BEIJING (Reuters) - New bank lending in China is expected to have risen slightly in August, a Reuters poll showed, but outstanding loan growth likely trended lower, raising pressure on policymakers to keep liquidity ample as companies ride out the trade war.
The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) on Friday cut banks’ reserve requirements for a seventh time since early 2018 to free up more funds for lending, days after a cabinet meeting signaled that more policy loosening may be imminent.
The move was viewed by most China watchers as a sign that Beijing remains worried about the worsening economic outlook from escalating U.S. tariffs and sluggish domestic demand. Washington imposed new tariffs from Sept. 1, and threatened more measures from Oct. 1 and Dec. 15.
Chinese banks likely extended 1.2 trillion yuan ($168.4 billion) in net new yuan loans last month, up from 1.06 trillion yuan in July but slightly below the tally of 1.28 trillion yuan in the same month last year, according to a median estimate in a Reuters survey of 27 economists.
Broad M2 supply was seen unchanged last month from 8.1% growth in July. Annual growth of outstanding loans in August was seen edging down to 12.4% from July’s 12.6%.
Some analysts say the annual comparison is a better way to assess trends in China’s credit growth, rather than more volatile monthly readings.
August mortgage loans were widely expected to have stayed soft as the central government tightened scrutiny on banks and provincial governments in a bid to contain rapidly-growing household debt and ever-rising home prices.
The PBOC said the latest cut in banks’ RRR will releases 900 billion yuan in liquidity to shore up the flagging economy.
But analysts caution that the large injection may still fall short of helping the real economy as business activity - from manufacturing and investment to retail sales - has been hit by the protracted Sino-U.S. trade war.
“The RRR cut’s main impact will be to lower interest costs of small firms, as they are more likely to use the cash to repay existing loans than to spend on new production activities,” ING Greater China Economist Iris Pang said in a note.
The central bank also unveiled key interest rate reform last month by improving the mechanism used to establish the loan prime rate (LPR), in a move to further lower real interest rates for companies.
But the government’s drive to encourage banks to lower lending rates was putting pressure on their profit margins. Some of China’s five top-listed banks have warned they face pressure on earnings and asset quality as interest rate reform crimps margins and the trade war adds to uncertainty.
Analysts expect total social financing (TSF), a broad measure of credit and liquidity in the economy, to rise to 1.55 trillion yuan in August from 1.01 trillion in July.
TSF includes off-balance sheet forms of financing that exist outside the conventional bank lending system, such as initial public offerings, loans from trust companies and bond sales.
Net issuance of local government bonds are estimated to fall as the provincial authorities are already close to exhausting their annual bond quotas.
China’s cabinet said on Wednesday it will allow local governments to issue special purpose bonds earlier than normal next year to help steady growth, and specified for the first time that about 20% of all special purpose bonds issued by every province could be used as project capital.
Beijing is widely expected to announce more support measures, including modest cuts in various lending rates in the coming weeks and more RRR cuts, possibly in the fourth quarter.
But the central bank surprised the market by not rolling over medium-term lending facility (MLF) loans on Monday, sending a signal it doesn’t want to flood the banking system with liquidity, after Friday’s cut in banks’ required reserves.
Reporting by Lusha Zhang and Se Young Lee; Editing by Jacqueline Wong