China Cuts Interest Rates

Central bank eases for first time since 2008 to combat a deepening economic slowdown.

China cut interest rates for the first time since 2008, stepping up efforts to combat a deepening economic slowdown as Europe’s worsening debt crisis threatens global growth.

The benchmark one-year lending rate will drop to 6.31 percent from 6.56 percent effective tomorrow, the People’s Bank of China said on its website today. The one-year deposit rate will fall to 3.25 percent from 3.5 percent. Banks can also offer a 20 percent discount to the benchmark lending rate, the PBOC said, widening from a previous 10 percent.

European stocks and U.S. index futures extended gains as China’s move fanned optimism that policy makers around the world will do more to bolster growth. The announcement, two days before China is due to report inflation, investment and output figures, may signal that the economy is weaker than the government expected.

“This will be the beginning of a rate cut cycle and there will be at least one more reduction this year,” said Shen Jianguang, a Hong Kong-based economist with Mizuho Securities Asia Ltd. “The data to be released over the weekend must be very weak and inflation must have eased sharply.”

The MSCI All-Country World Index added 0.8 percent at 7:30 a.m. in New York. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index jumped 1.2 percent, extending yesterday’s biggest rally in six months, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index futures advanced 0.7 percent.

The central bank last reduced benchmark interest rates in late 2008, when the government unveiled a 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion at the time) stimulus package to counter the effects of the global financial crisis. Interest rates have been unchanged since an increase in July 2011.

Industrial output in China, the world’s biggest producer of steel and cement, probably rose 9.8 percent last month from a year earlier, close to the slowest pace in three years, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of 27 economists ahead of a National Bureau of Statistics report due June 9.

Inflation may have moderated to 3.2 percent in May from a year earlier after a 3.4 percent rate in April, a separate survey showed, the fourth month consumer prices have risen by less than the government’s 2012 target of 4 percent.

Today’s move signals policy makers are concerned that the cost of borrowing is crimping companies’ spending and holding back expansion in the world’s second-biggest economy. Three bank officials told Bloomberg News last month that the nation’s biggest banks may fall short of loan targets for the first time in at least seven years as demand for credit wanes.


Slowdown Worsening 

China’s manufacturing expanded at the slowest pace in six months in May, a government report showed on June 1, adding to signs the nation’s slowdown is worsening. A separate purchasing managers’ index from HSBC Holdings Plc and Markit Economics pointed to a seventh straight contraction, the longest stretch since the global financial crisis.

Premier Wen Jiabao and the State Council, or Cabinet, pledged last month to place greater emphasis on stabilizing growth after data showed April industrial production, new loans and exports all increased less than economists forecast. The data prompted banks including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley and Bank of America Corp. to cut their economic-growth estimates.

Expansion may drop to 7 percent or “slightly below” this quarter from a year earlier, Dong Tao, a Hong Kong-based economist with Credit Suisse Group AG said last month. Ding Shuang, a Hong Kong-based economist at Citigroup Inc., forecast 7.5 percent. That follows an 8.1 percent expansion in the first three months of the year, the fifth quarterly deceleration.

Tao said the government may respond with a stimulus of as much as 2 trillion yuan, half the size of a package announced in late 2008 to cushion the economy from the impact of the global financial crisis.

Even so, the official Xinhua News Agency said in a May 29 article that the government has no intention of rolling out another “massive” stimulus, damping speculation of more aggressive policies to support growth.

China’s inflation has slowed this year, giving the government more room to ease policies. The consumer-price index rose 3.4 percent in April from a year earlier, the third straight month it’s been below the official target of 4 percent. The rate was 6.5 percent in July, the highest since 2008.


Bloomberg News


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