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China bad loans jump as growth slows

China's bad loans increased sharply in the first three months of the year, official data showed, with analysts saying on Friday the total was at its highest in almost three years.

BEIJING: China's bad loans increased sharply in the first three months of the year, official data showed, with analysts saying on Friday the total was at its highest in almost three years.

Outstanding non-performing loans at Chinese banks stood at 646.1 billion yuan ($103.6 billion) at the end of March, up 54.1 billion yuan from the beginning of the year, the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) said in a statement.

Bad loans accounted for 1.04 per cent of total lending, up 0.04 percentage points from the start of January, the watchdog's statement posted Thursday said.

Both the outstanding value and the bad loan ratio were the highest since the second quarter of 2011, Bank of Communications economists Lian Ping and Xu Wenbing said in a research note.

"The increase in bad loans mainly came from small companies and some industries with overcapacity," they said.

They also warned that risks in the real estate sector and local government financial vehicles were rising.

January-March marked the 10th consecutive quarter that outstanding bad loans rose, they said, adding the quarterly increase was more than double the average of recent quarters.

They expected non-performing loans to continue to grow in the coming months, with the proportion of bad loans to rise as high as 1.5 per cent of total lending if economic growth was to "slow down by a large margin".

But the CBRC said the bad loan ratio remained low and that banks' profitability and capital adequacy ratios were "good".

The CBRC announcement came after China released a series of economic indicators that indicated growth of the world's second-largest economy is slowing across the board in the January-April period.

Fixed-asset investment, a main measure of government spending on infrastructure, rose at its slowest pace in more than 12 years in January-April, government data issued this week showed.

Growth in industrial output, which measures production at factories, workshops and mines, remained weak last month.

China's economy grew 7.4 per cent year-on-year in the first three months of 2014. That figure was weaker than the 7.7 per cent in October-December and the worst since a similar 7.4 per cent expansion in the third quarter of 2012.

The country's financial markets were rocked by several debt defaults earlier this year.

In one case, a $160 million investment product structured by Jilin Province Trust and backed by a coal firm failed to make capital and interest payments.

Chinese authorities have shown tolerance towards individual defaults, calling them unavoidable, but have pledged to keep potential risks in check.

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