People’s Bank of China

Every two weeks, on average. That’s how often China is introducing some form of tightening at the moment. The People’s Bank has just increased the reserve ratio again, by 50 basis points, or a half of one percentage point. This increases the amount of cash banks have to keep with the central bank, thus reducing the amount available to lend. Our calculations suggest rural and small-medium sized banks will have to keep 15.5 per cent of their deposits with the central bank, while larger banks will need to keep 19 per cent. In October of last year, PBoC introduced a further division between banks, increasing the reserve requirements of the six largest banks temporarily, keeping the ratio of other large financial institutions on hold. If that division has now expired, the ratio for the six largest banks is now also 19 per cent. The move will be effective January 20.

Mopping up liquidity in this way is one tool to combat inflation. Another is to let one’s currency appreciate. Signals have been sent today from a senior central bank official that China will allow further flexibility in the yuan. “Flexibility” is a one-way bet in the markets at the moment, and the State Administration of Foreign Exchange today set the central parity rate of the yuan at 6.5896 against the dollar, a new record.

Since the Christmas break, a few developments in south-east Asia: China and Taiwan have both raised rates.

China raised its one-year base lending and deposit rates by 25bp, leaving them at 5.81 and 2.75 per cent, respectively. The People’s Bank last raised rates on October 19, also by 25bp. Other tightening measures have been used in the two-month interim, mostly increases in the reserve requirement (50bp on Nov 10, 50bp on Nov 19, 50bp on Dec 10). Read more

Remember how every man and his dog were speculating about an imminent interest rate hike in China?

Well it seems most analysts have now changed their tune.

From Bloomberg on Monday:

China’s benchmark interest-rate swaps fell for the third day on speculation policy makers will refrain from raising interest rates before year-end. Bonds rose.

Banks’ reserve requirements and central bank bill sales may be better tools for controlling inflation than interest rates because higher rates may attract capital inflows and pressure repayment of local borrowings, reported the People’s Daily today, citing Ba Shusong, a researcher for the nation’s cabinet.

The amount of cash lenders must set aside as reserves will rise by 50 basis points from today, the sixth increase this year.

“We don’t see a further interest-rate hike by the end of the year as the central bank already increased the reserve requirement ratio,” said Emmanuel Ng, a strategist in Singapore at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. “Bill auctions, where yields haven’t been that aggressive, show there’s no rush to raise interest rates.”

Market consensus is now increasingly suggesting that China will restrict itself to quantitative tightening rather than deploy any outright interest rate hikes to cool inflation. And, if rate rises were to come, they would only be very gradually implemented.

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China’s biggest banks will need to place 19 per cent of their deposits with their central bank from December 20. The People’s Bank of China has raised the depository reserve requirement by 50bp for the third time in five weeks, and the sixth time this year. Presumably – though this is not detailed in the release – the reserve requirement for China’s small- and medium- sized banks will be 17 per cent.

No reason was given for the move, which will mop up excess cash in the system and dampen inflation. An alternative tightening move – to raise interest rates – has not been taken since October 20. The last two reserve-requirement raises were effective November 16 and 29.

Monetary tightening in China just sped up. The Chinese central bank has just announced another 50bp increase in the deposit reserve ratio – which will happen at the end of November. The previous hike on November 10 was also 50bp and was expected to remove about $45bn liquidity from the Chinese economy.

Presumably – though this is not detailed in the release – the new reserve ratios will be: 18.5 per cent for six largest banks; 18 per cent for other large banks; and 16 per cent for small- and medium- sized banks. China is also raising rates – a 25bp hike took place a month ago and there have been further rumours since then and today in the markets (though perhaps the reserve increase will substitute). Read more

Chinese equities have plummeted on rumours that the People’s Bank of China plans to raise rates again to combat inflation, which came in at 4.4 per cent for October. Consumer prices rose substantially during the month – the annual rate was just 3.6 per cent in September.

The Shanghai Composite lost more than 5 per cent, with financial services and resource sectors hit particularly hard and dozens of stocks falling by their 10 per cent daily limit. Read more

Former Fed chair Alan Greenspan has an article in today’s FT. It’s quite blunt about China and the US. “Both may be right about each other,” he says. “America is pursuing a policy of currency weakening,” while China’s reserve accumulation has caused exchange rate suppression for “competitive export advantage”. China and the US aren’t just hurting each other: the joint effect of their policies is to strengthen other currencies, placing those countries at a disadvantage.

