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China's big banks lend nearly 300 billion yuan in March: paper

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's big four state banks extended almost 300 billion yuan ($47.50 billion) in new local-currency loans last month, the official Securities Times reported on Saturday, citing unidentified sources.

The newspaper also estimated that the total new loans from all Chinese banks may exceed 900 billion yuan in March, based on a 30-40 percent weight that the top four lenders typically account for the total new loans.

Chinese banks issued 710.7 billion yuan in new loans in February, well below market expectations, a sign that more monetary easing may be needed to keep credit growing to avoid a sharp economic slowdown.

A recent Reuters poll showed that bank lending may have picked up in March to 800 billion yuan, as China gently loosens monetary policy to boost funding for companies, especially the cash-strapped smaller ones, and support the economy.

The People's Bank of China, the central bank, is due to release the March money and credit data between April 10-15.

The four largest banks are Industrial & Commercial Bank of China <601398.SS><1398.HK>, China Construction Bank <601939.SS><0939.HK>, Agricultural Bank of China <601288.SS><1288.HK> and Bank of China <601988.SS><3988.HK>.

China's Premier Wen Jiabao this week called the big banks a monopoly that needed to be broken to get money flowing to cash-starved private firms, as the economy appears to have skidded to its slowest growth in three years. ($1 = 6.3153 Chinese yuan)

(Reporting by Aileen Wang and Chen Aizhu; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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