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China’s interest-rate revamp highlights the slow march of reform

FOR A CASE study in the complexity of transitions from central planning, consider the knotty mess that is China’s interest-rate system. More than 40 years after Mao Zedong died, the country is an economic superpower, yet it still struggles to manage bank lending using interest rates, rather than through heavy-handed interventions such as credit quotas. To make this shift, the central bank has created a dizzying array of instruments. S&P Global, a rating agency, counts 20 separate monetary-policy tools in China, from newfangled liquidity-injection facilities to old-fashioned instructions to banks; America, by contrast, has just six main instruments.Now China has modernised its arsenal with a new benchmark interest rate, unveiled on August 16th. The Loan Prime Rate (LPR), as it is known, will become the reference rate for banks pricing corporate loans. Announced monthly, it will be the average of what 18 designated commercial banks charge their best corporate clients, expressed as a spread over the banks’ own cost of borrowing from the central bank.
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