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China Raises Bank Reserves Again to Help Cool Economy

China raised the amount of money banks must hold in reserve for the fourth time this year Sunday, reducing the amount available for lending in a new effort to cool an investment boom Beijing worries could spark a financial crisis.

The order by the country's central bank comes on top of repeated interest rate hikes and investment curbs imposed on real estate, auto manufacturing and other industries over the past year. The effort has had limited success in slowing the growth of investment.

The amount of reserves that lenders must keep with the central bank was raised 0.5 percentage point to 11% of their deposits, the People's Bank of China said. The increase takes effect May 15.

"(The increase) is aimed at stepping up liquidity management of the banking system and to guide a reasonable growth of credit," the bank said on its Web site.

Beijing has raised the bank reserve ratio seven times over the past year, each time by 0.5 percentage point. It stood at 7.5% of deposits before the first increase last June. The last increase was April. 16.

The bank is trying to contain a boom in lending and real estate development that the government worries could ignite inflation or a debt crisis.

Earlier this month, China announced that the economy surged 11.1% in the first quarter of this year, prompting the government to say it would take steps to keep the economy from overheating.

The consumer price index rose 3.3% in March, data showed, above the government's 3% target. And fixed-asset investment countrywide grew a robust 23.7% during March.

Last year the economy grew 10.7%--the highest rate since 1995.

The central bank said it was still worried about China's international balance of payments problem, which is boosting the excessive liquidity.

The trade surplus hit a record $177.5 billion in 2006, up 74% from the previous year, straining ties with Washington and other trade partners who say Beijing has not done enough to let its currency appreciate.