It’s a problem that has been talked about before — inside China it’s what the yuan does against the dollar that seems to matter. Which is awkward because China is quite keen on people concentrating on what it does versus a basket of currencies.
The potential consequence of that USD fixation is that if the $/CNY rate goes higher then there is a risk that capital flight picks back up again in tandem with expectations of further depreciation, no matter what the RMB is doing against that currency basket.
In the words of Goldman’s Robin Brooks and team:
China is pursuing a shift in its currency management, towards a trade-weighted exchange rate and away from the bilateral exchange rate versus the Dollar. That shift makes sense conceptually, given that monetary policy normalization in the US is likely to push the Dollar up, so that some weakening of the RMB versus the greenback can certainly be justified given China’s cyclical position. But the shift to a trade-weighted exchange rate has a weak link, which is that the main signal for households and businesses within China remains the bilateral exchange rate versus the Dollar.
First things first, and to repeat ourselves, China’s recent devaluation was pathetic.
We mean, really, what is this?
Chinese GDP or employment data, meh.
These days the only data that really matters are Chinese FX reserve statistics. The latest month’s position is due to be released overnight, and Daniel Tenengauzer of RBC Capital Markets expects we could be in for another episode of declining coffers:
We believe China will continue to post outflows for two reasons. First, interest rate differentials against the US declined by 200-250bp since January 2014. Even assuming no imminent lift-off in the Unites States any time soon, the flows will likely pull USD/CNY higher. We believe there is about USD400-500bn of pipeline demand in short-term international claims just to reverse some of the flows observed since 2010.
We estimate that in August there were about USD100bn of outflows. As global FX reserves accumulation turns around, the same things FX reserve managers aimed to buy in the past ten years or so will also turn around as well; this includes a variety of short duration fixed income products and alternative currencies to diversify trade weighted index baskets.
Whether the yuan is technically or fundamentally overvalued doesn’t really matter. China has reached the point in its growth cycle where it can no longer defend the yuan’s valuation against the USD without shedding reserves, something FT Alphaville readers may have heard us warning about since 2012. That was the moment it became obvious (to us at least) that something had changed in China. Enough external private debt had built up in the system to compromise the pegging regime unless it was accompanied with offsetting FX reserve dumps, or new capital inflows.
While it’s true FX reserves continued to build (chart below from Kit Juckes at SocGen), what was of greater interest was the overall UST position which — a better proxy for how many dollars are in the system — and the theoretical portion of those FX inflows which are coming into China on essentially leveraged terms: Read more
…so long as it catches value
– Deng Xiaoping (sort of)
We’ve already theorised that China depreciating the yuan against the dollar in stages will have helped to shake-out the short-term dollar leverage in the system before a Fed rate hike later this year.
But, as PRC Macro, a Hong-Kong based advisory, noted late last week, with dollar deposits at commercial banks still leaving the system, we may not be home-free on China’s private sector dollar and capital outflow exposure just yet:
Today the PBOC released foreign reserve data for July that provides evidence of an additional motive behind the Bank’s sudden devaluation of the RMB/ USD exchange rate earlier this week. Specifically, the outflow of foreign exchange from commercial banks – as shown by the net monthly change to foreign exchange deposits – gathered pace in July. On a month-over-month basis, net capital outflows increased from RMB 93 billion (US$ 15 billion) in June to RMB 257 billion (US$ 41 billion) in July, with total FX deposits down by 2% YoY. This decline to China’s foreign reserves also highlights the difficulties that the PBOC has faced where it comes to managing systemic liquidity and this may also have contributed to the timing of the Bank’s decision to devalue the RMB earlier this week.
To understand what happened in China this week we think the best financial analogy for China’s management of its economy and its external capital account is this: think of it as a giant money market fund.
So when the currency was officially devalued three times, it was equivalent to the Great China Money Market (GCMM) fund “breaking the buck”, a rare event when presumed safe investments turn out to not be so safe as thought.
We’re going to explain what that means in two posts, the first of which is the extended history of China’s economic management needed to realise how the world got to this point in the first place. Read more
China weakened the renminbi fixing by 1.86 per cent overnight, an unexpected move followed by the biggest one-day change in the value of the renminbi since the country abandoned its dollar peg for a managed trading band.
There are two schools of thought on this: Either balance of payment problems are forcing China’s hand, or the move is just another step in the slow and benign process of capital liberalisation.
On the first, well hey, they would depreciate in the current environment wouldn’t they? Exports are weak, the economy is sputtering, and the stock market can’t stay up without the state introducing a ban on it going down.
Move to a free-floating currency system? Meh. This is just another desperate devaluation story in the style of Nigeria, Russia before them and even peg busting Saudi Arabia on the back of a hard-currency drought in the offshore FX market. (FT Alphaville has predicted this for like ages, yeah?). Read more
Another BoAML FX observation on Thursday, this by way of Claudio Piron, emerging Asia FI/FX strategist, and his team.
On the analysts’ radar this week, the continuing risk of CNY depreciation, and in particular this chart:
As Goldman flagged this morning, December has brought with it $19bn of FX outflows from China. That’s the biggest move since 2007 (with our emphasis):
The position of FX purchases for the entire banking system (the PBOC plus commercial banks) decreased by about $19bn in December (vs. essentially flat in November)…
The FX outflow in December underlined the weakness in demand for the CNY, despite a strong trade balance of close to $50bn. The FX outflow size is the largest since December 2007 (and this earlier data point was skewed by the MOF’s FX injection in China’s sovereign wealth fund). The PBOC has been setting the daily USDCNY fix on the strong side of the spot rate since late November to counteract depreciation expectations. Today’s data suggest that besides displaying such a bias in fix setting, the central bank might have gone further in supporting the currency by buying CNY in the market. But we await PBOC balance sheet data, due out in the coming weeks, to confirm if it is indeed the case. The FX outflow also partly explains the slow M2 growth in December.
Clearly there are incentives for China to join the currency wars in earnest.
The RMB is up 6 per cent in Nominal Effective Exchange Rate terms since August 2014 with, say SocGen, the JPY, EUR, KRW and RUB the top contributors, accounting for 1.9pt, 1.3pt, 0.5pt and 0.4pt of the appreciation respectively. Honourable mention to the USD, naturally, against which the RMB is up 0.5 per cent.
For a couple of years now we’ve made the case that the Chinese currency isn’t undervalued as many people believe, but rather, overvalued — especially, once all the other fundamentals are considered.
But, of course, the mantra that the Chinese renminbi is being repressed by the government is so ingrained in investor consciousness, it’s the sort of “whacky” out of the box thinking that tends to draw sceptical denial.
In the last few days, however, a number of analysts seem to have realised that something has changed in the nature of global capital flows, which may mean views that were taken for granted for years no longer really apply. Read more
On Sunday Pimco issued an intriguing tweet from Bill Gross, the undisputed King of the bond mountain.
Nine days in and it’s still falling…
Some analysts had thought Beijing was ready to let the renminbi stabilise, but a sharp sell-off on Friday – at one point it declined 0.9 per cent, its biggest daily fall since the new currency system was introduced in 2005 – showed that the central bank was still determined to push it further.
“We’re still seeing PBoC intervention”, said a trader with a bank in Beijing. “This is beyond our expectations.”
Argue about more sweeping policy changes as you will (the bet is still basically on a PBoC attempt to deter speculative inflows) but maybe keep an eye on the 6.20 level as you do. Read more
Lombard Street’s Charles Dumas charts the overvaluation of the Chinese currency:
There aren’t many people out there who agree with us that China has a yuan overvaluation problem, and that floating the currency will result in the opposite of the expected effect. But there are some.
Diana Choyleva at Lombard Street research is one such economist.
In a note on Tuesday, she sums up the problem beautifully.
As she notes, the key issue is that China’s export-driven growth model, which depended on long-term currency devaluation, created excessive savings which encouraged unproductive investments at the expense of consumer spending. Accordingly, attempts to restructure the economy and make it more consumer-focused depended on an explicit currency appreciation path.
And yet, overturning a decade’s worth of competitive devaluation was never going to be easy. For one, it was bound to stifle China’s export advantage and simultaneously increase Chinese purchasing power abroad much more significantly than at home. Read more
The assumption for a long time has been that when a free floating yuan is finally born step 1 on its journey would be a joyous rush of capital inflows sweeping it upwards as foreigner investors finally got to jump into China with both feet.
But, as we’ve been arguing for a while, that might not be true anymore. Diana Choyleva of Lombard Street seems to agree: Read more
Thanks to Monument Securities’ Marc Ostwald for directing our attention to an interesting report from MNI on Tuesday regarding changing attitudes to the renminbi:
The PBOC made a “big mistake” in letting the yuan rise so quickly earlier this year because it has only swelled the level of foreign exchange onshore, creating potential problems when depreciation expectations rise and capital starts flowing out of the country, regulators contend. Read more
A couple of points from Deutsche Bank’s GEM Equity strategy team on Friday to file under the “it’s China, not the Fed, that’s driving everything at the moment” meme:
…‘we believe that the improvement in the Chinese economic and corporate data, which has become evident since the end of August, is not sustainable’ and that ‘the Chinese growth story is starting to unravel’. As regular readers will know, our negative structural view derives from an examination of the relationship between the corporate sector and the state, especially at a local level, which we have documented in two longer research reports (China’s corporate sector; a messy transition’, 15 May 2012, and ‘China; no quick fix for the Beijing model’, 30 August 2012). Read more
China announced last week that its State Administration of Foreign Exchange would remove the $1bn limit for foreign sovereign wealth funds, central banks and monetary authorities buying Chinese assets through the Qualified Institutional Investor Programme (QFII).
David referenced that this might turn out to be pretty significant as reserve managers are currently desperate to diversify their holdings out of euro and dollar.
But there’s another important factor to consider too. China is not a benevolent agent which just does things for the sake of pleasing other people. If it chooses to act you can bet your bottom yuan that it’s because it suits its own interests to do so. Read more
China’s balance of payments deficit in the second quarter was its first such deficit since 1998, and it attracted a lot of attention. Together with other bits of data about currency flows, it heightened fears about whether there was some kind of capital flight out of the country, and what it would mean for domestic monetary policy just as the economy became slightly stretched — but still somewhat inflationary.
But it’s not so bad, Societe Generale’s Wei Yao says. Yao looked through the details of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange data from Q2 and reckons most of it can be explained by fairly normal changes associated with the authorities’ tentative steps towards renminbi internationalisation: namely, an increase in private foreign currency deposits (as opposed to the official reserves), and credits to foreigners on domestic banks’ balance sheets. Read more
The reversal of currency flows in and out of China is continuing. The PBoC published data on Tuesday showing that the country’s banks were net sellers of yuan in July, selling Rmb3.8bn or $587m. As the WSJ’s Tom Orlik explains, this means that the banks’ foreign exchange purchases are lower than the monthly inflows from trade and investment, and it suggests some “hot money” is leaving — possibly in part because exporters and importers no longer want to settle in yuan.
Of course this is only a change in the direction of flows — and a small one when viewed in context. The chart below from Chinascope Financial demonstrates how, while the trend has been negative since September 2010 and particularly since September 2011, the banks’ overall forex position hasn’t changed that much in the past year: Read more
Meanwhile, in the domestic banking scene… [See part 1 on capital outflows here.]
China’s financial system stability is increasingly intertwined with its shadow banking system — which is big, according to various tallies. Bank of America Merrill Lynch says it accounts for a quarter of all bank loans, with the biggest segments being wealth management products or WMPs (8 per cent) and trust companies (8.9 per cent). Fitch Ratings says that WMPs now account for about 16 per cent of all commercial bank deposits; KPMG says trust companies will overtake insurance to become the second-biggest component of the financial sector. Read more
Izzy wrote in May how China’s Rmb exodus is a huge (and still little-explored) story for the world economy, and it’s one that won’t be going away as China recorded a net capital account deficit in Q2. We’re wondering now how this might collide with risks to domestic liquidity — specifically, whether a combination of Rmb exodus and local banking problems might affect the People’s Bank of China’s ability to maintain financial stability?
A very brief recap on the Chinese foreign reserves-domestic liquidity nexus: Read more
Mitt Romney, aspiring US president-to-be, has notoriously declared that if he ever takes office he will immediately name China a “currency manipulator”.
This, of course, is an ironic turn of events, given that China stopped being an outright currency manipulator a while ago. Read more
First, in a sign that Chinese woes are definitely rising and that authorities are now sufficiently concerned, we bring you news that China cut rates on Thursday (via Bloomberg):
China cut interest rates for the first time since 2008, stepping up efforts to combat a deepening economic slowdown as Europe’s worsening debt crisis threatens global growth. The one-year deposit rate will drop to 3.25 percent from 3.5 percent effective tomorrow, the People’s Bank of China said on its website today. The one-year lending rate will fall to 6.31 percent from 6.56 percent. Banks can offer a 20 percent discount to the benchmark lending rate, the PBOC said, widening from a previous 10 percent.
All that gradual exchange flexibility, and yet the renminbi is only weakening:
FT Alphaville has been focusing on signs that China may be suffering a “capital outflow” problem.
We also think global markets may be under appreciating the problem. Read more
One reserve currency to rule them all.
But does it need to be this way? Or is it indeed possible to have two, or even several such currencies? Or to get straight to the heart of it: can the euro or Chinese yuan ever have the status of the US dollar? Read more
There is a huge developing story in China’s currency, the renminbi.
After years of structural under-valuation, things are changing. Read more
Pretty much every China watcher, including us, has written in recent months about how reserve ratio requirement (RRR) cuts by the People’s Bank of China are not necessarily about credit easing. In fact these days, an RRR cut is not so much a move to make more credit available as it is to avoid reductions in liquidity.
Mark Dow, portfolio manager at Pharo Management, has a nice explanation of how this is, and where the RRR fits into the PBoC’s broader monetary policy. It starts with the policymakers’ credit expansion targets, which are believed to be about Rmb8tn to 8.5tn this year: Read more