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Breakingviews - Capital Calls - China small business credit poses property puzzle

A woman holds her son in a playground in a residential area in Shanghai July 26, 2014.

HONG KONG (Reuters Breakingviews) - CONFIDENCE TRICK. So far Beijing appears to be losing its struggle to keep stimulus money out of real estate speculators’ hands. Shrewd buyers have managed to abuse the central bank’s support programme for small businesses to borrow funds to buy property, paying just two thirds of regular mortgage rates. Recent central-government-driven investigations found at least $126 million of business loans had been rerouted to buy properties in Beijing, Shanghai and other hot markets, keeping prices rising despite regulators’ efforts to cool them. The real number is probably far higher.

Policymakers still aim to boost such SME lending by over 30% in 2021 to pad a recovery that remains uneven. Official data showed private sector profits grew only 3.1% in 2020, with average gross industrial profit margins at a thin 5.7%. With benchmark rates relatively high, it is unsurprising that business owners in weaker sectors like travel or dining prefer to park stimulus checks in housing instead of their core businesses. But it reflects a lack of confidence that demand has firmly recovered. (By Yawen Chen)

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