China seen holding benchmark rate in Sept, some expect more liquidity support

SHANGHAI, Sept 17 (Reuters) - China is set to leave its benchmark lending rate steady for the 17th month at its September fixing next Wednesday, a Reuters survey showed, but market participants expect more targeted liquidity measures as the economy grapples with the fallout of the Delta variant.

Nineteen traders and analysts, or 95% of 20 participants, in the snap poll predicted no change in either the one-year Loan Prime Rate (LPR) or the five-year tenor after the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) kept the interest rate on its medium-term loans steady this week.

The remaining one respondent forecast a marginal cut of 5 basis points to the one-year LPR and expected no change to the five-year tenor, which influences the pricing of mortgages. Authorities have stepped up measures to cool the property market this year amid rising home prices and financial risk concerns.

The one-year LPR is currently at 3.85%, and the five-year rate is at 4.65%.

The expectations for a steady LPR fixing come after the PBOC rolled over 600 billion yuan ($93.04 billion) worth of medium-term loans this week, while keeping the interest rate unchanged for the 17th month in a row.

The interest rate on the medium-term lending facility (MLF) serves as a guide for the LPR, and many traders and analysts say any adjustment to the LPR should mimic changes to the borrowing cost of MLF loans.

Ken Cheung, chief Asian FX strategist at Mizuho Bank, said the fact that the 1-year MLF rate was held steady “flagged (the)slim chance for a LPR cut this month.”

Despite this, market participants expect policymakers to provide more liquidity and fiscal support to arrest a slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy. Activity indicators in August showed fresh coronavirus outbreaks and supply disruptions threatened the country’s economic recovery.

“The Delta wave took a quite heavy toll on China’s growth, particularly in the services sector,” said Chen Jingyang, Greater China economist at HSBC.

“As growth is approaching the lower end of the officially-estimated potential growth range of 5.0-5.7%, Beijing may step up targeted easing to generate a moderate pick-up in growth in our view,” Chen said.

She expects Beijing to further speed up special bond issuance and roll out more targeted easing measures, including targeted reserve requirement ratio (RRR) cuts to support SMEs.

The LPR is a lending reference rate set monthly by 18 banks.

All 20 responses in the survey were collected from selected participants on a private messaging platform. ($1 = 6.4488 Chinese yuan) (Reporting by Reuters fixed income team, Writing by Winni Zhou; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)