China won't set targets for individual banks' loans to private firms: state media

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will not set specific targets for individual banks on how much they should lend to private firms, and banks’ credit assessment standards will not be compromised, state-owned China Securities Journal said on Monday, citing regulatory sources.

FILE PHOTO: Guo Shuqing, China's newly appointed banking regulator, attends a news conference ahead of China's parliament in Beijing, March 2, 2017. REUTERS/Shu Zhang

The apparent attempt to calm market jitters came after a sharp selloff in financial shares on Friday, following comments by the head of the banking and insurance regulator which investors worried could see lenders take on more riskier loans.

Guo Shuqing, chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC), said on Thursday at least a third of big banks’ new loans to companies should be to private firms, while at least two-thirds of small and medium-sized banks’ new loans to companies should be to private businesses.

“The targets are not ‘hard’ indicators for each bank,” the China Securities Journal said, citing unidentified sources. “The regulatory authorities will not propose specific targets for a single bank.”

Chinese financial shares rose on Monday after the report.

Guo also said on Friday on the regulator’s website that the financial institutions cannot apply ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, adding that they have to treat the difficulties facing private firms objectively.

China’s economic growth has cooled to its weakest quarterly pace since the global financial crisis as a regulatory campaign to tackle debt risks and the trade war with the United States have begun to bite.

Authorities have said they will control the pace of China’s financial deleveraging campaign, which began in 2017. That has stoked concerns that corporate debt could resume its rise, reversing some modest improvements seen in the last few years.

The ratio of non-financial corporate debt to gross domestic product (GDP) rose to 164.1 percent in the first quarter from 160.3 percent in late 2017, after peaking at nearly 167 percent in mid-2016, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) said in September.

Some analysts say Chinese companies are now busily “re-leveraging” rather than “de-leveraging”.

A recent China Beige Book survey suggested borrowing surged to the highest level in five years in the third quarter, possibly as companies looked to shore up balance sheets in the face of weakening cash flow.

Reporting by Stella Qiu and Ryan Woo; Editing by Shri Navaratnam & Kim Coghill