China says will cut banks' reserve requirements, taxes, as bad news piles up

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will cut banks’ reserve requirement ratios (RRRs), taxes and fees, Premier Li Keqiang said on Friday, as the world’s second-largest economy shows further signs of cooling.

China's Premier Li Keqiang attends a meeting with Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China December 13, 2018. Fred Dufour/Pool via REUTERS

The measures will also included targeted RRR cuts aimed at supporting small and private companies, Li was quoted as saying in a statement on the website of the Chinese government.

China slashed reserve requirements four times in 2018 to free up more funds for banks to lend and analysts expect three to four more cuts this year starting in the current quarter.

Beijing will also step up “countercyclical adjustments” of macro policies and further cut taxes and fees, Li said, largely reiterating previous policy pledges.

Li made the comments at a meeting with officials of the country's banking and insurance regulator after visiting Bank of China 601988.SS, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China 601398.SS and China Construction Bank 601939.SS.

China reported on Monday that factory activity shrank in December for the first time in over two years, highlighting the challenges facing Beijing as it seeks to end a bruising trade war with Washington and reduce the risk of a sharper economic slowdown in 2019.

New factory orders - an indicator of future activity - continued to soften, suggesting business conditions in China will likely get worse before they get better.

In addition to the central bank’s numerous support measures, the government has also ramped up spending on infrastructure to rekindle sluggish demand and investment, but the moves will take some time to kick in.

The government maintains 2018 economic growth will still come in on target at around 6.5 percent this year, slowing from 6.9 percent in 2017.

But analysts see a further deceleration this year, with growth cooling to the low 6-percent range even if a trade deal with the United States is reached.

“The economy is weak and stimulus needs to arrive quickly,” economists at ING said in a note earlier this week.

Reporting by Judy Hua and Ryan Woo; Editing by Kim Coghill