By PAMELA SAMPSONBANGKOK (AP) â¿¿ Global stock markets reeled Monday, with Shanghai's index enduring its biggest loss in four years, after China allowed commercial lending rates to soar in a move analysts said was aimed at curbing a booming underground lending industry. Analysts say the spike late Thursday in the country's interbank lending rate to over 13 percent was part of an effort to trim off-balance-sheet lending that could threaten the financial stability of the world's second-largest economy. But markets feared the move could also hurt economic growth. China's major state-owned banks are unwilling to lend to any but their biggest clients, so the vast majority of smaller businesses must rely on informal lending. Mainland China's Shanghai Composite Index plummeted 5 percent to 1,968.51 while the smaller Shenzhen Composite Index plunged 6.1 percent to 881.87. Britain's FTSE 100 dropped 1.5 percent to 6,067.35. Germany's DAX fell 1.1 percent to 7,704.88. France's CAC-40 fell 1.5 percent to 3,601.88. Wall Street also appeared headed for losses, with Dow Jones industrial futures down 0.7 percent to 14,614. S&P 500 futures lost 0.7 percent to 1,573.70. On Monday, the central bank told China's commercial lenders to focus on lending to the "real economy" rather than financial speculation. A statement on the bank's website made no mention of informal banking but told lenders to do a better job of forecasting credit and liquidity needs. The government's Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary that Chinese banks had been taking growing risks by diverting money into speculative investments and largely unmonitored underground banking. "It is not that there is no money but that the money is being put in the wrong place," the government's Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary. "The more important question to consider is not whether there is a shortage of money but how it is being used."
Analysts at Moody's Investors Service said that they interpret the central bank's action as "having been the result of a conscious decision" to curb credit growth.Moody's added that a prolonged credit crunch could threaten Chinese companies, "especially those in the private sector with weak credit quality, because it heightens the risk that banks will scale back lending to those companies." Moody's says that China's central government finances remain strong, but that rapid credit growth and liabilities at the local level pose a threat to growth. Andrew Sullivan of Kim Eng Securities in Hong Kong said China's new leaders want credit to be available to keep the economy moving but not so much as to promote asset bubbles. "After six months in power, the new leadership is putting its policies in place. It's signaling that credit is going to remain tight," Sullivan said. "All that is in line with moving China from being an export driven economy to being a domestic consumption economy." Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 2.2 percent to 19,813.98. Japan's Nikkei 225 index, the regional heavyweight, fell 1.3 percent to 13,062.78. South Korea's Kospi lost 1.3 percent to 1,799.01. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 shed 1.5 percent at 4,666.50. Among individual stocks, Australia's Newcrest Mining Ltd. tumbled 7.9 percent. Shanghai-listed Poly Real Estate Group, China's top real estate developer, nosedived the daily limit of 10 percent. In energy markets, benchmark oil for August delivery was down 54 cents to $93.15 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.71 to close at $93.69 in New York on Friday. In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3103 from $1.3139 late Friday in New York. The dollar rose to 98.04 yen from 97.76 yen. ___ AP Business Writer Joe McDonald contributed from Beijing and researcher Fu Ting contributed from Shanghai.