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China says January lending down 28% from year ago
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Feb 11, 2012

Chinese bank lending fell 28 percent in January from a year earlier, official data showed, suggesting Beijing is reluctant to open the credit valves too quickly for fear of reigniting inflation.

State-owned lenders issued 738.1 billion yuan ($117.26 billion) in new loans in January, down 288.2 billion yuan from the same month last year and well short of analyst forecasts for one trillion yuan, the central bank said Friday.

Banks handed out 640.5 billion yuan in loans in December.

Chinese banks typically ramp up lending at the beginning of the year to avoid losing quotas issued by regulators and the effects of changes in monetary policy.

Analysts said the weaker-than-expected data partly reflected the earlier than usual Chinese Lunar New Year holiday, which fell in January, and the government's still tight restrictions on credit.

Mark Williams, an economist at Capital Economics in London, said it was the lowest December to January increase since 2007.

"It is hard to escape the feeling that the weakness of lending was at least partly a reflection of the slow pace at which policy is being eased," he said.

Late last year the central bank eased lending restrictions on banks and analysts expect similar moves this year as authorities try to spur economic activity and prevent a collapse in the property market.

But most experts had forecast another easing of bank reserve requirements before the week-long Lunar New Holiday and the government's failure to act suggests it does not expect a sharp slowdown in economic growth.

There is growing evidence that the world's second largest economy is slowing as turmoil in eurozone countries and weakness in the United States hurts demand for Chinese exports, a key driver of the Asian giant.

The International Monetary Fund this week warned that an escalation of Europe's fiscal woes could slash China's economic growth by half this year, and it urged Beijing to prepare stimulus measures in response.

But Chinese leaders, worried about reigniting politically sensitive inflation, have signalled their intention to move cautiously and fine-tune policy as needed.

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