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Foreign banks offer interest discounts
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Foreign lenders in China loosened their lending policy on mortgage loans following a wave of interest rate discounts from their Chinese rivals.

Most Chinese lenders started offering interest rate discounts of up to 30 percent on mortgage loans in early February. Citibank and Standard Chartered Bank joined their Chinese counterparts last week by offering the same.

Representatives of HSBC said the company was offering mortgage interest rate discount of up to 15 percent.

The central bank began to allow commercial lenders in China to offer mortgage interest rate discount of up to 30 percent in late October of last year to boost demand in China's property market. Banks in China could previously only offer interest rate discount of up to 15 percent to mortgage customers. Interest rates in China are set by the central bank.

"It's normal for foreign banks to follow Chinese banks' footsteps because mortgage loans in China are considered high-quality assets," said Lu Zhengwei, an economist from Industrial Bank.

Foreign lenders' business in China has grown steadily over the years. According to figures from China's banking regulator, as of the end of September 2008, outstanding loans at all foreign banks in China had reached 786.5 billion yuan, up 25.4 percent year-on-year. Foreign lenders' operations are still small compared to their Chinese rivals but they're taking different steps to expand their presence in China.

Standard Chartered Bank unveiled MortgageOne, which helps customers save interest by depositing money into the same account they use to make mortgage payments.

"Instead of competing with our opponents simply on interest rate, we're giving our customers more flexibility and helping them to save money," said Bonnie Lam, managing director of consumer banking at Standard Chartered Bank (China).

Citibank recently opened a new consumer-banking outlet in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. This is Citibank's second outlet in Hangzhou and raised the number of the lender's total outlets in China to 27.

"Citibank will continue to strive to provide our customers with products and services that allow them to enjoy greater value, flexibility and convenience," said Andrew Au, chairman of Citibank (China).

But global banks' China operations could be affect by their operations elsewhere. Citigroup posted a fourth-quarter net loss of US$9.83 billion in 2008, the largest loss in the bank's 196-year history, and sold its German retail banking operation to a French banking group for US$6.6 billion.

HSBC, the biggest European bank, may need as much as US$35 billion in fresh capital as more US loans turn sour, according to Morgan Stanley analysts.

Bloomberg reported that lending by foreign banks in Shanghai declined in January as foreign lenders became more cautious. Shanghai accounts for 61 percent of foreign bank lending in China, according to banking regulator's figures.

Yan Qingmin, head of the Shanghai branch of China Banking Regulatory Commission, urged foreign lenders to increase their contribution to China's economy and lend more to small companies.

(China Daily March 2, 2009)


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