Malaysia taps into the growing importance of the redback: Yuan

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication says yuan usage worldwide grew 15.6% between July and August this year.

MALAYSIA’S love affair with the yuan or renminbi is growing, and it is easy to see why.

For one thing, China’s economic clout is rising. It is now the second largest economy in the world, and with ongoing financial reforms by the Chinese government, the yuan is expected to eventually rise to match the country’s economic stature.

For another – and more importantly – China has, in recent years, been growing to be an increasingly significant trading partner to many economies in the world, especially in Asia, including Malaysia.

Bilateral trade between Malaysia and China, for instance, is now seven times higher than it was 20 years ago.
And China has emerged as Malaysia’s largest global trading partner since 2009.

Last year, Malaysia’s total trade with China was valued at RM167bil, up 14% from the preceding year, and accounting for 14% of the country’s total trade.

The Government expects the value of Malaysia’s total trade with China to double in the next five years.

China’s rising prominence, in Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz’s words, presents “a new operating environment” that requires “dynamic response”.

At a recent seminar entitled “Renminbi Trade Settlement and Investment”, Zeti said one of the changes that would shape the international financial system in the years to come was the wider role of the yuan in trade and finance.

As it is, such trend is already taking shape, with yuan usage across the world increasing progressively.

Wider yuan usage 

According to Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), yuan usage worldwide grew 15.6% between July and August this year, compared with an average decrease of 0.9% across all other currencies. SWIFT further noted the yuan has moved up one position to be the 14th mostly used world currency, with a market share of 0.53%, up from 0.45% in July 2012.

Standard Chartered plc’s report supports claims that the global use of yuan is on the rise, for trade settlement, in particular.

The international bank notes that Asian and European firms, led by those from Singapore and London, are increasingly open to using yuan.

“We see many European and Asian clients shifting away from settlement in US dollars,” Standard Chartered’s Hong Kong-based foreign exchange analyst Eddie Cheung wrote in his report.

Reports by foreign media suggest that yuan trade settlement could run between US$350bil and US$450bil this year, up from US$300bil last year.

It is understood that China is also quietly working on developing new yuan financial centres around the world to expand the international use of the currency.

At present, Singapore and London are the only cities outside Hong Kong that have been allowed to serve as yuan trading centre. China is reportedly planning for the next regional hubs for settling trade deals in yuan to be set up in Latin America and the Middle East.

As part of an initiative to encourage a wider use of its currency and to manage volatility in uncertain economic times, China has been actively seeking to establish ilateral swap agreements with foreign central banks since the onslaught of the global financial crisis in 2008.

To date, China has managed to set up 20 bilateral local currency swap agreements, worth a total of 1.6 trillion yuan (RM780bil), with central banks of countries within and outside of Asia.

This list includes Malaysia, South Korea, Iceland, Argentina, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Australia.

China’s bilateral swap agreement with Malaysia is worth 180 billion yuan.

Zeti notes that Malaysia’s trade settlement in yuan is still at a paltry 1% of the country’s bilateral trade with China. “There is, therefore, a significant potential for this to increase,” she says.

Bank Negara is currently on a mission to promote a wider use of yuan for trade settlement and investment among Malaysian corporations as a way to generate cost savings and minimise exchange rate risks.

“A wider use of yuan is only a natural progression, led by China’s rapidly expanding trade volume and its increasing role as the driver of global economic growth,” explains RAM Holdings Bhd group chief economist Dr Yeah Kim Leng.

“For Malaysian businesses with yuan obligations, the shift to the use of yuan will provide a natural hedge and help them reduce risk and lower cost,” he adds.

According to Zeti, Malaysia’s interest in yuan is also notable in the investment option, with yuan deposits in the country’s banking system having tripled within the first seven months of this year.

Focus on Dim Sum bonds

Meanwhile, there is also an ambition to promote Malaysia as the next hub for yuan-denominated debt (or popularly known as “Dim Sum bonds”) in Asean after Singapore. This is led by the growing interest in raising financing in yuan to meet funding requirements.

“Malaysia is well-positioned to realise this growth potential in yuan-denominated bond and sukuk, given our market size and supporting infrastructure,” Zeti argues.

She, however, says the number and timing of yuan-denominated bond and sukuk issuances will depend on the approvals of Bank Negara and the Securities Commission.

To date, there are only two issuances of offshore yuan-denominated sukuk out of Malaysia and a yuan-denominated bond issuance by Malaysian corporations.

