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PBOC faces balancing act with rate, inflation (2)

By WANG XIAOTIAN  (China Daily)

08:04, May 14, 2013

Lu Zhengwei, chief economist with the Industrial Bank Co Ltd, said he does not believe the PBOC wants a Chinese monetary easing because the monetary policymakers are still using the rhetoric they used during the economy's overheating cycle.

For example, he said, the PBOC still declares it will "keep the overall liquidity in check" to maintain stability of the domestic monetary environment when the country is faced by increasing capital inflows resulted from all the monetary easing programs overseas.

Although the economy witnessed a slowdown in the first quarter, it has seen four straight months of net foreign exchange purchases by the central bank and commercial lenders, which suggest a continuous capital inflow.

The central bank data showed that banks brought in nearly 1.2 trillion yuan worth of foreign exchange in the first quarter on a net basis, a record high in recent years.

A large part of the capital inflow came from dollar-denominated bonds issued by Chinese companies, especially property developers, in the overseas markets, said Ding Zhijie, dean of the School of Banking and Finance of University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

The rising purchase of foreign exchange by domestic banks will directly multiply the money in circulation, create excessive liquidity, and exert an inflationary pressure, said E Yongjian, an analyst at Bank of Communications Co Ltd.

"Throughout the year we expect such purchases to continue to grow, but the pace of increase may slow down somewhat from the first quarter," he said.

The threat from the inflow may become moderate in the coming few months because of China's slowdown in economic growth and interference from its monetary regulators.

And a possible exit of US quantitative easing would also help soothe the capital flood, said Zhu Haibin, chief China economist at the JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that the US Federal Reserve is getting ready to wind down its $85-billion-a-month bond-buying program in careful steps, but the timing is still uncertain.

Zhu said that it's most likely that Fed will slow down purchasing the bonds and start to exit before the end of this year. "The transform probably will take six to nine months."

For the time being, the PBOC remains on high alert against inflation, as it states in its first quarterly report that it cannot afford to be "blindly optimistic" about the price situation in the next phase. It must fend off the inflationary risks proactively, and stabilize the market's inflationary expectation "in a forward-looking way."

China's consumer price index rebounded to 2.4 percent year-on-year in April from 2.1 percent in March, stronger than expected.

"We expect it to rise further in the coming several months," said Zhang Zhiwei, chief China economist at Nomura Holdings Inc, adding that he expects the authorities to continue to tighten monetary policy in the second quarter, and a slowdown in credit growth as a result.

He added as inflation is edging close to the one-year benchmark deposit rate of 3 percent, it reduces the possibility of an interest rate cut. "A rate cut would also contribute to more speculative pressure in the property market."

The impact of major economies' quantitative easing on China would be less than some people fear, and the nation should continue to deepen its ongoing reforms, especially currency reform, to better cope with the overall global uncertainties, said Fred Hu, chairman of Primavera Capital Group and a former economist at the International Monetary Fund.

By improving the yuan's convertibility for the capital account and increasing the flexibility of its exchange rate, China will free itself from the necessity of injecting money into the market passively whenever the yuan exchange rates rises, he said.

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