China tells banks to scale back lending to contain financial bubble risks - sources

SHANGHAI/BEIJING, March 5 (Reuters) - China's regulators are telling banks to trim their loan books this year to guard against risks emerging from bubbles in domestic financial markets, said people familiar with the matter on Friday.

The banks, including foreign and state-owned lenders, have received guidance from the central bank in the past few days telling them to restrict the overall size of their lending this year, said three bankers on condition of anonymity.

The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) is also "seriously" looking into the misuse of business loans to individual borrowers for personal investments, two of them said, which violates Chinese regulations.

"A large amount of money in the name of business loans had flown into the property and stock markets during the pandemic last year," said one of the bankers.

"Banks are scrambling to collect back loans issued last year and will not extend such loans."

The CBIRC and the People's Bank of China, China's central bank, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

China significantly boosted credit support to the economy in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but some individuals spent the money buying properties and stocks, fanning bubbles in the markets, the sources said.

Business loans are required to be used on operational costs such as rents and equipment purchases. The banking watchdog bans borrowers from using such loans on stocks and property purchases.

Lending to micro and small businesses by big commercial banks increased 50% last year and is aimed to expand 30% further this year, according to the government report released on Friday. China also asked banks to boost lending and lower interest rates to small businesses in 2020.

Guo Shuqing, head of CBIRC, said on Tuesday that he was "very worried" about risks of bubbles bursting in foreign markets and highlighted bubble risks as a core issue facing China's property sector.

China's blue-chip index CSI300 (.CSI300) has so far lost more than 1% in March.

Reporting by Winni Zhou and Zhang Yan in Shanghai, and Rong Ma and Ryan Woo in Beijing; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa

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