China central bank set to cut key rate, boost liquidity Monday to aid economy

SHANGHAI/SINGAPORE (Reuters) -China’s central bank is expected to ramp up liquidity injections and cut a key interest rate when it rolls over maturing medium-term policy loans on Monday, as authorities try to get the shaky economy back on more solid footing.

Expectations of monetary easing have heightened after major Chinese commercial banks lowered deposit rates late last year, paving the way for further reductions in policy rates at a time when persistent deflationary pressures also warrant additional stimulus.

A protracted property crisis, cautious consumers and geopolitical challenges are also pointing to another bumpy year for the world’s second-biggest economy.

In a Reuters poll of 35 market participants conducted this week, 19 or 54.3% expected the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) to cut the borrowing cost of one-year medium-term lending facility (MLF) loans.

The central bank last cut the MLF rate in August 2023 by 15 basis points (bps).

Thirty, or 85.7% of all respondents, predicted the central bank would inject fresh funds into the financial system exceeding the maturing 779 billion yuan ($108.73 billion) of MLF loans due this month.

“Inflation could be of higher priority for the PBOC to prevent a negative feedback loop between deflation and activities,” Citi analysts said in a note.

“We reiterate our view for a policy rate/LPR cut as early as in coming weeks within January … We maintain our expectations of 50-basis-point reserve requirement ratio (RRR) cuts and 20-basis-point MLF rate cuts for the whole year.”

The interest rate on MLF loans currently stands at 2.5%. As it serves as a guide to the loan prime rate (LPR), markets mostly see the rate as a precursor to adjustments in the LPR. China is due to announce the monthly LPR fixing on Jan. 22.

“I think the central bank should take action as early as possible: it should lower both interest rates and RRR as early as the beginning of the year,” said Wang Tao, chief China economist at UBS.

However, she added that the PBOC might be rather cautious as it has to pay close attention to U.S. Federal Reserve and dynamics of interest rate movements in global markets.

Wang expects a total of 10 to 20 bps of rate reductions and 25 to 50 bps points of RRR cuts this year.

Investors’ expectations for an RRR cut also rose after Zou Lan, monetary policy department head of PBOC, highlighted reserve requirements as one of monetary policy options to support credit growth, according to a state media report this week.

($1 = 7.1643 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Wu Fang and Winni Zhou in Shanghai, Tom Westbrook in Singapore; Editing by Kim Coghill)