Analysts including the World Bank say an overhaul of a Chinese banking system that lends little to private businesses is urgently needed to keep economic growth strong. Communist leaders who took power last year have promised to support entrepreneurs who generate China's new jobs and wealth, but have yet to make significant changes.
Friday's statement outlined areas where Beijing is promising action but gave no details or a timetable. China has not had a privately owned bank since the industry was nationalised in 1949-52 following the communist victory in a civil war.
In a joint announcement, the central bank and banking regulators repeated earlier pledges to make interest rates and other aspects of banking more market-oriented a move analysts say is required to channel more credit to productive activities. They pledged to increase lending to small and medium-size companies. We will make attempts to allow private capital to initiate the setup of financial institutions including banks, the statement said. It gave no indication how that might take place.
Such a change will be politically fraught because China's financial system is the ruling Communist Party's most powerful tool in controlling the economy and supporting politically favored state industry.
We do not think this will lead to a significant near-term change in the banking sector, but we do view it as a step in the right direction, said Nomura economist Zhiwei Zhang in a report on Friday. The leadership is not expected to make major policy changes until after a party meeting in the autumn to decide on long-range strategy.
Friday's announcement comes amid signs China's lacklustre recovery from its deepest slump since the 2008 global crisis might be faltering.
Economic growth decelerated to 7.7% in the first quarter from 7.9% the previous quarter. May retail sales fell short of forecasts and export growth slowed. A survey by HSBC Corp. showed June manufacturing activity fell to a nine-month low and was contracting.
Forecasts call for growth this year of 7.5% to 8%, barely half of 2009's explosive 14.2%. Reformers warn it could fall as low as 5% by 2015 without drastic changes. The financial system is safe and sound overall, but the problem of capital misallocation still exists and is not in alignment with the need for economic restructuring, the government statement said.
The proposed changes were meant to better embrace the market's fundamental role in allocating resources and mitigate financial risks, it said.
The latest promise of changes came as Chinese financial markets were recovering from a credit shortage that caused a spike in interest rates paid by banks for loans from other banks. The crunch eased after the central bank injected money into that market but analysts expect credit to be scarcer than it was previously. The bank is trying to cool a credit boom that it worries might run out of control. Credit grew 15.8% in the five months through the end of May, well above the bank's target for this year of 13%.