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Jittery China banking chiefs warn lenders over commodities products

Regulators are worried big swings in commodity prices, driven by post-pandemic demand recovery, liquidity easing and speculative trading, are far too risky for its major banks and small-scale investors


Runaway commodity prices in both onshore and offshore markets have raised regulatory concerns

Regulators are worried big swings in commodity prices, driven by post-pandemic demand recovery, liquidity easing and speculative trading, are far too risky for its major banks and small-scale investors 

 

China’s worried banking regulator has asked lenders to rid themselves of commodities futures products in an attempt to save its citizen investors from getting burned.

Amid volatile commodity prices, it has emerged the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) issued the order earlier this year, sources have claimed.

“The risk contained in banks’ commodity-linked investments cannot be easily spotted by ordinary investors, neither can they bear it,” one of the sources said. “Banks also don’t have enough expertise to run such products properly.” 

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The move comes as runaway commodity prices in both onshore and offshore markets have raised regulatory concerns about the risks of speculative bets, prompting China’s state planner and exchanges in recent weeks to take price-control measures. 

The CBIRC wants to prevent losses like those incurred a year ago by the Bank of China (BoC) on crude-oil linked investment products, the sources added.

It has asked lenders, including the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), to report “clean-up progress” on commodities-linked investment products on a monthly basis to regulators, two of the sources said.

The CBIRC has, however, not given a specific deadline to the banks for completely exiting their positions, they added.

CRUDE LOSSES

While the total size of such products in the Chinese banking system is unknown, BoC’s $1.8 billion losses tied to just US crude futures highlights the attractiveness of similar products for retail investors looking for higher returns.        

Regulators are worried ‘mom-and-pop’ investors may get burnt again by the recent big swings in commodity prices, driven by post-pandemic demand recovery, liquidity easing and speculative trading. Government watchdogs have urged Chinese industrial metal firms to maintain market order.

BoC’s losses last year had wiped out several thousands of such small accounts held by retail investors, ranging from college students to retired workers, prompting the CBIRC at the time to ask commercial banks to halt new sales of a wide range of investment products linked to commodity futures.

Given the recent price volatility, the ban on new sales has been widened to a full sector clean-up, covering products linked to commodities not specifically targeted before, such as gold, silver, platinum, palladium, natural gas and soy beans, the three sources said.

PRICE SPIKES

Prices of most of these commodities have spiked in recent months, while futures prices for iron ore and corn on the Dalian Commodity Exchange, as well as steel and copper on the Shanghai Futures Exchange, have all hit record highs this year.

Some banks are considering ways to shift part of their existing commodity-linked investments and clients to affiliated brokerages, but that will need a nod from the securities regulator, one of the sources said.

While banks’ derivative-like products have flaws in design and risk control, analysts say a harsh sector-wide clean-up means a major setback in China’s plans to open up the market.

Despite repeated vows to ramp up financial derivatives, Shanghai Futures Exchange has already halted collaboration with banks on the launch of new derivative products in the wake of BoC’s losses, two separate sources told Reuters.

  • Reporting by Reuters

 

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Sean O'Meara

Sean O'Meara is an Editor at Asia Financial. He has been a newspaper man for more than 30 years, working at local, regional and national titles in the UK as a writer, sub-editor, page designer and print editor. A football, cricket and rugby fan, he has a particular interest in sports finance.

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