China to 'tinker' with monetary easing

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China to 'tinker' with monetary easing

China will "tinker around the edges" of monetary policy to keep its economy growing, but still-high inflation and overseas turmoil mean dramatic changes are unlikely, analysts said Thursday.

customer inspects a bottle of chilli sauce last week at a supermarket in Yichang, central China customer inspects a bottle of chilli sauce last week at a supermarket in Yichang, central China's Hubei province Photo: AFP

China will "tinker around the edges" of monetary policy to keep its economy growing, but still-high inflation and overseas turmoil mean dramatic changes are unlikely, analysts said Thursday.

The central bank announced Wednesday it would "fine-tune" monetary policy, repeating remarks by Premier Wen Jiabao last month and fuelling hopes of a relaxation of tight credit as growth in the Asian powerhouse slows.

Beijing has hiked interest rates five times since October 2010 and increased the reserve requirement ratio -- the portion of deposits banks must set aside -- on numerous occasions to rein in surging inflation and housing prices.

But the debt crisis in Europe, a key buyer of Chinese exports, and weakness in China's manufacturing sector has prompted leaders to rethink economic policy, though ongoing concerns over high prices will limit their response.

"They are still trying to keep the overall stance the same but they will tinker around the edges if they think conditions justify that," Brian Jackson, a senior strategist at Royal Bank of Canada in Hong Kong, told AFP.

Experts said policymakers were likely to reduce the reserve requirement ratio, which is hovering at record levels, in the coming months to spur lending to smaller businesses, which are struggling to get financing.

But they ruled out a change in interest rates, which is seen as a more aggressive policy tool.

"I think their general view is that because inflation is still so high, if you lower interest rates it will send the wrong message to the economy," Ren Xianfang, an analyst at IHS Global Insight in Beijing, told AFP.

Investors barely reacted to the central bank statement, with Shanghai shares up 0.32 percent, or 7.8 points, to 2,474.76 in afternoon trade.

Inflation slowed sharply in October from the previous month to 5.5 percent year-on-year, compared with 6.1 percent in September, but is still well above the government's annual target of four percent.

The People's Bank of China said Wednesday it would "at an appropriate time and in moderate degree preemptively adjust and fine-tune" monetary policy, adding it would do so based on changes in the global economy.

The central bank statement comes after the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday warned that China's financial system was at risk from bad loans, booming private lending and sharp falls in property prices.

China has already started to tentatively loosen credit restrictions. Last month, authorities ordered banks to boost lending to cash-strapped small businesses which are struggling to meet rising costs amid falling demand for their goods.

The order came amid concerns that an explosion in private financing could lead to widespread bankruptcies and bad debts.

A series of economic indicators released earlier this month showed China's export-driven economy slowed in October as demand for Chinese-made clothes, shoes and electronic gadgets weakened.

Exports rose 15.9 percent year-on-year to $157.49 billion in October, down from $169.7 billion in September, as shipments to Europe and the United States fell, the customs agency said in a statement.

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