of stored metal. Chinese authorities are investigating a number of cases in which steel documented in receipts was either not there, belonged to another company or had been pledged as collateral to multiple lenders, industry sources said.
Ghost inventories are exacerbating the wider ailments of the sector in China, which produces around 45 percent of the world’s steel and has over 200 million metric tons (220.5 million tons) of excess production capacity. Steel is another drag on a financial system struggling with bad loans from the property sector and local governments.
“What we have seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg,” said a trader from a steel firm in Shanghai who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media. “The situation will get worse as poor demand, slumping prices and tight credit from banks create a domino effect on the industry.”