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David Fickling

China Swallows Its Mine Debt Bomb

Keeping unprofitable companies going for longer will only prolong the pain.

Remember that Bugs Bunny scene where the Tasmanian Devil survives an explosion by eating the bomb? China's government is trying to do that for its indebted miners.

Rather than let the domestic mining industry be dragged down by its $131 billion of debts, the authorities are looking at setting up what amounts to a state-owned "bad bank" to segregate the worst liabilities and allow the remaining businesses to survive, people with knowledge of the matter told Bloomberg News.

China Minmetals, the metals trader and miner tasked with swallowing up China Metallurgical Group in a state-brokered merger, will be one taker, these people said. That should help with its net debt, which already stood at 136 billion yuan ($22 billion) in December 2014.

There'll be no shortage of others lining up for relief. Seven of the 17 most debt-laden mining and metals companies worldwide are in China, and all are state-owned or -controlled, according to data compiled by Bloomberg: