Measuring bank competition in China: a comparison of new versus conventional approaches applied to loan markets

BIS Working Papers No 422
August 2013

Since the 1980s, important and progressive reforms have profoundly reshaped the structure of the Chinese banking system. Many empirical studies suggest that financial reform promoted bank competition in most mature and emerging economies. However, some earlier studies that adopted conventional approaches to measure competition concluded that bank competition in China declined during the past decade, despite these reforms. In this paper, we show both empirically and theoretically that this apparent contradiction is the result of flawed measurement. Conventional indicators such as the Lerner index and Panzar-Rosse H-statistic fail to measure competition in Chinese loan markets properly due to the system of interest rate regulation. By contrast, the relatively new Profit Elasticity (PE) approach that was introduced in Boone (2008) as Relative Profit Differences (RPD) does not suffer from these shortcomings. Using balance sheet information for a large sample of banks operating in China during 1996-2008, we show that competition actually increased in the past decade when the PE indicator is used. We provide additional empirical evidence that supports our results. We find that these firstly are in line with the process of financial reform, as measured by several indices, and secondly are robust for a large number of alternative specifications and estimation methods. All in all, our analysis suggests that bank lending markets in China have been more competitive than previously assumed.

JEL classification: D4, G21, L1

Keywords: Competition, banking industry, China, lending markets, marginal costs, regulation, deregulation