China starts easing monetary policy. Or does it?

CHINESE investors often refer in jest to the central bank as “central mama”. The idea is that it can be counted on to provide tender love—that is, policy easing—when market conditions are rough. But during the past couple of years it has been more of a disciplinarian, taking cash away from reckless investors. Its latest move, a cut of banks’ required reserves, has triggered a debate about which school of parenting it subscribes to these days. Is central mama turning soft again, or is she still cracking the whip?

On June 24th the People’s Bank of China said it would reduce the portion of cash that most banks must hold in reserve by 50 basis points. This was equivalent to deploying 700bn yuan ($106bn) in the financial system, or nearly 1% of GDP, which might sound like a healthy dose of liquidity to shore up growth. But the central bank insisted that it was not easing policy.

Many analysts take the central bank at its word. In the past, when it focused on the quantity of money in the economy, reducing required reserves could be seen as a form of loosening. But in recent years it has placed more emphasis on interest rates. Its most important target is banks’ short-term cost of borrowing from each other. That remained stable over the past week at about 2.8% in annual terms, proof that the announcement had little discernible impact.

Moreover, the...

via The Economist: Finance and economics Business Feeds

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