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Economy

China further eases mortgage loan rate guidance to spur demand

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© Reuters. A cable is seen near residential buildings under construction in Beijing, China April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

BEIJING (Reuters) -Chinese financial authorities on Sunday allowed a further cut in mortgage loan interest rates for some home buyers, in another push to prop up its property market and revive a flagging engine of the world’s second-largest economy.

For purchases of first homes, commercial banks can reduce the lower limit of interest rates on home loans by 20 basis points, based on the corresponding tenor of benchmark Loan Prime Rates (LPRs), the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) and China’s Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission said in a statement.

The cut aims to support demand and promote stable and healthy development of the real estate market, the statement said.

In its monthly fixing in April, the PBOC kept its one-year LPR unchanged at 3.70% and the five-year LPR, typically used as a benchmark for mortgage loans, steady at 4.60%.

Banks in many cities cut mortgage rates in the first quarter following calls from authorities to support buyer sentiment in a market rocked by a liquidity crunch and troubled developers last year, and now by nationwide COVID-19 outbreaks.

“Policies including lowering down-payments, lowering mortgage interest rates, loosening restrictions on secondhand housing sales and loosening purchase restrictions will create better conditions for active market transactions in mid-to-late May,” said Yan Yuejin, research director of Shanghai-based E-house China and Development Institute.

The latest loan guidance came after central bank data on Friday showed new bank loans plunged to their lowest in more than four years in April, as varying degrees of COVID lockdowns in dozens of cities curbed lending, with mortgage loans contracting.

To free up more funds for lending, the PBOC on April 25 reduced the amount of cash that lenders must set aside as reserves. More modest easing measures are expected as authorities vow to roll out more policies to support the broader economy.

But despite the easier mortgage loan guidance, much depends on the banks.

“During lockdowns, banks tend to be more risk-averse,” said Iris Pang, senior Greater China economist at ING, wrote in a note on Friday after the central bank data.

“They have been told to keep past-due loans on their books. Under these circumstances, banks have become unwilling to create new loans, as that would mean taking on more risk by getting new loans and then waiting for them to become past due if lockdowns continue.”

Economy

Dollar slips from 2-decade highs; yuan falls on weak China data

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. dollar banknotes are displayed in this illustration taken, February 14, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

By Sinéad Carew

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. dollar index was lower on Monday after hitting a 20-year peak last week, with the global economy in focus after weak economic data from China highlighted worries about the prospects for a global slowdown.

Creating a risk-off mood on Monday, China’s retail and factory activity fell sharply in April as extensive COVID-19 lockdowns confined workers and consumers to their homes. But Shanghai did set out plans for the return to more normal life from June 1.

Following the release of China’s data, Bipan Rai, North America head of FX Strategy at CIBC Capital Markets, said trading was focused on macro economic data on Monday.

“It’s important to highlight that the risks are towards a stronger dollar and primarily, that’s because if you look at the macro economic climate, the fundamentals don’t look good. From a risk-off perspective that should still support the dollar against most currencies,” Rai said.

But he said the greenback was consolidating after its recent strength and that more range-bound trading sessions were possible: “It makes sense for some period of consolidation before the next leg higher.”

Trading in the dollar may be muted partly because a lot of bad news has already been priced in but also because investors are waiting for events such as the U.S. retail sales data release and a public appearance by Fed Chair Jerome Powell both scheduled for Tuesday, according to Mazen Issa, senior FX strategist at TD Securities. [nL2N2X52F6]

Still Issa said he doesn’t “think we’re in a market where we’re going to see the dollar weaken … It’s going to take a lot to get investors out of the dollar.”

The euro was pulled from its earlier lows after European Central Bank policymaker Francois Villeroy de Galhau said the common currency’s weakness could threaten the ECB’s efforts to steer inflation towards its target.

The Australian dollar, which is highly exposed to the Chinese economy, reversed course as the day wore on and was last up against the dollar after falling as much as 0.9%.

The dollar index was last down 0.37% at 104.16, after briefly crossing the 105 level on Friday – its highest level since December 2002, after six successive weeks of gains. Weekly positioning data showed that investors had built their long dollar bets.

