China's rate-cut likely to hurt banks, curb new loans to small borrowers

Sat Nov 22, 2014 8:24am EST
 
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By Engen Tham

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's latest interest rate cut is set to dent the profitability of domestic lenders, especially mid-sized banks, which are already suffering from higher bad loans and a slowdown in profit growth.

The central bank unexpectedly cut rates late on Friday, stepping up efforts to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) which are struggling to repay loans and access credit, as the economy slides to its slowest growth in nearly a quarter of a century.

It slashed the one-year benchmark lending rate by 40 basis points to 5.6 percent while lowering the one-year benchmark deposit rate by 25 basis points to 2.75 percent.

The narrowing of interest rate margins will eat into lenders' profitability, with Cinda Securities' chief strategist, Jiahe Chen, predicting it will cut profits by up to 5 percent.

Interest margins generated from lending have already been shrinking for second-tier lenders, which have been squeezed by competition from online financiers and a rise in funding costs stemming from an industry tussle for deposits.

Fitch Ratings downgraded its credit rating of China Guangfa Bank, a medium-sized lender, two days before the rate-cut announcement, and said the level of off-balance-sheet lending among second-tier banks was a concern.

The squeeze on profits will make it tougher for lenders to raise capital to meet new international rules designed to protect depositors from banking collapses. Retained profits are one way in which banks can build up regulatory capital.

"In the past when Chinese banks disburse loans, they mainly relied on profits from their own capital to replenish their capital," Jiang Jianqing, chairman of China's biggest commercial bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Co Ltd, told a conference in Beijing on Saturday.   Continued...

 
The headquarters of China's central bank, the People's Bank of China, is pictured behind an iron chain in Beijing, June 21, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee