PBoC RRR Hike: Oops, We Did it Again!

While most of you were enjoying the weekend while chilling to Bruno Mars’ “Lazy Song” in the background, the monetary policy gurus at the People’s Bank of China were doing anything but lounging on the couch. Chinese central bank officials were up on their feet, deciding what to do with China’s most recent inflation report, which came in much stronger than expected.

Since they just hiked the benchmark rate the other week, PBoC officials decided to use that other monetary policy tool in its tool box, which is its reserve ratio requirement (RRR) for banks. They implemented another 50 basis point RRR increase, bringing it up to 20.5% for the nation’s biggest banks. For those of you who already lost track, that’s the fourth time the PBoC hiked the RRR this year. We might as well call it the monthly RRR hike!

Indeed there probably will be a bunch of PBoC rate hikes on the horizon. The latest serving of Chinese economic figures revealed that growth and inflation still remain stubbornly high. China’s GDP rose by 9.7% year-over-year for the first quarter of 2011, higher than the projected 9.5% annual expansion. Meanwhile, CPI jumped from 4.9% in Q4 2010 to 5.4% in Q1 2011, outpacing the consensus of a 5.2% increase in price levels.

Boy, those figures are probably getting on the PBoC officials’ nerves! It seems that no matter how aggressive they are with their tightening policies, inflation just can’t be tamed. After all, the PBoC has stuck to the plan of implementing tighter monetary policy.

Just in case you’ve been too busy hittin’ the club with Huck and her gals, here’s a quick recap of what the PBoC mafiosos have been up to:

October 14, 2010 – RRR increase of 50 basis points
October 19, 2010 – Increase interest rates by 0.25%
December 10, 2010 – RRR increase of 50 basis points
December 25, 2010 – Increase interest rates by 0.25%
January 14, 2011 – RRR increase of 50 basis points
February 8, 2011 – Increase interest rates by 0.25%
February 18, 2011 – RRR increase of 50 basis points
March 18, 2011 – RRR increase of 50 basis points
April 5, 2011 – Increase interest rate by 0.25%
April 15, 2011 – RRR increase of 50 basis points

Do you see what I see? No, it’s not Waldo. But it does seem like a pattern of tightening moves has emerged. Whenever the PBoC has raised the RRR, the central bank has followed up with an interest rate hike. Could this mean that another interest rate increase is just around the corner?

Expectations are that central bank will raise rates by 75 basis points when it’s all said and done. We’ve only seen a total rate hike of 50 basis points thus far, so the PBoC still has room to fulfill its promise.

However, a closer look at the numbers show that the PBoC still has a lot of work to do. M2, a measure of money supply that includes cash in circulation and in all deposits, was up 16.6% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2011, up 0.9% from February’s figure. In addition, March yuan loans were up to 679.4 billion RMB, up from the 535.6 billion yuan figure we saw in February.

These figures indicate that cash is easily accessible and that banks still have a lot of capacity to lend out money.

With banks still lending and pouring cash into the system, this could spur inflation and potentially spark a housing bubble. Needless to say, that’s a scenario that the Chinese will want to avoid. Perhaps it’s time for the PBoC to be a little more creative, spontaneous, and aggressive.