William Cline and John Williamson of the Peterson Institute have updated their estimates of ‘fundamental equilibrium exchange rates’: an exceptionally valuable cheat sheet for working out which currencies are over and under valued. (In fact they have not updated the FEERs, just their estimates of over and under valuation). Read more
Domestic inflation seems a much likelier explanation for the recent appreciation of the yuan than American pressure. Many commentators have referred to the Chinese “bowing to pressure” or otherwise implied that the authorities have – without apparent trigger – capitulated to Western pressure. A quick look at the timing suggests otherwise. China is in the middle of a tightening extravaganza, raising interest rates and reserve requirements to tackle inflation. A strengthening yuan can have exactly the same effect, by making imports cheaper. Timing is only circumstantial evidence, of course, but it is something.
Want to buy RUB/CNY directly? May soon be a possibility, the Russian central bank has told Chinese ambassador Li Hui. Xinhua reports a statement of intent from deputy head, Victor Melnikov, to the effect that Bank Rossii is willing to co-operate with China to effect a direct currency exchange between rouble and yuan.
Both countries are keen to deepen “financial co-ordination and mutual investment”, according to state-run media Xinhua. Dr Melnikov noted the economic and strategic significance of a direct exchange between the two currencies; the Chinese ambassador echoed these sentiments, and was keen to support Sino-Russian co-operation in economic, energy and science projects.
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
Eight former US trade representatives and commerce secretaries pop up in the renminbi debate, warning Congress against legislating. No doubt timed to coincide with the deliberations on the Hill, with Ways and Means chairman Sander Levin having to decide which of the various options he wants to go with.
Easy to urge others to take a politically difficult route once you are out of office and don’t have to be re-elected, of course, but still might be an interesting contribution. The letter was distributed, btw, by the US-China Business Council, an association of multinationals active in China, which has been lobbying hard on the issue.
Somewhat as predicted, or at least predicted by me, Tim Geithner went as far as he could go in suggesting that various options were on the table for trying to push the Chinese into letting the exchange rate rise without giving any hostages to fortune.
The Murphy-Ryan bill (similar to Schumer-Graham in the Senate) got respectful attention and the possibility of support, though no commitment. Naming China as a currency manipulator, though, seems still to be off the table. Read more
Big day on the Hill on Thursday as Mr Secretary does the rounds talking about China: the Senate banking committee in the morning and the House of Reps ways and means committee (which spent yesterday on another auto da fe hearing about the Chinese currency) in the afternoon. He faces a Blondinesque balancing act of being mad enough at Chinese foreign exchange intervention to placate angry lawmakers while not committing to precipitous and possibly WTO-illegal action like agreeing to currency tariffs.
Last time he was in this position, on June 10, Geithner rather neatly managed to amplify the complaints of senators in the hope that they would be heard in Beijing without necessarily endorsing them. Nine days later, China unpegged the renminbi. He will most probably try some version of this again on Thursday and hope that puts enough pressure on Beijing to take its foot off the renminbi brake for a while. Would that placate the senators and the congressmen? No. (Appearing in front of congressional committees, Geithner somewhat resembles a put-upon nephew who has been deputed to break some bad news to a gang of irascible uncles.) But would it do enough to stop them forcing currency legislation on to a crowded fall legislative schedule? Probably, yes.
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
Yowkers. Interesting timing for Japan to go back into the FX markets and sell the yen for the first time in six years. On Wednesday the US Congress cranks up its China currency campaign again, this time the House as well as the Senate coming up with a bill allowing the US to block Chinese imports on grounds of currency misalignment.
As I wrote before, it’s not clear which way this development cuts. Does it make it easier to confront China because another G7 country has been forced to deal with the effects of Chinese currency intervention, or does it make it harder to argue that China should stop intervening when Beijing can point at Tokyo and say “them too”? 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
It’s as if the depegging never happened: the latest exchange rate set by China places the value of the yuan squarely within its original trading bounds.
On June 18, when the yuan was still pegged, it was trading at 6.8275 per dollar, with a 0.5 per cent tolerance each side (blue lines). Since then, the daily midpoint, published by foreign exchange regulator Safe, has generally valued the currency very slightly stronger than its original band. Not today. Read more
“If [the central bank] had raised the value of renminbi in March and raised interest rates in April, financial markets would have been more stable.” This from Japanese media Asahi Shimbun, interviewing Zhou Qiren, a member of the Monetary Policy Committee, an advisory body to the People’s Bank of China.
The short interview transcript is well worth a read. Mr Qiren also points out one obvious consequence of a more flexible, or floating, currency: its value may fall as well as rise. If exports were to start suffering, the yuan would weaken to help the economy, Mr Qiren said. So far, the value of the yuan has strengthened almost imperceptibly: the blue lines on the chart are the tolerance levels for the original value of the yuan on 19 June. (h/t Market Watch)
Is the People’s Bank of China planning to further liberate the yuan? The central bank has cut the commitment to “keep the yuan’s exchange rate basically stable” from its latest currency communique. The rest of the message repeated the existing policy, i.e. to improve the currency’s exchange rate mechanism, and adjust its value with reference to a basket of foreign currencies.
