EconoChina

A blog on Chinese economy & society

Posts Tagged ‘revaluation

Is the RMB going to depreciate?

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After reporting the highest amount of trade surplus in 18 months, and hearing an expected cacophony of calls for RMB appreciation, the spot Yuan rate has actually traded down. The dramatic fall in foreign currency loans undertaken by Chinese exporters has also indicated sharply lowered expectation for any appreciation, if at all.

According to the Century Weekly, foreign currency loans plummeted by USD5.6bn in July, on the heel of USD0.7bn and USD1.4bn declines in June and May, respectively.

Chinese exporters traditionally take out these loans to supplement their income if they expect the RMB to appreciate. The last time these loans fell was during the 7/2008-2/20009 period, at the height of the financial crisis. In fact the RMB was even expected to depreciate in late 2008.

Could this be a rerun?

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Written by Cindy Luk

August 12, 2010 at 5:22 am

Posted in China, Macro

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Sparring of words over the RMB

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All focus has been on the “unusually uncertain” comment by Bernanke, though the hearing touched on Chinese currency issue as well. As reported by Reuters:

Under questioning by one of those lawmakers, Senator Sherrod Brown, Bernanke answered “yes” when asked if he stood by a statement he made several years ago calling China’s exchange-rate policy an effective subsidy.

When pressed how much China’s yuan was undervalued, Bernanke said: “The numbers that you see in the literature range between the 10 and 30 percent range.”

As November approaches, it’s only expected that the US will push harder on this front. But are they going to get their wish fulfilled? This one is from AFP:

“The exchange rate of the currency will decline if it becomes necessary to support exports,” Zhou [Qiren, a member of the central bank’s monetary policy committee] told the Asahi Shimbun [of Japan] in an interview, according to the paper’s English-language website.

I don’t know about you, but I think Chinese exports will weaken substantially in H2 as the US non-recovery recovery sputters and European austerity kicks in. China’s own stimulus is also losing steam, so much so that the banks are quietly relenting on strict lending restrictions.  If you think China’s going to become a good Samaritan in this environment, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

Written by Cindy Luk

July 22, 2010 at 3:30 am

Chinese labor disputes and consumption

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The AP has a nice article on the recent labor disputes, in the context of the transition of Chinese economy.

Boosting wages fits in with Beijing’s strategy of closing the income gap and promoting more equal growth in coming years, said Liu Shanying, an analyst at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Political Science in Beijing.

“If incomes won’t go up, how can domestic demand be boosted? Strikes for better pay are very much in line with the big trend of Chinese economic development,” he said.

One reason behind the more assertive work force is a shifting job market since China pumped up its economy with massive stimulus spending to fend off the global recession. Manufacturing has begun to expand into the Chinese interior, leaving traditional industrial enclaves on the coast competing for labor and giving workers a stronger bargaining position.

Workers “have the upper hand, and also sense the government is trying to address inequalities, so the workers feel more comfortable in pushing for high wages,” said Lee. [Chang-Hee Lee, a specialist on industrial relations at the International Labour Organization’s Beijing office.]

As I said before, all these are part and parcel of China’s push to rebalance its economy geographically (away from the Eastern coast) and structurally (towards households and consumption). Therefore, China is going down the path of internal revaluation rather than external adjustment via the currency. As a result, we are going to see an explosion of Chinese consumption in the coming decade. But GDP is likely to be more moderated. There already have been discussions on the viability of the current 8% “minimum growth target”. Not that China needs that high a growth rate anymore, with less people entering the workforce due to changes in demographics.

Does this mean the recent change in currency regime is nothing but a hoax? Yes if you are an exporter competing against China. But for China, this is just a necessary step towards turning the RMB into a reserve currency in the future. With substantial internal revaluation and the elimination of many export subsidies, some punters are already calling the RMB overvalued. Li Dao-kui, a member of the Chinese Monetary Policy Committee, suggested that it would take the RMB 10-15 years to be fully convertible and competitive as a reserve currency.

Written by Cindy Luk

June 27, 2010 at 9:31 pm

The real Chinese revaluation story

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The media has been busy propagating and debunking the RMB revaluation story, but I think both narratives are off-target. Yes, China is having a significant revalution, just not with its currency.

Instead, China has chosen an aggressive program of internal revaluation, i.e. raising costs for the exporters internally, by inducing wage-led inflation, cutting export subsidies, and stiffening environmental regulations etc.

Most of the recent coverage of China’s labor disputes have focused on the workers’ being simply more demanding in sharing the spoils. But one should also note the subtle, and very important, support that the Chinese government is giving them. Besides rallying behind the workers in state media, labor activists have been allowed to organize freely (rare for China’s pro-capital government), so long that they train the target on wage demand only. Raising the minimum wage is also a cue for the workers that their action is being sanctioned by the state.

Why is China going this route instead of currency appreciation recommended by the developed economies? Well, this is simply a better way of adjustment for China. With currency appreciation, the losses to Chinese exporters become gains for exporters in other countries, i.e. a net loss of wealth for China. With internal revaluation, the benefits go towards Chinese workers, i.e. only a redistribution of wealth within China. This later approach also helps in building up a middle class and reorient the economy towards more consumption.

Another way to achieve internal revaluation is by cutting export subsidies. China has announced cutting export rebates on over 400 types of products deemed energy-intensive or polluting. This allows the government to target only industries deemed inefficient and force them to upgrade, and helps soothing trade relations with the West as a bonus.

