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China Just Made Borrowing Costs a Tiny Bit Cheaper for Companies

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China Just Made Borrowing Costs a Tiny Bit Cheaper for Companies

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Loans will get a little cheaper for Chinese companies after officials introduced a revamped market benchmark rate for the first time.

China’s new one-year reference rate for bank loans will start at 4.25%, according to a statement from the central bank on Tuesday. That compares to the 4.24% median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of 11 traders and analysts. The previous loan prime rate was 4.31%, while the one-year benchmark lending rate is 4.35%. China will set the LPR on the 20th day of every month.

The change is part of China’s push to connect its interest-rates system to conditions in financial markets. The aim is to help lower the country’s sticky borrowing costs for households and companies, boost lending activity and support a slowing economy. From Tuesday, new loans must be priced “mainly” with reference to the new LPR, which is linked to the price the People’s Bank of China charges lenders for cash over a year.

The reform is to “repair the channels” to make policy more effective, but it “can’t replace monetary policy or other policies,” the PBOC said in a statement provided at a briefing Tuesday. The bank said it will continue to work with other government ministries to use various measures to lower borrowing costs for the real economy.

“That is a very timid cut, well within market expectations,” said Frances Cheung, head of Asia macro strategy at Westpac Banking Corp. “If the PBOC adjusts open-market operation rates, in particular the MLF rates, the transmission will be more effective.”

The new approach will see net interest margins and bank profits hurt in the short-term, Liu Guoqiang, a deputy governor at the central bank, said Tuesday. As well as a likely hit to lenders’ margins, it will push them to increase their risk tolerance when it comes to underwriting loans, according to Moody’s Investors Services.

Bonds were little changed after the announcement, with the yield on 10-year government debt rising 1 basis point to 3.03% as of 1:27 p.m. local time.

Some expect the central bank will do more this year to lower borrowing costs. Citic Securities Co. analysts predict a cut in the rates charged on medium-term lending facilities, or a targeted reduction in the reserve-requirement ratio, according to a note. Westpac’s Cheung is predicting two 50 basis-point cuts this year in the amount of cash that banks have to hold in reserve. She also expects a 5-10 basis point cut in the 1-year MLF rate.

Some 590 billion yuan ($84 billion) of MLF will mature by the end of September, Bloomberg-compiled data show.

What Bloomberg’s Economists Say

Considering the State Council’s aim to reduce funding costs for smaller companies by another 100 bps this year, we expect the PBOC to reduce rates for its medium-term lending facilities by 25-50 basis points by year-end.David Qu, Bloomberg EconomicsFor the full note click here

Officials are probably aiming for a gradual shift in lending rates, as a drastic cut could be damaging to the financial sector, according to Tommy Xie, an economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. Bank stocks opened lower Monday as analysts predicted lower rates will make lending less profitable.

“As this is a long-term structural change, it’s not necessary to change the loan prime rate dramatically in the near term,” said Xie. “In the end, banks will also try to protect their margins. If the cut is too aggressive, they will pay the cost.”

With new loan allocation front-loaded this year, most of the impact on net interest margins will surface in 2020, according to Citigroup Inc. analysts. Assuming LPR is 25 basis points lower, it will cut net profits at the banks by about 3.7%, they said, adding that Ping An Bank Co. and China Everbright Bank Co. will be among the most affected.

The PBOC said in a statement over the weekend that the 18 banks helping set the new rate should submit quotations in multiples of 5 basis points. The National Interbank Funding Center will cut the highest and the lowest and use the mean of the remaining 16.

“There is little evidence so far that LPR, since it came into being in 2013, followed short-term market rates, especially 7-day repo rates, closely,” Bank of America Corp. economists Helen Qiao and Miao Ouyang wrote in a note. “Our concern is that the new measures promoting LPR could risk giving rise to a third track in addition to the existing two.”

(Updates with PBOC comment in sixth paragraph and markets in seventh. An earlier version of this story corrected the amount of loans coming due.)

--With assistance from Jing Zhao, Wenjin Lv, Yuling Yang, Yinan Zhao, Helen Sun and Heng Xie.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Livia Yap in Shanghai at;Xize Kang in Beijing at;Claire Che in Beijing at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jeffrey Black at;Sofia Horta e Costa at

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