TAIPEI, Taiwan (TheStreet) - China has already moved many times to help the economy by boosting an erratic stock market, but still panicked, the government is now pouring money into banks.
In late January, Chinese authorities injected nearly 2 trillion yuan ($305 billion) into the commercial banking system through open market operations, as they fretted over the impact of capital outflows on the country's major holiday. That occasion, Lunar New Year, normally brings employee bonuses, extensive travel and lavish gift giving.
The central bank has hesitated to step up monetary easing for fear of depressing an already weak currency. The monetary authority could lower reserve-ratio requirements instead, but that tactic just gives banks an incentive to loan -- not necessarily to inspire actual borrowing.
All in all, the cash injections signal fresh apprehension in Beijing about slowing economic growth and its impact on flagship Chinese companies. Those firms may be strapped for employee bonuses and eyeing a dismal 2016.
"The implications are that the (central bank) is committed to injecting enough liquidity to avoid defaults," said Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief Asia-Pacific economist with French investment bank Natixis. "This is even more true for corporations overseas. No offshore default to be allowed."
Concerns about China's economic health have caused stock markets onshore and off to wobble since mid-2015, threatening investments from Shanghai to New York.
Sustained lack of confidence in the Chinese economy, the world's second largest and tethered to business around the world, might hit shares of signature Chinese firms such as e-commerce portal Alibaba (BABA - Get Report) and Internet content provider Baidu (BIDU - Get Report) . Share prices of both declined sharply on U.S. exchanges in January, tracking losses in the Shanghai "A" share index made up largely of older, state-run companies.
Capital flight, estimated at $500 billion last year, threatens the stability of Communist China's state-controlled economy. In 2015 investors leery of Chinese assets took money offshore, draining financial markets of capital that would support Beijing's effort to build a new economic pillar around small and mid-sized private firms.
Profits among Chinese industrial companies dropped in the second half of 2015 and declined 2.3% over the year to $964 billion.
A shortage of employee bonuses, which may be linked to a company's performance, would leave Chinese consumers less money for travel and gifts during the two-week Lunar New Year holiday this month. Officials hope to steer the economy over time more toward consumption and away from export manufacturing.
The cash injections sound a "signal that top policymakers are concerned about the economy in the short term and more and more funds have to be pumped into the economy and invested in order to get the same amount of output," said Scott Kennedy, director with the Project on Chinese Business & Political Economy under the Center for Strategic & International Studies think tank.
"These injections are the other side of the coin of reported declining profits and rising losses among Chinese companies," he said.