Chinese banks extended less than 600 billion yuan ($91 billion) in new loans in February, official media reported on Friday, a surprisingly low figure that would help temper inflationary pressure.
China has steadily ratcheted up banks' required reserves and ordered them to lend less in an effort to slow the money growth that has kept inflation running near its fastest in more than two years.
The China Securities Journal cited industry sources who said that new lending last month was less than 600 billion yuan. The median forecast of analysts polled by Reuters forecast was for 650 billion yuan.
It would be the second consecutive month that bank lending fell short of market expectations, suggesting that the government is gaining traction in its campaign to rein in credit growth.
A lending slowdown would show that higher reserve requirements have produced a better-than-expected effect, the newspaper said.
China has officially raised required reserves twice this year and five times since November. It has also imposed additional punitive reserve increases on banks that have been especially profligate in their lending.
A source told Reuters this week that Liu Mingkang, head of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, said lending had been excessively fast over the past two years, posing serious risks to the economy.
Chinese media reported earlier this week that China's top four banks would cap their combined new loans for the full year at 2.85 trillion yuan.
Because these banks usually account for roughly 40 percent of total loans, this implies that China could be on track for about 7 trillion yuan in new loans this year.
China Business News said the full-year quotas were 880 billion yuan for Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, 750 billion yuan for China Construction Bank, 620 billion yuan for Agricultural Bank of China, and 600 billion yuan for Bank of China.
Economists and investors generally expect that new yuan loans in 2011 will be in the 7.0-7.5 trillion yuan range, although the government has not yet announced a loan target as in previous years.
Chinese banks issued a combined 17.5 trillion yuan of new local currency loans in 2009 and 2010, almost a quarter of the economy's total output during that time.
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