China Frees Banks to Lend More in Latest Attempt to Spur Economy

China’s central bank announced a policy change on Thursday that will allow the country’s banks to lend more money, but a nationwide economic slowdown has left many companies and households wary of borrowing.

The move is the latest in a series of economic stimulus measures by the Chinese government as growth has failed to rebound strongly this year as many expected after nearly three years of stringent pandemic-control regulations. Other measures taken to strengthen borrowing and spending have included government-guided interest rate cuts in June and a round of rate reductions last month on many bank loans. Policymakers in some of China’s biggest cities have taken steps to make it easier to get a mortgage by lowering down payment requirements.

The dilemma for the banks is that many companies, facing weak sales, are reluctant to borrow more. And as the country’s housing market sinks, many households have been paying down existing mortgages and taking out fewer new ones to buy new apartments.

Banks have found themselves under pressure to lend money by buying bonds from deeply indebted provincial and local governments that need to pay for big infrastructure projects to create jobs. A flurry of government bonds has already been scheduled to be issued in the coming weeks.

Beijing has also encouraged the banks to keep lending to some real estate developers. Property firms can no longer borrow on overseas bond markets because more than four dozen of them defaulted on bonds or missed payments, spooking foreign investors.

Becky Liu, a strategist at Standard Chartered, said in a statement that the central bank had been expected to act but the timing was earlier than expected. The regulatory action could also lead to further interest rate reductions in the coming months, she said.

The People’s Bank of China, the central bank, said in a statement that it aimed “to consolidate the foundation for economic recovery and maintain reasonable and sufficient liquidity.”

The bank reduced how much money the country’s commercial banks are required to hold as reserves, freeing up money they can use to give out loans. The central bank reduced its so-called reserve requirement ratio for much of the banking system by a quarter of a percentage point.

The central bank said the change would take effect on Friday, a rapid schedule. Investors and economists will be watching Friday for the release of a wide range of data on the health of the economy in August.

The National Bureau of Statistics is scheduled to release numbers on retail sales, industrial production, fixed asset investment and sales prices for new apartments in 70 large and medium-sized cities.

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