Currently, seven major state-owned coal enterprises hold a total of more than 1 trillion yuan ($153.8 billion) in debt, which is the equivalent of the GDP generated by North China’s Shanxi Province in 2015, according to the 21st Century Business Herald. The seven companies including Shanxi Coking Coal Group Co. and Datong Coal Mine Group are all from Shanxi Province, which is home to much of China’s coal industry. The net profit generated by Shanxi’s coal-related industries dipped 46.4% year-on-year to 18 billion yuan in 2015, data from provincial statistical authorities showed in February.
Analysts said the rising debts of industries plagued by overcapacity such as coal and steel may spur Chinese regulators to facilitate a new round of debt-for-equity swaps, which reportedly was initiated early in 1999.
“The operational pressures on companies will be temporarily relieved if commercial banks are allowed to swap bad debt for equity in defaulting coal mine operators,” said Li Chaolin, an energy expert. Premier Li Keqiang previously said that such swap programs can be a way to reduce corporate leverage gradually, according to Xinhua.
However, such a move can also increase the risks for banks, whose interest would be further hurt if coal companies continue to lose money, analysts warned. The debt-for-equity swap programs cannot fully revive the coal industry, which relies on the government’s support in cutting capacity and upgrading production line, said Chaolin.