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.
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.
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.
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 Week:
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.
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.
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.
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]”.
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.