“Ultimately, the potential of Malaysia of becoming a regional yuan debt hub will have to be led by natural market forces, that is, supply and demand,” Yeah points out.

At present, Europe, led by Luxembourg, outstrips Asia (excluding Hong Kong) in terms of both the number of issues and the number of issuance locations.

Analysts, however, believe Asia (excluding Hong Kong) will soon catch up.

Anchor currency

According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the yuan will eventually become the “anchor currency” for Asia.

This destiny is cemented by the growing use of the currency in the region’s trade and financial markets.

This, however, does not necessarily mean that the yuan will become part of the foreign exchange reserves of Asian countries, most of which still hold US dollar, euro and the Japanese yen, says ADB. Rather, it means that countries that use yuan widely will manage their currencies according to the yuan’s movement.

The consensus view is that there is still some way to go before the yuan can become a reserve currency. That will involve further openness of China’s own financial markets.

At present, the yuan has yet to qualify as a reserve currency due to its lacks of full convertibility as defined by the International Monetary Fund.

Nevertheless, many central banks have already started to diversify their reserves into the yuan. One of these is Bank Negara, which became the first central bank in the world to announce the inclusion of yuan in its foreign reserves in 2010.

It has been five years since China embarked on a plan to internationalise its currency.

Analysts argue that the process of internationalising the yuan is already progressing smoothly, but gradually in a managed way.

In their working paper entitled “Will the renminbi rule?” authors Eswar Prasad and Lei Ye argue that although China still has extensive capital controls in place, they are being “selectively and cautiously dismantled”.

“China’s capital account is becoming increasingly open in actual terms even though by this measure it remains less open than those of the reserve currency economies – the euro area, Japan, Switzerland, the UK and the United States,” they argue.

According to CIMB Research chief economist Lee Heng Guei, China has taken small yet quite successful steps in its quest for internationalisation of the yuan.

However, he says, full-fledged internationsation of the yuan is a still a distant goal.

“China is clearly more influential than in the past and the internationalisation of the yuan has sped up. But it will take many more years, perhaps another five to ten, for the yuan to be fully global and convertible,” Lee argues.

Undervalued or not?

Now, China’s currency policy has for long been a contentious issue with many western developed nations, especially the United States. There has been growing political pressure on China, led mainly by the United States, to increase the value of the yuan.

The United States has been arguing that the yuan is significantly undervalued, hence giving China’s exporters an unfair price advantage over US manufacturers.

The undervaluation of yuan, which, to some, warrants China being tagged a currency manipulator, has even become an important scoring point in the current US presidential campaign between Republican candidate Mitt Romney and incumbent Barack Obama.

A semi-annual report on the yuan by the US Treasury is due to be released on Monday.

It remains to be seen whether the release of the report will be delayed until after the Nov 6 US presidential election, given the political sensitiveness of the issue.

To be fair, since the yuan’s depeg from the US dollar in July 2005, the Chinese currency has appreciated more than 30% against the greenback.

And reaffirming its policy stance of further exchange rate flexibility, the Chinese government in April widened the trading band from +/-0.5% to +/-1% for the yuan against the US dollar.

Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated the yuan four years ago was undervalued by 31.5% against the US dollar. The latest estimate by the Washington think tank in May indicates that the yuan is now undervalued by only 7.7% against the greenback.

CIMB’s Lee contends that the yuan’s appreciation has to be a gradual and longer-term affair to avoid disrupting China’s economic development.

“The gradual and consistent yuan appreciation can be considered a stabilising factor for the (Chinese) economy, especially its export-oriented sector,” he explains.

According to the Royal Bank of Scotland, the yuan’s value is unlikely to change much in the short term, but further medium-term appreciation on account of productivity catch up remains a possibility.

“If the global economic outlook improves in 2013, the yuan is likely to see further medium-term strengthening, with the pace depending on current account developments,” RBS’ Hong Kong-based analyst Louis Kuijs notes.



Related posts:

Yuan Trade Settlement Seen Reaching $1 Trillion 

The yuan goes global: Money talks and London is


China, Japan to launch yuan-yen direct trading

Trade between Asia’s two largest economies is about to get a whole lot easier. China’s central bank confirmed Tuesday that the country will allow the direct trading of its currency against the Japanese yen starting Friday.


This makes the yen the first major currency besides the US dollar that can be directly traded with the RMB. The move is part of efforts made by China and Japan to strengthen cooperation in trade and financial markets. And it’s a huge step forward for the internationalization of the yuan.