Unlike most pundits hand-wringing over the current state of play, Mr Greenspan proposes a solution. It is quite radical. The G20, he says, can propose a new rule through the IMF that “limits the accumulation of reserve assets and sterilisation of capital flows”. “It would be easier to maintain and control than a stability and growth pact,” he says, referring to the “failed” eurozone agreement.

Well, yes, it would be easier. But the fact he has considered a stability and growth pact for sovereign states with separate currencies is staggering. The monetary proposal is also radical. Read more

More on that China rumour (which is no longer a rumour). The People’s Bank does plan to raise the deposit reserve requirement by 50bp, broadening and making permanent a temporary measure introduced almost exactly a month ago. The move, which takes effect on November 16, is expected to reduce liquidity by $45bn.

Back then, the measure affected six large commercial banks for two months. Four of those six banks will now see their deposit reserve requirement ratio (ratio) rise to 18 per cent. Other large deposit-taking institutions will see their ratio rise to 17.5 per cent, while small- and medium- sized banks will have a ratio of 15.5 per cent. Read more

Three rumours doing the rounds this morning. First, that China might be about to raise reserve requirements again. The People’s Bank of China will raise reserve requirements for “several” banks, including key lenders, by 50bp on Monday, Dow Jones newswires reports via AFP. Chinese prices rose significantly between August and September, with year-on-year consumer price inflation standing at 3.6 per cent in September. China has recently employed other tightening measures, such as raising a key interest rate by 25bp last week.

Second rumour: that the Bank of Japan’s contributions to the Treasury will be waived or reduced if the central bank incurs losses in its asset purchase programme. Nikkei English News reports, via Bloomberg, that finance minister Yoshihiko Noda may soon make an official announcement. Read more

A deputy governor at the People’s Bank of China has indirectly criticised the Fed’s $600bn stimulus plan, saying emerging market economies will have to stay alert for inflation and bubbles as a result of the scheme. Ma Delun also said the stimulus might also increase global imbalances, though it might help the US economy “to some extent”.

Similar comments – which amount to indirect accusations of selfish irresponsibility – were levelled by the Brazilian central bank governor on Friday. Henrique Meirelles said: “excess liquidity in the US is creating problems in other countries” and that this should be addressed at G20 meetings in South Korea. Read more

China’s central bank has signalled a shift toward rate normalisation, following its recent rate rise. The People’s Bank said it will “gradually guide monetary conditions back to the normal state while continuing the comparative loose monetary,” according to Xinhua. The remarks were made in the Bank’s third quarter Monetary Policy Implementation report released before the Fed meeting and not yet available in English.

China’s change in tone may usher in a new period of tightening, as inflationary pressures mount. The Fed’s decision to pump $600bn into the US economy will push down the dollar. Since the renminbi closely tracks the dollar, the Chinese currency will not be allowed to strengthen proportionately, and the extra money in the system will increase the supply of renminbi, adding to inflationary pressure. Read more

China’s trade surplus is beginning to rise again and the government has made only “limited progress” in rebalancing its economy towards domestic consumption, the World Bank said on Wednesday. The bank also upgraded its forecast for growth this year by half a percentage point to 10 per cent, but said that interest rates needed to rise further if inflationary expectations were to be kept in check.

The bank’s quarterly report on China is closely watched and was largely upbeat on the short-term prospects for the economy, despite fears over the summer about a possible hard landing. However, amid fierce international debates about China’s currency policy which could come to a head at next week’s G20 summit in South Korea, the bank cautioned that China needed to make a big push on its agenda of structural reforms if it was to reduce its large external surplus. “Rebalancing will not happen by itself – it will require substantial policy adjustment,” the report said.

China will raise its benchmark one-year lending and deposit rates by 25 basis points effective Wednesday, the People’s Bank of China has said. The move takes the one-year deposit rate to 2.5 per cent, and the one-year lending rate to 5.56 per cent.

Raising rates will dampen domestic demand for credit, which has remained high despite efforts to restrict bank lending. A different tightening measure was reported last week, when China’s central bank temporarily raised the reserve requirement by 50bp for six major banks. This also removes money from the system and restricts credit availability.

The recent weakening of the dollar will have added to existing inflationary pressures in China. The renminbi closely tracks the dollar; if it were free-floating, the Chinese currency would have strengthened as the dollar fell. Annual inflation was reported as 3.5 per cent in August. September’s data is due out on Thursday, and expectations are for a slight rise.

In a slight twist to a straightforward tale of monetary policy, one Reuters interviewee has suggested we are witnessing the result of a Sino-American agreement. Read more

The IMF has tried to rally the troops at a meeting in China, urging central bankers to maintain the international co-operation forged during the financial crisis, and looking to Asia to lead the way.

At an IMF-sponsored meeting of central bankers and regulatory luminaries in Shanghai, an “important consensus” was reached, according to PBoC deputy governor Yi Gang, on the need for international co-operation in ensuring strong macro-prudential policies, because systemic risks “are very likely to spread over borders.” In practice, this means central banks and national regulators taking on more international roles.

Central banks also need to take a broader view domestically, said IMF managing director Dominique Strauss Kahn, seeming to suggest that financial stability would be part of central banks’ remits going forward. “Clearly, conventional macroeconomic policies and macro-prudential tools are intrinsically linked, just as price stability and financial stability are intrinsically linked,” Strauss-Kahn said. “We need a holistic approach, which means a changing role for central banks in the years ahead.” Read more

China has temporarily increased the reserve ratio required from six large commercial banks banks. For two months, the banks will need to keep 17.5 per cent of depositors’ balances on hand, instead of 17 per cent. With banks hoarding more cash, money supply and credit availability will fall in China. In two months’ time, the reserve ratio is expected to return to 17 per cent.

The surprise move, reported by Reuters from four unnamed sources, may be a response to rising capital flows, rather than a prelude to monetary tightening. It could also be intended as a warning to banks rumoured to have stepped up their lending in September, above government targets. Read more

The People’s Bank of China repeated its commitment to increasing its currency flexibility on Wednesday, the day before the US votes on a bill that would allow American companies to ask for tariffs on Chinese imports to compensate for a perceived undervaluation of the yuan.

From Business WeekRead more

East Asian currencies are anything but stable viewed against the dollar: the Thai baht recently topped a 13-year high – and the yen and ringgit have both outpaced the baht’s rise so far this year. Viewed against each other, of course, these appreciating currencies are more stable.

New research challenges the habit of viewing all currencies against the dollar. It goes on to suggest that “considerable regional currency stability” can be achieved in east Asia if countries target the same basket of currencies as each other – even with no “explicit co-operation”.

China’s currency policy between mid-2006 and mid-2008 should be seen in this light, the paper argues; the simple view of the renminbi against the dollar does not explain the facts nearly as well. “The RMB behaved in this two-year period as if it were managed to appreciate gradually over time against its trade-weighted basket of currencies,” argue Guonan Ma and Robert N McCauley of BIS.  Read more

There are two massive fixed exchange rate blocs operating in the world economy today, and both of them face severe strains and conflicts. The eurozone is beset by problems which are typical of fixed rate blocs in the past, with the main surplus country (Germany) refusing to increase aggregate demand, thus forcing the deficit countries to reduce demand in order to stay within the currency arrangement. This, they appear willing to do, or at least to try.

Meanwhile, the China/US bloc also has a (nearly) fixed exchange rate, and once again the surplus country (China) is refusing, or is unable, to expand domestic demand enough to eliminate the trade imbalance. But, in this case, the deficit country (the US) is increasingly unwilling to accept the consequences, and is adopting policies which are designed to break up the bloc altogether. Two blocs with somewhat similar problems, but very different responses and outcomes for the deficit countries.

In making this analogy, it is of course important to accept that the institutional arrangements surrounding the world’s two major blocs could hardly be more different, with the eurozone established as a single currency area, while the Sino/US bloc is officially a linked but flexible exchange rate area. But the critical feature of both areas is that nominal exchange rate adjustments are not permitted to equilibrate trade imbalances within either of the two blocs, so a persistent pattern of large current account imbalances has emerged. Germany and China are the two economies where chronic surpluses have emerged, while the Club Med economies and the US have the corresponding chronic deficits. Read more

Whether prompted by inflation or politics, the yuan continues to strengthen, today at its highest level against the dollar since 1993. Seen in context, the strengthening is small – it’s the little squiggle on the far right of the chart, right. Compared to the currency’s ‘real’ value – according to the US – of USD1:RMB4-5, the shift is hard to spot.

But we have now seen five days of appreciation in a row, and the judicious appreciation of the Chinese currency makes good headlines, breaking records along the way. As Alan points out, it is likely to be just enough to deflect criticism at the G20. The chart below shows the daily midpoint set by Safe, the forex regulator, against the tolerance band of the original peg. Read more

China will allow foreign central banks and overseas lenders to start investing in the country’s domestic interbank bond market for the first time, in a move aimed at encouraging internationalisation of the Chinese currency.

The People’s Bank of China, the central bank, said on Tuesday it had launched a pilot project to allow greater foreign access to its largely closed domestic interbank bond market in order to “encourage cross-border Rmb [renminbi] trade settlement” and “broaden investment channels for Rmb to flow back [to China]”. Read more