China is likely to cut the amount of cash lenders must hold as reserves by another 100 basis points this year and lean more on fiscal policy to support the economy's growth, which is likely to bottom out in the second quarter at 7.9 percent year on year, a Reuters poll shows.
The central bank cut banks' reserve requirement ratio (RRR) to 20.0 percent on Saturday from 20.5 percent, effective May 18. The consensus of the poll conducted on Monday is for RRR to be cut to 19 percent by the end of the year, an outcome that is unchanged from the last Reuters poll on the subject on April 19.
The People's Bank of China is expected to deliver the next cut in the RRR in the second quarter and another in the third quarter, according to the median forecast of 22 economists.
The cut announced on Saturday frees up an estimated 400 billion yuan ($63.5 billion) for lending to head-off the risk of a sudden slowdown in the world's second-largest economy.
It came after data signaled that the economy continued to weaken from the first three months of the year, when 8.1 percent growth marked the slowest quarter of expansion in three years.
The pace of expansion in industrial production slowed sharply in April and fixed asset investment — a key driver of the economy — hit its lowest level in nearly a decade, confounding economists who had been expecting signs of a rebound in the second quarter.
The poll forecast no change in benchmark interest rates this year, but only by a slight majority with 11 analysts out of 21 expecting the status quo compared to 13 out of 17 in the previous poll in April.
Expectations of a cut in benchmark interest rates are gaining steam as China's economy feels stiff headwinds from the global downturn while domestic inflation eases.
Annual consumer inflation dropped to 3.4 percent in April from 3.6 percent in March, but there is little room for cutting interest rates given one-year benchmark deposit rates stand at 3.5 percent.
The poll also produced a consensus view that the government would step up fiscal efforts to support economic growth. Steps may include more government spending on infrastructures, cheap housing projects and tax cuts in some sectors.
Some economists expect Beijing to partially relax curbs on the property sector, such as easing bank lending for first-time home buyers and for property developers engaged in constructing affordable housing.
However, few expect stimulus spending modeled on the 4 trillion yuan ($635 billion) splurge unveiled during the 2008-09 global crisis, which buoyed growth but created piles of local government debt.
In the Reuters poll, economists expect the annual rate of economic growth to be 7.9 percent between April and June, the first dip below 8 percent since 2009, a level regarded by many investors as the minimum growth needed to ensure sufficient job creation.
Growth could rebound to 8.2 percent in the third quarter and 8.5 percent in the fourth quarter, the median forecasts show.
That could bring the full-year annual growth rate to 8.2 percent in 2012, down from 8.4 percent expected in the previous poll.
The previous calls were for growth of 8.5 percent in the third quarter, 8.7 percent in the fourth quarter and 8.4 percent for the full year.
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