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The shift is also an early warning that rising interest rates could pose problems for the sector in the US and Europe, where P2P lending has expanded rapidly in recent years as banks scaled back their lending. In China, P2P companies lend to some of the country's riskiest borrowers, so they were among the first to face defaults as monetary conditions tightened.
Although the sector accounts for a tiny fraction of China's total loan book, the country's P2P lending market grew from $30 million in 2009 to $940 million in 2012 and is on track to reach $7.8 billion by 2015, according to research published last year by Celent consultancy.
Of the nearly 1,000 P2P companies operating in China, 58 went bankrupt in the final quarter of last year, according to Online Lending House, a web portal that tracks the industry. Several more had already run into trouble this year, it added.
The signs of distress began to emerge in the second half of last year, when China's central bank withheld liquidity from the money market and fuelled a significant jump in lending rates.
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"The main reasons are the intense competition in the P2P industry, the liquidity squeeze at the end of the year and a loss of faith by investors," said Xu Hongwei, chief executive of Online Lending House.
He estimated that 80 or 90 percent of the country's P2P companies might go bust.