World and Nation

China hints at easing monetary policy, adjusting reserve ratio

BEIJING — As China seeks a soft landing for its bubble-prone economy, senior economic officials said Monday that they might encourage bank lending, while also hinting that the country’s currency might not appreciate as fast as it has in recent years — a hot-button issue in the U.S. presidential election this year.

Speaking at a news conference, Zhou Xiaochuan, the governor of the Chinese central bank, said bank reserve requirements — the percentage of deposits that banks must hold back — could be loosened further, after having been eased already last month.

“We have a lot of room to adjust the reserve ratio,” Zhou said. “On the other hand, it is necessary to see whether there is a necessity to adjust.”

The reserve ratio was tightened throughout 2010 and 2011 after a huge government stimulus program of bank lending set off a bubble in real estate prices.

In the first two months of this year, these measures began to bite, and bank lending fell — possibly faster than officials had expected. Normally, as many as a quarter of all bank loans in a year are made in this two-month period. This year, however, only 18 percent of the expected bank loans for 2012 were made, implying either sharply slowing demand for loans or bank liquidity problems.

Andrew Batson, head of research for GK Dragonomics, an economic analysis firm in Beijing, said the Chinese political leadership had decided to increase bank lending but sought to strike a balance.

Recent data showing that car sales have slowed and value-added industrial production has been slower than expected have created the expectation in some circles that the leadership will once again respond with a large stimulus, he said. Government policy, however, is to let growth fall from the double-digit pace of the past decade to about 7.5 percent, in hopes of fostering higher-quality growth.

“The way they responded to the 2008 downturn gave the perception that they’ll ride to the rescue,” Batson said. Speaking of the Chinese prime minister, he said, “Wen Jiabao and others have been saying that ‚Äòyes, we know that growth is slowing, but the cavalry is not coming.”’

One tool the government has said it would use is currency. Speaking at the same news conference, Zhou’s deputy in charge of foreign currency, Yi Gang, implied that recent fast rises in the value of the Chinese currency were unlikely to be duplicated in the near future.