China has taken further steps to push market-oriented interest rate reform and develop a benchmark interest rate system for the money market.
Industry observers applauded the introduction of the Shanghai Interbank Offered Rate (Shibor), which lays the foundation for evolution of the country's money policy to achieve macro-control indirectly via adjusting the benchmark interest rate, rather than the current approach of maneuvering the money supply.
But they noted that it will still take time for Shibor to exert its influence, and acceptance and involvement by more financial institutions is necessary to make it a real benchmark interest rate.
The scarcity of a market-oriented benchmark interest rate has been a shackle on the country's financial market.
The central bank currently uses one-year deposit and lending rates as the benchmark, but since adjustments are infrequent the rates fail to reflect market changes in a timely manner.
After a trial run of more than a month, the People's Bank of China on January 4 put forward Shibor in a move to develop a more market-sensitive benchmark for the interbank market.
There are eight Shibor rates, with maturities ranging from overnight to a year. These are fixed according to calculations from the rates quoted by 16 banks, eliminating the two highest rates and the two lowest, and then averaging the remaining 12.
Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Standard Chartered are the three foreign banks contributing quotes to Shibor.
"The launch of Shibor will further push forward the market-oriented interest rate reform and develop a benchmark interest rate system for China's money market," the central bank said.
The bank is also hopeful the rate will help "improve the pricing capabilities of financial institutions and guide the pricing of money market instruments".
"The formation of a benchmark interest rate is the precondition to make the interest rate market-oriented," said Yuan Dejun, senior economist with China Galaxy Securities.
"Since the opening-up and reform of 1978, the central bank has made huge efforts to promote market-oriented interest rate reform and develop a benchmark interest rate system for China's money market," he said.
"But due to their shortcomings, current indexes cannot become real benchmark interest rates," he added.
Presently there are only two major reference rates in the market the seven-day weighted average interest rate for repurchasing treasury bonds and the rate for one-year central bank bills.
The new benchmarks provide a sound barometer for judging whether liquidity in China's money market is reasonable.
What's more, the new rates create realistic conditions for the alteration of money policy adjustment, Yuan said.
"In recent years, the money policy in our country relied on the adjustment of banks' loan scale and money supply, while giving insufficient play to tools such as the interest and exchange rates," he said.
But thanks to the launch of Shibor and the potential to develop it into a market-sensitive benchmark, the central bank would have a new means of exerting indirect adjustments.
It could rely on an open market operation to realize the change in benchmark rates, so as to influence the rates level in the whole market, Yuan added.
The new rate will aid the development of the interest rate derivatives market.
Some analysts proposed that the central bank strengthen the importance of Shibor so dealers would accept it, but others expressed concern that China's credit environment could endanger the success of the benchmark.
"Interbank lending is mainly credit loans, so the promotion of Shibor is a great test of China's feeble financial credit system," an analyst with Fudan University told China Daily.
(China Daily January 16, 2007)