China aims for more loans to small firms, better winter gas planning

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will encourage financial institutions to boost loans to smaller firms and aims for better planning of winter gas supplies to prioritize residential users and highly polluted areas, the cabinet said on Wednesday.

At a meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang, the State Council discussed measures to assist smaller companies facing financing difficulties and said China would maintain prudent monetary policy without resorting to strong policy stimulus, according to a state radio broadcast and a summary of the meeting posted on the government’s website.

The comments echoed those made by a central bank official on Tuesday that China would keep liquidity reasonably ample and offer more help to companies having trouble obtaining financing.

The State Council also called for construction of natural gas infrastructure, such as pipelines, storage and receiving stations, to be stepped up to ensure a steady balance between demand and supply, and urged greater efforts in domestic gas exploration and production.

To better manage gas supply in the coming winter and spring, new volumes will be offered first for residential use and to highly polluted areas switching from coal heating, the State Council said.

Last winter, an over-ambitious attempt to convert millions of Chinese households from coal to gas heating left many villages without gas supplies amid freezing temperatures.

Reporting by Tom Daly and Beijing Monitoring Desk; Editing by Susan Fenton