After some excitement in the Asian markets yesterday. The People’s Bank of China confirmed on Tuesday that China and Japan will start to directly trade their currencies in Shanghai and Tokyo from June 1. The move will shore up trade and financial ties between Asia’s two biggest economies, and also marks another step to raise the yuan’s international role.

Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi, who announced the decision in Tokyo, stressed the cost benefits behind the move.

Azumi said, “By conducting transactions without using a third country’s currency, it will bring merits of reducing transaction costs and lowering risks involved in settlements at financial institutions. It will also contribute to improving convenience of both countries’ currencies and reinvigorate the Tokyo market.”

The step eliminates the US dollar’s monopoly position to set the exchange rate between the two currencies, and follows a deal struck by the leaders of the two countries in December.

Experts say it’s an important move towards the internationalization of China’s yuan currency.

Professor Ding Zhijie, dean of School of Banking & Finance, UIBE, said, “It raises the convertibility of the yuan. And I believe the yuan trading will be accepted by more Asian economies as well as the international markets. It will also push forward the internationalization of the yuan.”

Several banks in the two countries, including Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ and Bank of China, will start the direct trading.

Huang Jiaying, trade with Bank of China said, “The move will likely make the yuan accepted by more Japanese investors as well. It will also help boost the possibility of the yuan becoming an internationally-settled currency, which is an important move of propelling the yuan to become an international reserve currency.”

And Japan, which in March pledged to buy about 10 billion US dollars of Chinese government debt, is the first economy to connect with China’s yuan. The move is likely to strengthen ties with its biggest trading partner.

Japan, China to shore up yen/yuan trade

Japan, China to shore up yen/yuan trade

Japan and China will start trading their currencies directly in Tokyo and Shanghai from June 1 in a move that shores up trade and financial ties between Asia’s two biggest economies and also marks another baby step to raise the yuan’s international role.

The step eliminates the use of the dollar to set the exchange rate and follows an agreement struck by the leaders of the two countries in December, which also involves Japan buying Chinese government debt and efforts to forge a free trade pact between China, Japan and South Korea.

“This is part of China’s broader strategy to reduce dependence on the dollar. The yen has been chosen because of large trade flows between the two countries,” said Dariusz Kowalczyk, senior economist and strategist at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong.

“Volumes of currency trading on shore are small, but this could lead to an expansion of trading with other currencies. It would be easier for China to expand into other Asian currencies.”

Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi, who announced the decision in Tokyo, stressed the cost benefits of the move.

“By conducting transactions without using the third country’s currency, it will bring merits of reducing transaction costs and lowering risks involved in settlements at financial institutions,” Azumi told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

The People’s Bank of China noted benefits for mutual trade, but also tied the decision to China’s drive to boost the use of the yuan as a settlement currency for trade and financial transactions.

“Developing the direct yuan/yen trading will help form the direct yuan/yen exchange rate and reduce the trading cost for entities and promote the use of the yuan and yen in bilateral trade and investment as well as help strengthen financial cooperation between the two countries,” it said in a statement.

A separate statement issued by the China Foreign Exchange Trade System said it will provide a market-making system for direct yuan/yen trading.

Until now yen-yuan rates were calculated on the basis of their respective rates against the dollar, so the move is expected to narrow trading spreads, lower transaction costs and allow more trade deals to be settled directly.

For Japan, which in March pledged to buy about $10 billion of Chinese government debt, becoming the first major economy to do so, the move could strengthen ties with its biggest trading partner.

Despite sometimes rancorous political ties between the two neighbours, Japan’s economic fortunes are increasingly tied to China’s economic growth and consumer demand.

Dealers in Shanghai said the near-term effect would be probably higher trading volumes and lower costs.

“Direct yuan-yen trading is likely to cut trading costs, boosting yuan-yen trading liquidity,” said a dealer at a foreign bank. “Most yuan trading against the yen now goes through the dollar, because traders refer to dollar-yuan value to price yen-yuan.”

But some played down the broader impact.

“From what I can see, it doesn’t actually include any opening up of the capital account at all. It just allows a direct cross to be traded rather than actually increasing the amount of flow that can happen onshore to offshore,” Dominic Bunning, currency strategist at HSCB in Hong Kong, said.

“It seems to be more of a technical issue rather than a major development.”

The move to facilitate yen-yuan trading and the debt deal are part of Beijing’s long-term efforts to elevate the yuan’s status as an international currency, which so far have mainly centred on China’s promotion of the yuan to settle trade.

