China set to keep lending benchmark steady as policymakers eye property risks

FILE PHOTO: Headquarters of the PBOC, the central bank, is pictured in Beijing
FILE PHOTO: Headquarters of the People's Bank of China (PBOC), the central bank, is pictured in Beijing, China September 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

November 19, 2021

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China is set to keep its benchmark lending rate steady at its monthly fixing on Monday, a Reuters survey showed, as policymakers seek to limit risk taking in the property sector.

A snap poll of 23 market participants this week found 21 expected no change in either the one-year Loan Prime Rate (LPR) or the five-year tenor at next week’s setting.

That would be the 19th straight month that no change will be made to the rate and follows the People’s Bank of China’s (PBOC) decision this week to keep the interest rate on its medium-term loans unchanged.

The remaining two respondents forecast a marginal cut of 5 basis points to the one-year LPR and expected no change to the five-year tenor, which influences the pricing of mortgages.

The one-year LPR is currently at 3.85% and the five-year rate is at 4.65%.

The central bank fully rolled over maturing medium-term lending facility (MLF) due this month, keeping the borrowing cost unchanged for the 19th straight month.

The MLF serves as a guide for the LPR and many traders and analysts say any adjustment to the LPR should mimic changes to the borrowing cost of MLF loans.

“The current downward pressure on the economy is relatively high, and financial institutions lack motivation to expand credit lending,” Ming Ming, head of fixed income research at CITIC Securities, said in a note.

“Against the backdrop of missing guidance for cuts to reserve requirement ratio or interest rates, lowering LPR to narrow banks’ net interest margins will be even harder to promote credit expansion,” he said.

Ming added policy already started to shift to marginal easing in response to the credit risks of real estate firms and the downturn in the property sector.

China’s property sector, a major driver of economic growth, has weakened sharply this year as Beijing cracks down on speculation to lower financial risks.

Premier Li Keqiang said this week that China’s sound economic fundamentals have not changed and insisted Beijing would not engage in flood-like stimulus.

“Chinese policymakers, I would imagine, are trying to keep a very, very strong balance between promoting economic growth, but limiting leverage and then dealing with what’s happening in the property sector,” said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust.

The LPR is a lending reference rate set monthly by 18 banks. All 23 responses in the survey were collected from selected participants on a private messaging platform.

(Reporting by Reuters fixed income team, Writing by Winni Zhou; Editing by Sam Holmes)