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China Economy

China's new leaders likely to loosen interest-rate controls

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 7:47am

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The mainland's new leaders may further loosen interest-rate controls this year while allowing limited changes to one-child and household-registration policies that threaten to restrain growth, a survey of analysts shows.

Twelve of 16 analysts expect Beijing to relax or remove the cap on deposit rates or the floor on lending rates, according to a survey conducted before Xi Jinping's appointment as president tomorrow. A majority sees at least minor changes to the birth and registration policies.

Reduced restrictions on banks competing for deposits may boost returns to the mainland's savers, aiding efforts to switch the economy's engine of growth to consumer spending from exports and investment.

Xi and incoming Premier Li Keqiang may be more cautious on changes to the one-child policy and the so-called hukou system, which denies education and social welfare benefits to millions of migrant workers in cities.

"Financial-market reforms should continue because there aren't so many political or technical stumbling blocks," said Louis Kuijs, chief China economist at Royal Bank of Scotland in Hong Kong and a former World Bank researcher.

Hukou changes are "more complicated" and the one-child policy is so entrenched in Communist Party thinking that "it's not so easy" to leave behind, he said.

China's leaders, set to complete a once-a-decade handover of power at the meeting of the National People's Congress in Beijing that ends on March 17, are trying to support a rebound in growth from a 13-year-low without spurring excessive inflation or risks in the financial system.

Any move on interest-rate flexibility would build on changes last year. The People's Bank of China allowed banks to offer a discount of as much as 30 per cent on the key lending rate, up from a previous 10 per cent. For the first time, the central bank permitted deposit rates of as much as 10 per cent higher than the benchmark.

Twelve analysts expect a raising or removal of deposit-rate limits and 10 project a lowering or removal of the lending-rate floor, according to the survey conducted from February 28 to March 5. Five said the PBOC is likely to make a market-based interest rate, such as a repurchase rate, into a new benchmark rate.

The one-year lending rate has been 6 per cent since July, while the one-year deposit rate has stood at 3 per cent.

The yuan has strengthened about 0.2 per cent against the US dollar so far this year after a 1 per cent rise last year.