China’s central bank unexpectedly holds fire on rates as economy wobbles

There are views the Chinese economy is finally starting to slow under the weight of a prolonged crackdown on riskier lending that is pushing up borrowing costs for companies and consumers. (Reuters)
Updated 14 June 2018
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China’s central bank unexpectedly holds fire on rates as economy wobbles

  • The rate for seven-day reverse repurchase agreements remained at 2.55 percent, the 14-day tenor at 2.70 percent and the 28-day tenor at 2.85 percent
  • Beijing is into the third-year of a sweeping regulatory clampdown on riskier lending practices

SHANGHAI: China’s central bank left borrowing costs for interbank loans unchanged on Thursday, a surprising decision that shrugged off the US Federal Reserve’s policy rate increase and came as data showed the world’s second-biggest economy lost more steam than expected.
The People’s Bank of China’s (PBOC) on-hold stance highlighted uncertainty about the economic outlook as policy makers try to steer through the challenge of a trade spat with the United States and a government-led clampdown on debt.
US President Donald Trump is set to meet with his top trade advisers on Thursday to decide whether to activate threatened tariffs on billions of dollars in Chinese goods.
The rate for seven-day reverse repurchase agreements remained at 2.55 percent, the 14-day tenor at 2.70 percent and the 28-day tenor at 2.85 percent, the PBOC said in a statement on its website.
Reverse repos are one of its most commonly used tools to control liquidity in the financial system.
Analysts had expected the PBOC to follow the Fed to increase interest rates modestly — as it has tended to do — to keep the spread between Chinese and US yields stable, reducing the risks of potential capital outflows that could pressure the yuan currency.
“But now it seems the PBOC no longer needs to stabilize the currency,” said Ken Cheung, senior Asian FX strategist at Mizuho Bank in Hong Kong.
“May economic data have showed weakness in the economy. I believe they would choose not to raise the interest rates now in order to keep the economic growth momentum.”
China reported weaker-than-expected activity data for May, adding to views the economy is finally starting to slow under the weight of a prolonged crackdown on riskier lending that is pushing up borrowing costs for companies and consumers.
Beijing is into the third-year of a sweeping regulatory clampdown on riskier lending practices. Intensifying concerns over credit quality in China after a spate of corporate bond defaults over the past few months have also put the focus on financial stability.
The yuan has strengthened about 1.7 percent against the dollar so far this year, on top of gains of about 6.8 percent in 2017.
In March, China gingerly raised market rates following the US move, in a symbolic reminder that Beijing is keeping an eye on global market trends.
Policy makers are also balancing those moves by taking the brakes off some liquidity controls. Markets expect the PBOC to make another cut in banks’ reserve requirement ratios (RRR) in the second half, with some speculation it could come as early as this month or July.
The PBOC’s surprise RRR cut in April and fears of a trade war with the United States have fanned market expectations that it may loosen policy to support the economy.
The Fed on Wednesday raised US interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point for the second time this year, and is expected to hike twice more in 2018.
The PBOC has kept its benchmark one-year lending and deposit rates steady since October 2015.
The central bank injected a net 70 billion yuan via reverse repos in open market operations on Thursday, according to the statement.


South Korea imports no Iran oil in November despite sanctions waiver

Updated 16 December 2018
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South Korea imports no Iran oil in November despite sanctions waiver

SEOUL: South Korea did not import any Iranian oil for the third straight month in November, customs data showed on Saturday, even though it has a waiver from sanctions targeting crude supplies from the Middle Eastern country.
South Korea and seven other countries were in early November granted temporary waivers from US sanctions that kicked in that month over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.
But it kept imports at zero as buyers have been in talks with Iran over new contracts, with industry sources previously saying they expected arrivals to resume in late January or February.
With no Iranian cargoes arriving for three months, South Korea’s imports of oil from the nation were down 57.9 percent at 7.15 million tons in January-November, or 157,009 barrels per day (bpd), the customs data showed. That compares to nearly 17 million tons in the same period in 2017.
South Korea is usually one of Iran’s major Asian customers. Although the exact volumes it has been allowed to import under the waiver have not been disclosed, sources with knowledge of the matter say it can buy up to 200,000 bpd, mostly condensate.
Condensate is an ultra light oil used to make fuels such as naphtha and gasoline.
But as Iranian condensate supply has been limited due to the sanctions and rising domestic demand in Iran, South Korean buyers have been looking for alternatives from places such as Qatar.
In total, South Korea imported 12.71 million tons of crude oil in November, up 1.2 percent from 12.59 million tons a year earlier, according to the data.
South Korea’s crude oil imports from January to November inched up 0.6 percent from the year before to 131.23 million tons.
Final data on November crude oil imports is due later this month from state-run Korea National Oil Corp. (KNOC).