China ramps up economic support as Country Garden vote looms

By Ziyi Tang, Clare Jim and Xie Yu

BEIJING/HONG KONG (Reuters) -China stepped up measures to boost the country’s faltering economy on Friday, with top banks paving the way for further cuts in lending rates and sources saying Beijing plans further action including relaxing home-purchase restrictions.

As part of those measures, the authorities also cut the amount of funds institutions need to hold in foreign exchange reserves. The measures cheered investors, and analysts said they should prevent a further downturn in the ailing property sector.

China is grappling with a slowdown that has rattled global markets, with the spotlight now firmly focused on troubled developer Country Garden’s spiralling debt crisis in a sector that contributes to roughly a quarter of the economy.

As pressure mounts, the authorities have rolled out a series of measures to spur the economy and revive the property market, with steps including the easing of some borrowing rules and a cut to the amount of forex banks must hold as reserves.

The country is set to take further action including relaxing home-purchase restrictions, four people familiar with the matter said.

Regulators including the housing ministry, central bank and financial regulator in coming weeks will implement measures they have been working on over the past few months under State Council guidance, two of the people said.

ANZ’s senior China economist Betty Wang said several nation-wide property easing measures in the past couple of weeks have exceeded market expectations.

“This is the first time since 2021 that China has announced a series of nationwide property easing measures. They will help restore market confidence and prevent the sector from declining further.”


In the near term, however, market sentiment will be swayed by the outcome of a crucial test of investor confidence in Country Garden.

On Thursday, Country Garden delayed a deadline for creditors to vote on whether to postpone payments for an onshore 3.9 billion yuan ($537 million) private bond until Friday 1400GMT to give bondholders “sufficient time” to prepare for the vote.

Ahead of the voting result on Friday, some onshore creditors of that private Country Garden bond received interest payments, sources with direct knowledge of the matter said. They declined to be named as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Country Garden declined to comment.

Friday’s vote is a key hurdle Country Garden faces as it strives to avoid default, with one holder of the developer’s dollar bonds saying if the company cannot extend its domestic debt, it will be unable to service external bondholders.

“This has been a slow-moving car crash,” said the bondholder, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue, adding that concerns centred around uncertainty over the broader economy and tensions with Washington.

“Everything they do right now is going to have an impact five to 10 years down the line.”

Country Garden, China’s largest private developer by sales, did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment.

Stress in the property market has intensified pressure on Beijing to implement supporting measures and fanned concern about the ability of policymakers to arrest a decline in China’s broader economic growth.

China’s new home prices fell for the fourth month in August, according to a private survey on Friday, as the property debt crisis kept confidence at a low ebb despite the string of support measures.


The central bank said on Friday it would cut the foreign exchange reserve requirement ratio (RRR) by 200 basis points (bps) to 4% from 6% beginning Sept. 15, a move seen aimed at slowing the pace of yuan declines.

The lenders lowering mortgage rates on Friday included Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank Corp and Agricultural Bank of China, which cut their deposit rates by between five and 25 basis points, websites from each bank showed. Several midsized banks also announced they will start cutting interest rates on a range of deposits by 10-25 basis points.

The measures helped lift confidence in the market and battered property stocks rallied, with China’s CSI 300 Real Estate Index ending up 2.4%, while the blue-chip CSI300 Index climbed 0.5%.

Three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday that major state banks would cut deposit rates as they prepare to lower interest rates on existing mortgages soon.

Starting from Sept. 25, first-time home buyers with mortgages can apply to their banks for a lower interest rate on their existing loans, China’s central bank and financial regulator announced on Thursday.

The deposit rate cuts are the third such cuts within a year, with the scale of cuts bigger than previous rounds in June and in September last year.

Lower deposit rates will partially offset various pressures on banks’ narrowing net interest margins – a key gauge of profitability, said Nicholas Zhu, a banking analyst at Moody’s.

“The impact of the deposit rate cut is material, given that close to three-quarters of Chinese banks’ liabilities are deposits,” Zhu said.

China’s mortgage loans totalled 38.6 trillion yuan ($5.29 trillion) at the end of June, representing 17% of banks’ total loan books.

Meanwhile, Beijing and Shanghai on Friday announced that they would allow home buyers to enjoy preferential loans for first-home purchases regardless of their previous credit records.

With this, all of China’s first-tier cities have broadened the definition of first-home mortgages, in a bid to boost buyer sentiment.

($1 = 7.2633 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Ziyi Tang, Ryan Woo and Wang Jing, additional reporting by Davide Barbuscia in New York; Writing by Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree, Lincoln Feast and Susan Fenton)