The euro was up 0.26% at $1.0438 but not far from last week’s low of $1.0354, its lowest level since early 2017. Analysts see $1.0340 as a crucial level of euro support.

HSBC strategists expect the euro to fall to parity against the dollar in the coming year. “Much weaker growth and much higher inflation leave the ECB facing one of the toughest policy challenges in G10 (central banks),” they said.

Crypto markets, which trade around the clock, had a quiet weekend after turmoil last week driven by TerraUSD, a so-called stablecoin, which broke its dollar peg. An affiliate of the company behind TerraUSD said it had spent the bulk of its reserves trying to defend its dollar peg and would use the remainder to try to compensate some users who had lost out.

Bitcoin was last trading at around $29,881, down more than 4%, after having dropped to $25,400 on Thursday, its lowest mark since December 2020.

Currency bid prices at 3:03PM (1903 GMT)

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Economy

Taliban dissolve Afghanistan’s Human Rights Commission, other key bodies

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An Afghan woman walks on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Ali Khara/File Photo

By Mohammad Yunus Yawar

KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban authorities in Afghanistan dissolved five key departments of the former U.S.-backed government, including the country’s Human Rights Commission, deeming them unnecessary in the face of a financial crunch, an official said on Monday.

Afghanistan faces a budget deficit of 44 billion Afghanis ($501 million) this financial year, Taliban authorities said on Saturday as they announced their first annual national budget since taking over the war-torn country last August.

“Because these departments were not deemed necessary and were not included in the budget, they have been dissolved,” Innamullah Samangani, the Taliban government’s deputy spokesman, told Reuters.

Also dissolved was the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), the once high-powered National Security Council, and the commission for overseeing the implementation of the Afghan constitution.

The HCNR was last headed by former Afghan President Abdullah Abdullah, and was working to negotiate a peace between the U.S.-backed government of former President Ashraf Ghani and the then-insurgent Taliban.

In August 2021, 20 years after invading Afghanistan, foreign forces withdrew from the country leading to the collapse of the government and a Taliban takeover.

Samangani said the national budget was “based on objective facts” and intended only for departments that had been active and productive.

He added that the bodies could be reactivated in the future “if needed”.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 with an iron fist and implemented a harsh version of Islamic rule, including banning women from education and work. After taking over last year, the Taliban assured the world they would be more moderate.

However, they are yet to allow older girls to restart education, and have also introduced rules that mandate that women and girls wear veils and requiring them to have male relatives accompany them in public places.

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U.S. SEC chair says much to be done to protect crypto investors

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2/2

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Representations of virtual cryptocurrencies are placed on U.S. dollar banknotes in this illustration taken November 28, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

2/2

By John McCrank

(Reuters) – Cryptocurrency assets are highly speculative and investors in them need more protections or they could lose trust in the markets, Gary Gensler, chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, said on Monday.

Generally, people who buy cryptocurrencies do not get the disclosures they get when they make other asset purchases around things like whether the trading platform they are using is actually trading against them, or whether they actually own the assets they store in digital wallets, Gensler said.

“We have this basic bargain: You the investing public can make your choices about the risk you take, but there is supposed to be full and fair disclosure, and people are not supposed to lie to you,” he said at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s annual conference in Washington.

His comments came after last week’s spectacular collapse of TerraUSD, a so-called stablecoin that lost its 1-to-1 dollar peg.

The token’s crash sent cryptocurrencies tumbling, a slide that resumed on Monday, as bitcoin erased the gains it had eked out over the weekend to trade under $30,000, far below its Nov. 10 record of $69,000.

While crypto markets are thought of as decentralized, the reality is that most activity occurs on a handful of trading platforms, which, along with token issuers, need to work with the SEC to improve industry rules and disclosures, Gensler said.

He pointed to basic market principles like, “anti-fraud, anti-manipulation, making sure there’s not front-running, making sure an order book is actually real and not made up.”

The SEC will continue to be “a cop on the beat,” while working with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to ensure all cryptocurrencies are covered, Gensler said.

“There’s a lot to be done here, and in the meantime the investing public is not that well protected,” he said.

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