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China February lending falls to 535.6 billion yuan

SHANGHAI, Mar 14 – China said Monday new bank lending fell to 535.6 billion ($81.5 billion) in February, which economists said showed that government monetary tightening measures were bringing lending back to normal.

The value of new loans in February was down from 1.04 trillion yuan ($158 billion) in January, the People\’s Bank of China said in a statement.

"After two years of very, very loose monetary policy, you can say now monetary policy in China is normalising," ING economist Tim Condon said.

The figure was below the median 628 billion yuan forecast of 13 economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires.

China encouraged banks to lend after the 2008 financial crisis in a bid to shield the economy from trouble, but subsequently moved to aggressively rein in loan activity as a surge in credit fuelled inflation fears.

M2, the broadest measure of money supply, which includes cash and money in savings accounts, rose 15.7 percent at the end of February from a year earlier, which marked a slowdown from a 17.2 percent rise a month earlier.

Lending in China typically rises early in the year as banks rush to lend before possible restrictions are put in place, only to slow later in the year.

Beijing has introduced a number of measures since the start of last year to bring inflation under control, including a series of interest rate hikes and increases in the amount of money banks must hold in reserve rather than extend as loans.

China\’s National Bureau of Statistics said Friday that the February inflation rate came in at a stubbornly high 4.9 percent, well above the government\’s full-year target of four percent.

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High inflation and lending activity had fuelled continued speculation of further interest rate hikes or other policy measures aimed at cooling the economy.

But Bank of America-Merrill Lynch economist Lu Ting said: "Rapidly falling lending and money growth is one of the major reasons why we believe China\’s inflation won\’t be out of control."

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