China Cuts Banks’ Reserve Ratios Again, Frees Up $115 Billion to Spur Economy

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BEIJING—China’s central bank said on Jan. 1 it was cutting the amount of cash that all banks must hold as reserves, releasing around 800 billion yuan ($114.91 billion) in funds to shore up the slowing economy.

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said on its website it will cut banks’ reserve requirement ratio (RRR) by 50 basis points, effective Jan. 6. The move would bring the level for big banks down to 12.5 percent.

The PBOC has now cut RRR eight times since early 2018 to free up more funds for banks to lend as economic growth slows to the weakest pace in nearly 30 years.

Many investors had expected Beijing to announce more support measures soon. While recent data has shown signs of improvement, and Beijing and Washington have agreed to de-escalate their long trade war, analysts are unsure if either will prove sustainable and forecast growth will cool further this year.

Premier Li Keqiang raised expectations of an imminent RRR cut in a speech in late December, saying authorities were considering more measures to lower financing costs for smaller companies, including broad-based and “targeted” RRR reductions aimed at helping more vulnerable parts of the economy.

Freeing up more liquidity now would also reduce the risks of a credit crunch ahead of the long Lunar New Year holidays later this month, when demand for cash surges. Record debt defaults and problems at some smaller banks have already added to strains on China’s financial system.

The PBOC said it expects total liquidity in the banking system to remain stable ahead of the Lunar New Year.

Of the latest funds released, small and medium banks would receive roughly 120 billion yuan, the central bank said, stressing that it should be used to fund small, local businesses.

The PBOC said lower reserve requirements will reduce banks’ annual funding costs by 15 billion yuan, which could reduce pressure on their profit margins from recent interest rate reforms. Last week, it said existing floating-rate loans will be switched to the new benchmark rate starting from Jan. 1 as part of a broader effort to lower…

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