BEIJING (Reuters) - China's new yuan loans may have totaled 1 trillion yuan ($160.6 billion) in January, fed by banks flush with fresh lending quotas and a healthy appetite for credit from companies as economic growth momentum builds, a new Reuters poll found.
The consensus forecast of 15 economists is sharply higher than December's 454.3 billion yuan of new lending and November's 522.9 billion yuan.
Bank lending is a focal point for investors trying to assess the bias in China's monetary policy as loans are made at Beijing's behest in the state-directed financial system. A surge in new loans could indicate a supportive policy bias, as well as strong credit demand in the real economy.
"The mild economic rebound will fuel the credit demand and the beginning of a year is always the peak season for credit demand," said Lian Ping, an economist at the Bank of Communications based in Shanghai.
China's economy grew at 7.9 percent in the fourth quarter, snapping a streak of seven consecutive quarters of slowdown.
"Banks are also inclined to increase lending at this time in order to get yield relatively early," Lian said.
State media have reported that China's central bank has granted its "Big Four" state-owned banks nearly 3 trillion yuan ($482.63 billion) in new lending quotas in 2013, up slightly from 2012.
New loans in the first quarter on an average account for a third of the full-year total over the past decade.
Base effects could also explain a surge in January this year.
"In January 2012, weak corporate credit demand and the Chinese New Year both depressed credit expansion, which should be the opposite this year," Tao Wang, an economist at UBS, said in a note to clients.
New loans in January 2012 were 738.1 billion yuan, below market expectations of 1 trillion yuan.
Economists also forecast the broader measure of M2 money supply grew 14.0 percent in January from December's 13.8 percent. Annual growth in outstanding yuan loans is seen accelerating to 15.3 percent in January, from December's 15.0 percent.
Meanwhile, analysts say the growth of total social financing, another important indicator of China's credit expansion, was expected to slow as the government has taken measures to strengthen regulations on "shadow banking".
"The recent tightening of rules on banks' wealth management products and local governments' borrowing activities may have slowed the expansion of total social financing," said Wang.
China's total social financing aggregate, a broad measure of liquidity in the economy that covers bank loans, trust loans, bank acceptance bills, corporate bonds and equity financing, hit 15.76 trillion yuan in 2012, up nearly 23 pct year-on-year.
Beijing will target 8.5 trillion yuan ($1.37 trillion) in new local-currency loans in 2013 and 13 percent annual growth in M2, the official China Securities Journal reported earlier, citing anonymous regulatory sources.
(Reporting By Xiaoyi Shao and Nick Edwards; Editing by Kim Coghill)
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