Beijing has struck agreements with several nations from Malaysia to Belarus and Argentina on the use of the yuan in trade and other transactions. It has expanded a pilot programme started in 2009 into a nationwide one allowing firms to settle their trade in yuan.

The result has been a relative surge in the use of the currency. More than 9%of China’s total trade was settled in yuan in 2011, up from just 0.7% in 2010.

Few argue against the idea that the yuan will one day become a reserve currency, given World Bank predictions that China will overtake the United States as the world’s top economy before 2030. But to achieve that the yuan would need to become fully convertible and Beijing has yet to indicate any timetable for reaching that stage..- Reuters

Related post/stories

Demise of US dollar as world currency

Experts see demise of dollar as world currency


 IT may only be a matter of time before the US dollar gets replaced as the main currency in international trade, according to economists attending the meeting of the board of governors of the Asian Development Bank (ADB)in Manila.

Asian Development Bank, ADB Loan Disbursement ...

Asian Development Bank, ADB

For many years, the dollar “has been almost the sole ‘reserve’ currency,” banked on by the world economy, American economist Jeffrey Sachs said on Thursday in one of the forums held during the ADB annual event. “Going forward, (the dollar) can’t play that role anymore.”

Sachs added that he could not see how the US dollar could remain as the world’s reserve currency when “the role of the United States in the global economy is diminishing.”

Several finance experts echoed Sachs’ sentiment, explaining that, with the greenback expected to weaken further, the world should turn to another currency to facilitate international trade and other commercial transactions.

“Having another reserve currency other than the US dollar is only a matter of time. We don’t know exactly when it will happen, but it will,” Neeraj Swaroop of Standard Chartered Bank said in an interview at the sidelines of the ADB meeting.

In the area of merchandise trading, Swaroop said, countries have actually started to use currencies other than the US dollar.

Sachs also said that some countries could turn to more than one currency in maintaining their foreign exchange reserves.

One currency being considered is the Chinese renminbi (RMB) which, according to HSBC, will inevitably become an international reserve currency.

The renminbi, or yuan, has the potential to become an international reserve currency because China is continuing to post strong growth, becoming an important player in the global economy, Iwan Azis, ADB head for regional integration, said in the same forum.

Also, China is pushing to make the yuan the world’s reserve currency – a move that is seen to hasten the replacement of the US dollar, Azis added.

Already, British banking giant HSBC has mapped out a strategy to be a leading global player in the “renminbi banking” space.

This global strategy has filtered into the Philippine market with the bank’s introduction of RMB-denominated deposit and trade financing facilities, top HSBC officials said in a press briefing on Thursday.

Spencer Lake of HSBC said the renminbi was increasingly becoming an important currency from a trade perspective.

Lake was in Manila as head of the HSBC delegation to the ADB event.

“If it were freely convertible today, it will be the second-largest currency in the world,” Lake said, noting that China has started to liberalise currency systems.

“It’s part of our core strategy to adopt and put in place all of the infrastructure and products to embrace (the renminbi) as a future reserve currency,” Lake said.

Lake said the bank’s strategy appeared to be gaining ground as indicated by a “significant” buildup of the RMB business in Hong Kong, Singapore and other South-East Asian countries.

“The world is getting ready to adopt it as a world currency,” he said. “You’ll see it as a more common language.”

“Reserve” currency, which is currently used to describe the US dollar, is the denomination that accounts for bulk of the foreign exchange reserves of most countries.

A country taps its foreign exchange reserves whenever it needs to pay off the costs of imported products and debts to foreign creditors.

After the United States fell into a recession in 2009, the US dollar began to weaken against emerging market currencies.

The trouble with hanging on to the dollar as the main reserve currency is that it is prone to depreciation given the prevailing economic troubles of the United States.

Depreciation of the US dollar, in turn, may lead to a reduction in the value of a country’s foreign reserves, experts said.

Apart from the yuan, Sachs said other viable currencies that could replace the US dollar were the euro and the Japanese yen. — Philippine Daily Inquirer / Asia News Network

China’s financial markets awaken: West take note!

Currencies of the World

Currencies of the World (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Commentary: Asian currencies will grow in influence

By David Marsh, MarketWatch

BEIJING (MarketWatch) — When I ponder the impact on the West of China’s slow but steady progress in liberalizing its financial markets, Napoleon’s oft-cited description of the Middle Kingdom comes to mind. “A sleeping giant. Let him sleep! If he awakes, he will shake the world.”

