China’s central bank has spoken of measuring the yuan “with reference to a currency basket”. One of the bank’s academic advisers, Xia Bin, said the change in language suggests a change to the dollar peg, reports Business Week. An economist at Morgan Stanley interpreted the shift in the wording of the report as significant, and yuan forward prices have been rising for the past two days on speculation of a rise in the currency.

Reining in property speculation is not enough to combat inflation. An advisor to the Chinese central bank has said there is a fundamental problem with the PBoC mandate.

Zhou Qiren said there was “conflict” between the bank’s forex intervention and its job to manage liquidity and control inflation, reports Bloomberg. Speaking of the record levels of lending in 2009, he said: “Unless there are very forceful measures, that large amount of money will flow through the market. Even if you put lid on in one place, it will emerge somewhere else.” Read more

Growing evidence suggests a stronger yuan would not help the US economy nearly as much as thought, if at all. Even increased Chinese consumption is shown not to help much. So why do these assumptions continue to underpin politicians’ rhetoric?

First, the evidence:

  1. Yuan revaluation could cut global growth by 1.5 per cent (April 26)
  2. Chinese saving less and spending more would have very little impact on US jobs (April 25)
  3. A 15 per cent appreciation of the RMB would reduce the American trade deficit by 5 per cent by the end of next year, but would be short-lived and would not flow through to GDP (April 16);
  4. “Chinese revaluation is in the interests of China, not the US” (April 16)
  5. “People seem to ascribe a ridiculously outsized role to China’s currency policy in producing China’s trade surplus and America’s trade deficit. The level of rhetoric is simply not consistent with the impact of the peg.” (March 15)

Even large changes in Chinese currency or consumption have little effect on the other side of the Pacific: US-China trade is simply too small to transmit much of the effect, so the arguments run.

So, second, why the continued assumption Read more

Alan Beattie

We generally call it the renminbi round here, but yuan gives a better headline. Just come out of a briefing from the UK’s Alistair Darling, taking a break from the general election campaign (for those taking notes, he’s got a majority of 7,242, not the safest seat in the world but not a marginal).

Darling had just stepped out of the IMF ministerial committee meeting in which, he informed us when I asked him, the words “yuan” and “renminbi” were never uttered. Apparently they discussed global economic imbalancing in somewhat broader terms. And the 800-pound panda in the corner of the room went ignored.

From Reuters:-

China’s foreign exchange regulator is considering cutting short-term foreign debt quotas for some commercial banks, three sources familiar with the situation said on Friday, as it seeks to curb speculation over yuan appreciation. Read more

“Chinese revaluation is not in the US interest.” This is one of the major conclusions from a collection of short essays on the Sino-US currency dispute (eBook). Other conclusions are that a revaluation is in China’s interest, and that the size of the RMB undervaluation is between 2.5 and 27.5 per cent.

The conclusions back up research performed by PwC for Money Supply on Friday. They found that while a renminbi appreciation would reduce the US trade deficit, the effects would not flow through to GDP and would, at any rate, be short-lived.

A 15 per cent appreciation of the renminbi would reduce the American trade deficit by just 5 per cent by the end of next year, and the effects would not significantly increase GDP. Read more

Alan Beattie

The latest of a stream of paper out of the IMF in the run-up to its meetings next week came out today: the analytical chapters (as opposed to the forecast) of the world economic outlook. Personally I’ve always thought they were more interesting than the forecast, since no-one is that good at macroeconomic forecasting and the Fund doesn’t have access to much more information than anyone else.

Anyway, this one is on economies that have exited from large current account surpluses and how they did it. Short of calling the chapter Memo To Beijing, it could scarcely be less explicit. No big surprise that they recommend an appreciating exchange rate. Read more

Alan Beattie

Wow. I take my hat off to the combined drafting skills of the US Treasury and the Chinese for this inspired bit of calculated dullness, of almost North Korean calibre. That’s an object lesson in damping down speculation about deals over an end to the renminbi peg, for one news cycle at least. In a cricketing culture, that would be called playing with a dead bat. For the US and China, it’s smothering the ember of news with the wettest of wet blankets.

