SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China stepped up its monetary easing efforts to prop up a slowing economy this week by lowering a set of key policy rates and lending benchmarks, and markets believe Beijing could ease further before growth bottoms out.

With the property downturn seen persisting into 2022 and fast-spreading Omicron variant dampening consumer activity, many analysts expect more easing measures will be necessary, despite other major economies, including the United States, appearing set to tighten their monetary policies this year.

The one-year loan prime rate (LPR) was lowered by 10 basis points to 3.70% from 3.80%. And the five-year LPR was reduced by 5 basis points to 4.60% from 4.65%, the first reduction since April 2020.

The LPR cuts were expected after official comments called for more monetary easing to prop up the broad economy.

All 43 participants in a snap Reuters poll predicted a cut to the one-year LPR for a second straight month. Among them, 40 respondents also forecast a reduction to the five-year LPR rate.

The cut to the 5-year LPR suggested that “the Chinese authorities are keen to lower the cost of credit lending, so the total credit growth is expected to rebound after the Spring Festival to ease the pressure on macro economy,” said Marco Sun, chief financial analyst at MUFG.

“China’s monetary policy still has some room for easing in the first half of this year, depending on the policy transmission effect and the growth target set by annual parliamentary meeting in March.”

China’s central bank “should hurry up, make our operations forward-looking, move ahead of the market curve, and respond to the general concerns of the market in a timely manner,” People’s Bank of China Vice Governor Liu Guoqiang said on Tuesday, heightening market expectations for more stimulus to help economic stability.

Sheana Yue, China economist at Capital Economics, expects a further 20 basis point cut to the one-year LPR during the first half of this year.

Liu’s comments followed unexpected cuts to borrowing costs for short- and medium-term loans this week, after December economic data showed further weakening in consumption and the troubled property sector, both major growth drivers.

Interest rates on medium-term lending facilities (MLF) now serve as a guide to the LPR. Market participants believe moves to the LPR should mimic adjustments to MLF rates.

Most new and outstanding loans in China are based on the one-year LPR. The five-year rate influences the pricing of mortgages.

(Reporting by Winni Zhou and Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Christopher Cushing and Gerry Doyle)