The implementation of environmental regulations has also been tightened, to the benefits of future generations of Chinese. Again, this is an area that simple currency appreciation may not be as effective.

At the end of the day, although China has decided to bite the bullet and pony up for rebalancing its economy, it still seeks to minimize the costs and maximize the benefits. It’s just that their preferred method may not be the most desirable one from the POV of the developed economies.

Written by Cindy Luk

June 24, 2010 at 5:17 am

When is China going to truly revaluate?

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As if to underscore the term “flexibility”, the RMB/USD exchange rate rose AND fell, in an apparent bid to deter speculators. Does this mean that the new regime is new in name only? That the RMB will not appreciate at all? I don’t think so. But I think the rate of appreciation will be modest (i.e. 2-3% by YE), as in the tradition of Chinese policy, and fall way short of what the Schumers of the world demand. But then, since when is Chinese policy driven by anything other than domestic considerations?

Why do I think that the RMB will truly revaluate? ’cause the timing is right. In its bid to free itself from dollar bondage, China will need to have a floating, freely-exchangeable currency eventually. With inflation running amok and the euro dropping like a stone, going dirty-peg now requires minimum real appreciation, as the RMB has already appreciated in real trade-weighted terms. This is a way to soften the punch of reform.

Because of capital control, all financial institutions have to deposit their foreign currencies deposits with the PBoC, which in turn deposit them with SAFE, one of China’s reserve managers. The flow and amount of these deposits is a proxy for hot money inflow. These foreign deposits, which rose sharply in H2/2009 to about USD300bn per month, dropped significantly in May, perhaps due to concern over China’s policy tightening. So China is essentially under the least speculative pressure to appreciate in months. Score two for softening the punch.

When is this going to happen? It’s been reported that some Taiwanese companies have converted most of their dollar holdings into RMB as they have been warned by their Chinese bankers that revaluation will come within a couple of months. This is a good enough take for me.

Written by Cindy Luk

June 23, 2010 at 2:54 am

Posted in China, Macro

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Impact of the European crisis on China

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While the endless rounds of flip-flops are entertaining in a wicked way, it will be stupid to treat the European crisis as just a reality show. For one thing, the EU, rather than the US, is China’s largest export market, and exporters are already howling from the pain of an effective 14.5% currency appreciation in 4 months against the euro.

What else? Most have given up on any prospect of immediate revaluation of the RMB. The US is already harping a different tone regarding currency ahead of the Sino-American Strategic and Economic Dialogue next week. There are also stories of hot money outflow. Michael Pettis rambles on the prospect of more trade conflicts, perhaps even in the form of tariffs. Shocking! Economic basket case resorts to beggar-thy-neighbor policies and trade conflicts (or any sort of conflicts) intensify during hard times. What’s more interesting is actually at the end of the post, almost as an afterthought, he suggests that China might be able to mitigate the risk by buying euros.

By the way is there anything that China can do to head off conflict?  Yes.  It can buy euros, the more the better –just lift every offer out there.  By strengthening the euro, or at least limiting its weakness, this strategy will force the brunt of the adjustment back onto European surplus countries rather than onto the US and, via the US, back onto China.  Sarkozy and other European leaders might not be very happy, of course, but they will be at least partially mollified by the net capital inflows and the reduced humiliation of a collapsing euro.

I know, I know, China had just sold its euro bonds and parked the money in dollar, as per the most recent TIC data. But I still think this scenario is more than feasible. When the crescendo calling for RMB revaluation was at its loudest, western media were full of quotes from “Chinese experts” that seem to readily acquiesce to RMB appreciation. However, when you actually look at their speech, preferably in the original, what those people are advocating is a reform of the currency management mechanism rather than straight appreciation per se. One term that pops up very often is “basket of currencies”, i.e. replacing the USD reference with a secretive brew of multiple currencies, a la Singapore. Li Daokui, member of the monetary policy committee of the PBoC is flogging the basket of currencies idea these days. A central government think tank is also calling for breaking the “predictable path of currency movement”.

In this sense, the current dollar strength actually gives China good cover to carry out with the proposed reform. Instead of maintaining a hard peg with the dollar, China can intervene by buying up some euros, and selling from its dollar reserves to pay for it of course. This diversification will help to halt the RMB’s appreciation against the euro and will appease to US cries for stronger RMB. Parking your wealth in the bunds is way safer than the treasuries, if you ask me.

The natural implication of this change in regime is an inevitable rise in US interest rate. When you have a buyer boycott, it is possible to have higher interest rate despite hollowing deflation. China has not withdrawn her money from the Bank of the US so far, only because it has nowhere else to go. After a substantial fall in the euro, and most of Europe’s problems priced in, things might look quite different.

The irony of it, should it materializes, is that the RMB might appreciate against the dollar just when about everyone has written it off, and those that pushed for it might live to regret it.

Written by Cindy Luk

May 20, 2010 at 2:42 am

China to see more trade deficit in April

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China’s March trade deficit was written off as an one-off fluke by many commentators. However, it seems that the trend many economists have expected it to continue, at least into April, with a consensus forecast of USD1.2bn in trade deficit.

Granted, this is already down substantially from March’s USD8bn, but it will serve to deflect criticism of China’s currency peg ahead of the Sino-US Strategic Forum in May. As such, those betting on RMB appreciation will likely to be seriously disappointed.

Going forward, it’s entirely possible that things will return to the unsustainable “normal” by May. The main driver of this outlook being a slowdown in imports, which in turn is simply a result of the government’s tightening efforts.

Written by Cindy Luk

May 7, 2010 at 9:46 pm