Alan Beattie

So now it looks like the April 15 deadline for the US Treasury’s currency report is conveniently going to slip, largely because it would look a bit churlish to welcome Hu Jintao to Washington for the April 12-13 nuclear talks and then hang a big scarlet sign saying “MANIPULATOR” round his neck as soon as he steps off the plane. Most likely it will also slip beyond the “strategic and economic dialogue” meeting that the US is having with China in May. And then maybe beyond the G20 at the end of June? Or perhaps, if the US has piped down about the currency for a couple of months, China might announce a float, or a crawling revaluation, some time in June.

But one question is whether Congress is prepared to wait that long. Charles Schumer (Dem, NY, not a fan of China) wants to introduce his bill allowing a limited form of currency retaliation against China by the end of May. The key question for the coming weeks is how much patience Capitol Hill has with waiting both for the currency report and for Beijing to move. Congress might secretly be paragons of patience. But they sure don’t look like it.

Alan Beattie

This letter the other day from Barack Obama, Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy, Lee Myung-Bak and Stephen Harper looks at first sight like the usual bland exhortations for everyone to do better. (Why didn’t Angela Merkel sign, btw? Too busy with Greece?) But the semiotics are a bit more complex. The bit about “We all understand that ongoing trade, fiscal and structural imbalances cannot lead to strong and sustainable growth” looks pretty much like a pointed jab at China.

So does this mean the currency wars are going to break out in the G20? Since the grouping is supposed to work on consensus, it has generally shied away from arguments about exchange rates, which have the potential to blow up any meeting or institution in which they take place. Throwing them into the mix will make G20 meetings a lot livelier, at least. I’m not convinced it’s wise, though, for a joint letter apparently aimed at China to be signed exclusively by a gang of rich countries. If the US wants to use the G20 to put pressure on the Chinese, it will have to get on board emerging market countries also suffering from renminbi undervaluation, Brazil being the obvious example. The last thing the US wants is to replicate the unhelpfully rigid rich-country-vs.-poor-country divisions that have blocked progress in the WTO.

Robin Harding

I’ve been asking around Tokyo about views on the push in the US for a stronger renminbi. See also Kevin Brown’s excellent piece in the paper yesterday.

The basic answer is: yes, a controlled and gradual appreciation in the renminbi against the dollar would be a good thing, to sustain global growth and reduce global imbalances. Read more

Alan Beattie

The battle over exchange rates between Beijing and Washington is warming up nicely after a few years’ hiatus, only with a bit more urgency this time. Today’s hearing at the House Ways and Means committee canvassed proposals for what to do about it. Interestingly, there was more consensus among the experts testifying than previously that China holding down the renminbi was a serious problem. But the solutions all seemed less than forceful: call China a currency manipulator, go to the IMF, go to the WTO.

The more confrontational solutions, like imposing anti-subsidy duties to combat currency undervaluation, didn’t get much support. Sandy Levin, the Michigan Democrat who currently chairs the committee, has a reputation as a sceptic of free-trade purists, but he sounded pretty cautious about anything that might touch off a direct confrontation. Read more

Breaking Views’ Wei Gu has a must-read piece out examining who controls the currency. Tip: it’s not the People’s Bank of China, described as a ‘paper tiger’.

The Chinese central bank comes 27th in an official list of 28 ministries, behind the Family Planning Commission and only ahead of the National Audit Office: Read more

Americans are again clamouring for a rise in the renminbi. First, the moral argument: keeping the currency pegged at about 6.83 to the dollar lends Chinese exporters an unfair advantage, critics argue, increasing the Chinese trade surplus. Second, the pragmatic argument: China will have to let the yuan appreciate to combat inflation.

Today, the counter-arguments. Read more

China is carrying out stress tests on labor-intensive industries to gauge the effect a stronger yuan would have on earnings, reports Bloomberg (itself reporting local paper the 21st Century Business Herald). Consequent speculation on the yuan has pushed forward prices up.

The yuan’s value has been kept at about 6.83 per dollar since July 2008, following a 21 per cent advance over three years, as policymakers intervened to help exporters weather a global recession. Read more

More than half of all children in the US will use food stamps at some point, predicts new research. Equities fall sharply in the UK and Europe, in spite of strong manufacturing data, amid fresh concerns about mortgage-backed securities and the possibility of a second round of stimulus in the US Read more

Krishna Guha

Dominique Strauss-Kahn tells the Financial Times’ Krishna Guha that the IMF is going to talk about currencies when it reports back to the G20 on balanced growth Read more