China frees up lending rates in major reform

Fri Jul 19, 2013 11:11am EDT
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By Kevin Yao and Jason Subler

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's central bank removed controls on bank lending rates, effective Saturday, in a long-awaited move that signals the new leadership's determination to carry out market-oriented reforms.

The move gives commercial banks the freedom to compete for borrowers, a reform the People's Bank of China (PBOC) said will help lower financial costs for companies. Previously, the lending floor was 70 percent of the benchmark lending rate.

However, the central bank left a ceiling on deposit rates unchanged at 110 percent of benchmark rates, avoiding for now what many economists see as the most important step Beijing needs to take to free up interest rates.

The latest step underscores Beijing's resolve to start fixing distortions in its financial system and the economy more broadly as it tries to shift from exports- and investment-led growth to more consumption-led activity.

Some analysts said cheaper credit could help support the economy, which has seen year-on-year growth fall in nine of the last 10 quarters.

"This is a big breakthrough in financial reforms," said Wang Jun, senior economist at China Centre for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE), a prominent government think-tank in Beijing.

"Previously, people had thought the central bank would only gradually lower the floor on lending rates. Now they scrapped the floor once and for all."

The Australian dollar rose modestly on the news on hopes cheaper credit will lead to more demand from Australia's biggest export market.   Continued...

An employee counts money on the last workday of the week at a bank in Taiyuan, Shanxi province in this June 28, 2013 file picture. China's central bank announced long-awaited interest rate reforms on July 19, 2013, scrapping the previous floor on the rates that banks charge clients for loans. Picture taken June 28, 2013. REUTERS/Jon Woo