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People's Bank of China sends 'tightening signal' in latest move

January 07, 2010 | “MarketWatch"

HONG KONG (MarketWatch) -- China's central bank guided interbank interest rates higher Thursday, the latest in a series of moves that analysts say indicate a "tightening bias" and could lay the groundwork for an eventual rate hike.

The People's Bank of China sold 60 billion yuan ($8.8 billion) worth of three-month bills at 1.3684%, four basis points higher than last week. The change in yield marked the first in its weekly open-market operations since Aug. 13.

"It's one of the first places where you look for indications of an rate increase," said Royal Bank of Scotland analyst Wendy Liu in Hong Kong. "It demonstrates a tightening bias."

"The PBoC's unexpected move makes inflation and rate-hike worries more real," according to Zhang Gang, analyst at Southwest Securities, as quoted in a Dow Jones Newswires report.

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Thursday's action underscores a trend seen over the past month, Liu said, as the central bank previously issued guidelines to commercial lenders aimed at improving lending practices.

In adjusting the interbank rate, the central bank may be moving beyond rhetoric and toward actually unwinding policies implemented during the financial crisis, she said.

"Even though China hasn't officially tightened via an interest-rate hike, they have tightened by controlling the amount of loans that could be generated," Liu said.

Investors sold shares amid concerns that the action by the People's Bank of China is part of a wider "mopping-up" process to come. In Shanghai, the Composite Index ended the session 1.9% lower, while in Hong Kong the mainland-focused Hang Seng China Enterprises Index eased 1.3%.

RBS says it expects the People's Bank of China to push interest rates up in a single 0.27-percentage-point move during the second quarter, then remain on hold for the rest of the year.

By Chris Oliver, MarketWatch


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