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Slower growth in credit card numbers

THE rise in the number of credit cards in China slowed in the fourth quarter of 2008 as banks scaled back on issuing plastic as the economy continued to weaken.

Banks in China issued 14.2 million credit cards in the last quarter of 2008, a rise of 57.7 percent from a year ago, the People's Bank of China said on its Website yesterday. However, the growth was 24.3 percentage points lower than 2007.

The fall was attributed to some banks cutting back on launching new credit card products amid the weakening economy, unnamed bankers said. China is targeting a growth of 8 percent in gross domestic product this year, down from last year's 9-percent rise.

The combined credit line of the cards in China jumped 75.8 percent to 980.4 billion yuan (US$143.5 billion) in 2008, 3.2 times that of 2006. The central bank didn't give a figure for 2007.

By the end of 2008, the outstanding debt piled up by card holders more than doubled to 158.2 billion yuan.

The credit card market started to take off in China in 2003 when banks waived annual fees, offered gifts and dangled reward points to woo new clients and to encourage cardholders to spend on credit.

Chinese banks issued a total of 1.8 billion bank cards by the end of December, a 20-percent increase from a year earlier. But the growth was 12.6 percentage points down from a year ago. Banks have issued 1.66 billion debit cards by December 31.


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