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China finds $84bn local government debt irregularities

National Audit Office said breaches included “irregular credit guarantees”, “irregular collateral” and “fraudulent and underpayment of registered capital”.

There are growing concerns about the amount of bad loans being held by local governments.Official figures show they held debt of 10.7tn yuan ($1.7tn; £1.1tn) in 2010.

“The State Council is studying proposals to enhance local government debt management and to address fiscal and financial risks,” the audit office said in the report.
‘Again and again’
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A lot of the local debt will be absorbed by the central government”
Michael Pettis Peking University

Local governments have been borrowing money from Chinese banks to fund projects aimed at maintaining economic growth.

According to the China Banking Regulatory Commission, local governments took up 80% of total bank lending in China at the end of 2010.

However, analysts said that although the lending had helped to spur investment and boost growth, it was now weighing on local governments.

“Whenever you look at lending that spurs growth miracles, it starts off with an increasing ability to pay the debt,” Professor Michael Pettis of Peking University told the BBC.

“But in every case that ability fades. That is the process that is happening in China,” he explained. “We are going to see stories like this again and again.”
Easing burden?

In October last year, China allowed four local governments to sell bonds for the first time in 17 year. It was hoped the sale would help them pay their loans.

However, the central government put a limit on the amount of bonds the local governments could issue despite the fact that there was a lot of interest among investors.

According to the Xinhua news agency, Shanghai’s bond sale received bids for three times the amount of bonds on offer.

As a result, many of the local governments still have sizeable debts and while the central government may let them raise money, it may also have to take further measures to solve the problem, analysts said.

“A lot of the local debt will be absorbed by the central government,” said Mr Pettis of Peking University.

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Darren Clarke hails ‘golden era’ for European golf

Open champion Darren Clarke believes European golf is experiencing another “golden era”.

The 43-year-old won his first major last summer while fellow Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy triumped at the US Open and England’s Luke Donald finished on top of the money lists.

“Golf over here is very strong at the moment,” Clarke said.

“It’s like the sort of dominance we had in the late 80s and early 90s, we’re back to that golden era.”

Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, Bernhard Langer and Jose Maria Olazabal were regulars in the world’s top 10 during that period and, fast forward to 2011, four Europeans occupied the top four spots in the final week of the year.

Donald and McIlroy are joined by England’s Lee Westwood and Germany’s Martin Kaymer, who won the 2010 PGA Championship, in the top four.

“We’re incredibly fortunate,” added Clarke, who ended a 20-year wait to land his first major, at Royal St George’s, last July.
“You look at Rory and the way he’s been playing, and what he did at the US Open.

“And you’ve got Luke, who finished number one in the money list in the United States and Europe. I don’t think that will be done again. What Luke achieved was monumental.”

The Northern Ireland player, who has played in four Ryder Cup-winning teams, and was a victorious vice-captain in 2010, said it was only a matter of time before world number two Westwood would join the elite.

“My good mate is knocking on the door – he’ll win a major, or majors, sooner rather than later,” he added.Another friend Clarke believes will again be challenging for the big prizes is Tiger Woods.

The former world number one and 14-time major winner, who fell as low as 58 in the rankings in November, broke his two-year winless streak by taking the Chevron World Challenge in December. However, Woods is still without a PGA Tour win since November 2009.

“I spoke to him after he won the tournament – he was obviously delighted,” said Clarke, who became an OBE in the New Year Honours list.”The game needs Tiger. You remember the excitement he brought to the game when he first came on the scene.”I’m looking forward to him taking on the likes of Rory, Lee and Luke in 2012. As talented as Tiger is, he won’t be far away from his best.”

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Hulkenberg replaces Sutil at Force India

Nico Hulkenberg is determined to make the most of his second chance in Formula One after being given one of Force India’s two race seats for 2012.

The 25-year-old will replace fellow German driver Adrian Sutil, who departs after six years at the UK-based team.

Hulkenberg was Force India’s reserve driver this year behind Sutil and Scottish rookie Paul di Resta, who will retain his seat after finishing 13th overall with 27 points in his debut season.

“It wasn’t easy to watch from the sidelines this season, but I did my best to help the team and show what I was capable of,” said Hulkenberg, who was released by Williams in 2010 despite earning his maiden pole position in his rookie season.
I’m extremely motivated for 2012 and would like to thank everyone for believing in me and giving me this chance. I’m keen to get down to work over the winter to develop our new car and help the team build on this year’s achievements. The first test in Jerez can’t come soon enough.”

The 28-year-old Sutil’s future is uncertain despite finishing ninth overall with 42 points. The only teams with seats available are Williams and HRT.

“Our new line-up means we say ‘goodbye’ to Adrian Sutil, who has been with the team since we entered the sport,” said Force India boss Vijay Mallya.

“He has been an integral part of our success over the past four seasons and we wish him well for the future.”

Di Resta hopes to build on his promising first season.

“I’m really excited about 2012 and there is a real sense of belief that we can continue to push the top teams and take another step forward,” the 25-year-old said.

“I’d also like to thank the team for all their hard work this year and for all the support they’ve given me. I’ll take some time out over the next few weeks to recharge my batteries and hopefully come back even stronger in 2012.”

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