March 4, 2020 / 1:49 AM / a month ago

China's central bank keeps short-term rates steady despite Fed easing

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China’s central bank kept short-term borrowing costs steady on Wednesday, shrugging off the U.S. Federal Reserve’s emergency policy rate cut overnight.

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a mask walks past the headquarters of the People's Bank of China, the central bank, in Beijing, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Lee

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) skipped open market operations, it said in a statement on the website, leaving reverse repurchase agreements unchanged.

But markets widely believe the authorities will continue to move to lower financing costs for business and roll out powerful measures prop up the economy, which has been hit by a coronavirus outbreak.

The decision by the PBOC on Wednesday comes hours after its U.S. counterpart delivered an emergency 50-basis point rate cut to mitigate the widening economic fallout of the coronavirus.

The Federal Reserve’s move, however, failed to calm U.S. financial markets roiled by worries about a deeper, lasting slowdown.

Major economies have kicked off a new round of easing globally to combat disruption to economic growth from the virus epidemic, which was first detected in China, has now spread beyond to some 80 nations and could turn into a pandemic.

Central banks in Australia and Malaysia cut rates on Tuesday and on Monday the Bank of Japan took steps to provide liquidity to stabilize financial markets there.

However, analysts and traders in China said the PBOC’s decision to keep short-term market rates steady largely matched their expectations.

“Pressure from consumer prices remained huge, and Consumer Price Index (CPI) was likely hovering at elevated level in February,” said Yan Se, chief economist at Founder Securities in Beijing, adding chances for the PBOC to follow the U.S. move to lower rates were low in the near term.

Instead, he expects the PBOC to make targeted reduction to reserve requirement ratio (RRR) in the short term to support key sectors.

Zhang Yu, chief macro analyst at Huachuang Securities, who also expected a targeted RRR cut this month, said the Fed’s emergency move overnight could prompt China’s central bank to lower its benchmark deposit rate this month.

Reductions to central bank’s medium-term lending facility (MLF) rate and reverse repo rate were “more of stabilising short-term market sentiment”, she said.

“If declines in China’s equity market are not huge and the virus situation is not getting worse again, China does not necessarily have to follow the United States,” Zhang said in a note.

China’s stock markets traded broadly flat on Wednesday morning. [.SS]

Multiple PBOC officials have recently said China should make timely adjustments to benchmark deposit rates, and should pay more attention to changes in real interest rates.

The PBOC lowered the reverse repo rates by 10 basis points in February, as authorities stepped up measures to relieve pressure on the economy.

With no reverse repo maturing on Wednesday, the PBOC did not inject or withdraw any cash from the interbank money market.

Reporting by Winni Zhou and Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Lincoln Feast.

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