China holding its future in reserve

A change in bank policy sparks new worries about how China views its own economy.

By Jim J. Jubak May 12, 2011 5:06PM
Jim Jubak
Another month, another increase in the reserve requirement for China’s banks.

Today, May 12, the People’s Bank raised the reserve requirement by another 0.5 percentage points, to a record 21%.

This is the fifth time this year, and the eighth time since October, that China’s central bank has raised the percentage of assets its banks need to keep on hand. (Money held in reserves is money that can’t be lent out. In theory, raising the reserve requirement should slow the economy and help control inflation.)

Unless my math is off, that’s one increase a month since October 2010.

You might think the move would be old hat by now, but it’s not. In fact, today’s move has raised new worries in China’s financial markets.

What worries?

First, many analysts and economists expected that the next move by the People’s Bank would be an increase in benchmark interest rates. They worry that today’s move signals belief at the People’s Bank that China’s economy might be slowing too much, even as inflation continues well north of the government’s 4% target. (Inflation for April came in at a 5.3% annual rate.)

That worry started yesterday with a reported factory-output growth rate that was slightly below expectations.

Second, now that the reserve requirement has broken above the previous top and entered new territory, no one is quite sure where the People’s Bank might stop. I’m seeing worried speculation that says a 23% reserve ratio isn’t out of question.

Third, the increases in reserve requirements have been so regular -- and the effect on inflation so hard to see -- that some economists have begun to ask if raising the reserve requirement at this rate is just keeping up with the flow of hot money into the country.

Pulling $100 billion out of circulation with each hike in the ratio isn’t enough to do much more than balance cash flows into China. Raising the reserve requirement at this pace, they worry, won’t do anything to slow inflation.

And fourth, if increases in reserve requirements are ineffective at fighting inflation, then maybe, this worry goes, the consensus that the People’s Bank will need to raise rates just once or twice more before inflation peaks is wrong.

I sense a shift, from a belief that one or two more increases is the most that the market can expect, toward a view that one or two increases is the least of China bulls’ worries.

At the time of this writing, Jim Jubak didn't own shares of any companies mentioned in this post in personal portfolios. The mutual fund he manages, Jubak Global Equity Fund (JUBAX), may or may not own positions in any stock mentioned. For a full list of the stocks in the fund as of the end of the most recent quarter, see the fund's portfolio here. 

May 13, 2011 3:46AM

Jubak may be a good investment advisor, but he has been repeatedly wrong about chinese economy.

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


StockScouter rates stocks from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, using a system of advanced mathematics to determine a stock's expected risk and return. Ratings are displayed on a bell curve, meaning there will be fewer ratings of 1 and 10 and far more of 4 through 7.

125 rated 1
264 rated 2
485 rated 3
679 rated 4
640 rated 5
617 rated 6
632 rated 7
493 rated 8
276 rated 9
153 rated 10

Top Picks

TAT&T Inc9



Top Stocks provides analysis about the most noteworthy stocks in the market each day, combining some of the best content from around the MSN Money site and the rest of the Web.

Contributors include professional investors and journalists affiliated with MSN Money.

Follow us on Twitter @topstocksmsn.