SHANGHAI (Reuters) -The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China said on Thursday it will support moves underway in the world’s second-largest economy to stabilise its property market.

The comments were made by Wang Jingwu, a vice president at the world’s largest lender, at a press conference held a day after its annual results were published. Wang did not specify how ICBC will support the stabilisation of the sector.

Volatility in China’s property market, which started with policies aimed at reining in developer debt, has seen defaults and failures at several property firms, hurting the sector’s financiers.

A question market participants are keen to get an answer to is whether state-owned property firms will get more support from banks versus privately owned ones.

ICBC “will treat property firms equally, regardless of their ownership”, said Wang.

The property sector and its woes were also a focus for the Bank of Communications Co Ltd (BoCom) which posted a higher proportion of non-performing loans from property firms on Wednesday and warned of risks.

This year, the weakness of the sector will put pressure on asset quality, analysts said.

“We believe weakness in the property sector and LGFV (local government financing vehicles) exposures, together with subdued consumer demand, are likely to continue to weigh on Chinese banks’ performance in 2024,” said Elaine Xu, Director of Asia-Pacific Financial Institution, Fitch Ratings.

For smaller lenders which rely more on property loans, 2024 looks more bleak, said Xu.

“Small regional banks in economically weaker regions, which are experiencing deeper property sector stress, could face most negative impact on their credit profiles in 2024,” said Xu.

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