Although the currency’s peg was loosened on June 19, the daily midpoint set by Safe has barely strayed out of the tolerance levels of the original peg; the currency need only have been 0.3 per cent weaker to meet the original, pegged criteria. Against the US claims of the yuan’s ‘true value’, the currency’s ‘strengthening’ is barely discernible.
Finally, here is the Treasury report on international exchange rate policies.
Originally, the document had been scheduled to be released in mid-April, but it was delayed by the US government as it attempted to negotiate an appreciation in the renminbi while holding off mounting pressure to punish the Chinese from infuriated members of Congress.
As expected, the US is once again not naming China a currency “manipulator”, but only stating that its currency is “undervalued”. That outcome was a foregone conclusion since June 19, when China depegged from renminbi from the dollar, the first step towards appreciation.
In a statement yesterday, Tim Geithner, US treasury secretary, was cautious about the implications of the move. “What matters is how far and how fast the renminbi appreciates,” he said. Read more
Who needs context? “Yuan ends near post-revaluation high,” runs one of many excitable headlines.
Since the great unpegging, the yuan hit a ‘peak’ of 6.7801 on Wednesday. That’s a peak-to-trough movement of 0.69 per cent in the past nine days. For comparison, the dollar-sterling exchange rate peak-to-trough movement has been four times that, at 2.9 per cent. Read more
Today, for the first time, the midpoint set by Safe exceeded the 0.5 per cent tolerance bands set around the original exchange rate of 6.8275 – by half a basis point.
Not as historic as many expected at the start of the week. But then ‘flexibility’ does not mean ‘strength’: a flexible exchange rate can go up or down. Geoff Dyer, the FT’s China bureau chief, points out that domestic and international takes on the new policy differ greatly – principally because their desires differ greatly. Internationally, a stronger yuan is wanted. Domestically, the “export lobby is welcoming [flexibility] as a way of protecting itself from a weaker euro.”
China’s new policy has not completely ruled out the prospects of a political showdown. The obvious flashpoint is if the euro does weaken substantially again.
One of the big risks for the Chinese authorities in beginning to gently appreciate the currency is that they set up a one-way bet for investors who believe that the renminbi can only get stronger from now on. Large inflows of hot money could make it difficult to conduct monetary policy, officials fear, and might potentially aggravate inflation.
That explains why there has been much more talk since Saturday about volatility in renminbi trading and using a currency basket as a reference. When China abandoned its currency peg in 2005, it said the renminbi would trade against a currency basket of its main trading partners, but in reality it trailed the US dollar and was much less volatile than the 0.5 per cent daily trading bands allowed.
“In one area, the emphasis will be different this time,” says Li Daokui, a central bank advisor who believes the authorities will pay more attention now to the basket in which the euro plays a large role. Economists who have been briefed by the central bank say that there will also be more daily volatility, in order to keep speculators on their toes.
This means that in principle, says Mr Li, that if the euro gets much weaker, the renminbi could fall against the dollar. Richard Yetsenga at HSBC says something similar: Read more
Forward prices for the renminbi are surging even though there is no exchange rate shift yet from the People’s Bank of China, which announced on Saturday it would “enhance flexibility” of the exchange rate. In a defensive statement lacking detail, the Bank said it would:
“further enable market to play a fundamental role in resource allocation, promote a more balanced BOP account, maintain the RMB exchange rate basically stable at an adaptive and equilibrium level, and achieve the macroeconomic and financial stability in China.”
But two things suggest this change will not prove as significant as it could be. First, the language. The statement talks of ‘furthering’ and ‘enhancing’ the current policy, rather than changing it. The only change word, ‘reform’, is used to refer to a continuing process.
Second, the defensive tone and text. “The basis for Read more
The travails of the euro and the US’s soft-pedalling on the renminbi having emptied Tim Geithner’s trip to China of much potential drama, the revaluation lobby back in Washington have tried a new tack. Charles Schumer, senator for Stronger Renminbi, and some of his colleagues have demanded that Beijing authorise the release of the staff report which forms part of China’s annual “Article 4″ IMF healthcheck for last year and includes the fund staff’s views on the exchange rate. More than 80 pc of IMF member countries publish staff reports, but China, as it is entitled to do, is not among them. It releases instead something at one remove, a rather more opaque summing up of the IMF executive board’s discussion of the report.
The IMF has been embroiled in these rows before, and for a while went so far as to refuse to discuss the Chinese economy in the executive board to avoid disputes. But it has also stated pretty clearly that it thinks the renminbi should be liberalised, and still not much has happened. While it’s good to have US senators pressing the cause of transparency within the IMF, with whatever motive, it’s pretty unlikely that what the fund thinks is going to tip the policy balance in Beijing.