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China Asks Banks to Cut Deposit Rates Again to Boost Spending

Household savings in China soared 9.9 trillion yuan in the first quarter, after record growth of 17.8 trillion yuan last year

China yuan notes
Several small and mid-sized Chinese lenders already lowered their deposit interest rates this month.


China has reportedly quietly asked its banks to cut deposit interest rates further this month as Beijing bids to boost spending in its slow-to-recover economy.

Members of China’s “interest rate self-regulatory mechanism,” mostly banks, met this month and were urged to reduce deposit rates, sources said.

Activity in the world’s second-largest economy has gained momentum since the lifting of stringent zero-Covid policy in December, but investors remain cautious as businesses grapple with debt risks, structural woes and a slowing global economy.

China’s central bank, the PBoC, does not set bank rates directly but guides them through the market-based mechanism, which comprises banks big and small. The guidance comes as banks and the economy groan under the weight of huge inflows of savings and deposits.


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“The message is that banks need to collectively bring down deposit rates,” one person with knowledge of the directive said.

Money is being injected into the banking system, but “what’s the point if people save every cent they get, instead of spending, or investing?” he said.

One of China’s “big four” state lenders plans to cut some personal and corporate rates next week, another person briefed on the plans revealed. Products to be affected include “call deposits” and “agreement deposits”.

Other people familiar with the meeting said the mechanism asked for a roughly 10-basis-point cut to weighted average term deposit rates in the quarter from a year earlier, and some banks were urged to dial back high-yield deposit products.

Several small and mid-sized Chinese lenders lowered their deposit interest rates this month, after larger rivals did so last year. The latest guidance will likely trigger a fresh round of cuts.

While the benchmark one-year loan prime rate (LPR) has been slashed by 60 basis points since 2019 to 3.65%, deposit rates have lagged behind as banks compete for accounts. The one-year certificates of deposit rate has stayed unchanged around 2.26% during the period, according to data from Rong360 Digital Technology Institute.

That’s drawn vast flows to the banking system at a time when Beijing is trying to encourage spending, and it has squeezed bank margins while credit demand remains subdued.


Record Low Margins

Household savings surged 9.9 trillion yuan for the first quarter, after record growth of 17.8 trillion yuan last year. Net interest margins, a key measure of banks’ profitability, hit a record low of just 1.91% during the fourth quarter of 2022.

Bankers said they were also under pressure to lower yields and cut back on structured deposits, while analysts said oversight on deposits had become tougher under new rules published earlier this month.

“The market adjustment mechanism of deposit rates has turned ‘rigid’ from ‘soft’,” Golden Credit Rating International Co said in a report.

With margins at record lows, “banks have no choice but to appropriately lower deposit rates as the government continues to push financing costs steadily lower to aid the real economy.”

Structured deposits, which combine traditional deposits with higher-yielding investments to pay a better rate – albeit with withdrawal restrictions – grew 558.5 billion yuan, or 12% in the first two months of this year to 5.12 trillion yuan.

“Faster growth in structured deposit business this year was common at many lenders, and the message from the regulator was clearly to reduce the size of such business,” a bank source said.


  • Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara


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Sean O'Meara

Sean O'Meara is an Editor at Asia Financial. He has been a newspaper man for more than 30 years, working at local, regional and national titles in the UK as a writer, sub-editor, page designer and print editor. A football, cricket and rugby fan, he has a particular interest in sports finance.


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