BEIJING - New bank lending in China fell less than expected in February from the previous month as the central bank seeks to cool credit growth to contain debt risks while maintaining support for ailing small firms. Chinese banks extended 1.36 trillion yuan ($208.86 billion) in new local-currency loans in February, down from a record high of 3.58 trillion yuan in January but beating analyst expectations, according to data released by the People's Bank of China on Wednesday. Analysts polled by Reuters had predicted new yuan loans would fall to 950 billion in February. New loans were at 905.7 billion yuan a year earlier. China's central bank has pledged to stabilise the country's overall debt level that jumped last year due to stimulus measures, but the bank has said it will avoid a sudden policy shift and will continue to support ailing small firms. Last year, the central bank rolled out a raft of measures including cuts in interest rates and reserve ratios to support the coronavirus-hit economy. But it has kept the benchmark lending rate, the loan prime rate, unchanged since May. Broad M2 money supply in February grew 10.1% from a year earlier, central bank data showed on Wednesday, above a forecast 9.4% in a Reuters poll. It rose 9.4% in January. Outstanding yuan loans grew 12.9% from a year earlier compared with 12.7% growth in January. Analysts had expected 12.7% growth. Annual growth of outstanding total social financing (TSF), a broad measure of credit and liquidity in the economy, quickened to 13.3% in February from 13% in January. TSF includes off-balance sheet forms of financing that exist outside the conventional bank lending system, such as initial public offerings, loans from trust companies and bond sales. In February, TSF fell to 1.71 trillion yuan from 5.17 trillion yuan in January. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected February TSF of 950 billion yuan. REUTERS
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