The message from around a dozen recent exchanges with top Chinese financial decision-makers and advisers is very clear. China’s financial market liberalization is now more or less unstoppable. This is being expanded now in many fields, with consequences for many sectors of Western business and finance. Much of this has yet fully to be acknowledged by the West, let alone understood.

National emblem of the People's Republic of China

National emblem of the People's Republic of China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

China inflation exceeds forecast

China’s consumer inflation gathered pace in March, but probably not enough to deter central bankers from easing monetary policy to boost the economy in the months ahead. Aaron Back reports on the News Hub. Photo: Reuters

Opening up of China’s previously closed financial markets has been building cautiously for several years. The move was put on hold by the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2007-08. It could still be impeded by a further sharp world downturn or another type of international dislocation. However, Beijing’s financial liberalization policies have accelerated as a result of the latest signs of disarray surrounding the world’s two principal reserve currencies, the dollar and the euro.

The liberalization extends to use of yuan USDCNY -0.0032%   in international capital market transactions especially in Hong Kong, which has been a laboratory for offshore yuan bonds, in international trade invoicing and settlement, and in international reserve holdings (where 10 to 15 central banks worldwide now own serious amounts of yuan.)

Relaxing restrictions on foreign investors investing in China, and gradually taking off the shackles for Chinese investors moving money abroad, are all part of the overall process. Read Craig Stephen’s This Week in China column: “China’s welcome mat for foreign investors.”

The same is true for easing controls on the value of the yuan (which is unlikely to appreciate as much as it has in last 12 months and could fall as well as rise) and for liberalization of interest rates in China (which is an essential quid pro quo for allowing Chinese institutions and citizens more freedom to invest abroad).

There is considerable linkage to the latest Five-Year Plan for promoting domestic-driven growth and rebalancing exports and imports. As Liu Mingkang, former chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, now a distinguished fellow of the Fung Global Institute in Hong Kong, told the Boao Forum on Asia last week in southern China, liberalization of financial markets is “part of a package”. This is not a piecemeal approach, but part of a series of building blocks, he said.

The moves forward on the yuan are linked to China’s visible frustration and disillusionment on key issues of international economic governance and also on the performance of private-sector Western financial institutions during the financial crisis, for example in the fields of corporate finance or asset management.

However, China will take a steely line on gradually fostering capital account convertibility, declaring that the yuan can be used more internationally while at the same time remaining partly inconvertible. In the same vein, China is very far from being starry eyed about the overall process, emphasizing that it will reserve the right to “shut down” liberalization at times of turmoil — for example, if it ever seemed likely that we were preparing for a rerun the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. (Note, though, that influential personalities such as Jin Liqun, chairman of the supervisory board of China Investment Corp., say not capital account liberalization, but faulty economic policies, led to the Asian upheavals of 15 years ago.)

Will the changes be good for the rest of the world? Only up to a point. There are several aspects of China’s financial market liberalization that the West needs to analyze carefully — for they may bring considerable challenges and possible setbacks.

• China’s strong line on international economic governance will eventually mean fewer jobs for the Western “boys” (and girls) at the World Bank, the IMF and other international bodies.

• Although China still see the Europeans as useful allies with whom to push for changes in U.S.-dominated economic fora, Beijing is clearly intensifying its reliance on the other BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa). Until it solves its internal difficulties over the euro (which won’t be anytime soon), Europe will not really count for much in the world (although individual countries like Germany might).

• China has no wish to destabilize the euro for the time being, since it relies on Europe for an increasing proportion of its trade. However, over time, probably both the yuan and the Japanese yen will become more international. (Japan is likely to undergo an international renaissance as the Tokyo authorities seek to find way of borrowing more funds abroad). The increasing global clout of the Asian currencies will certainly increase the vulnerability of the euro to outside buffetings.

• Higher foreign earnings from international capital market and asset management activities will further increase the power, profitability and status of Chinese banks. Their earnings will come under pressure from liberalization of Chinese interest rate-setting arrangements, but better conditions for foreign business should provide adequate compensation. Watch out for Chinese banks moving into areas of asset management, trade finance and project finance where Western banks previously held comfortable positions.

• When it comes to international borrowing, the Chinese will comply with requests for funds only if Western debtors agree that borrowings should be denominated at least partly in yuan, both to intensify generally the currency’s international use and to protect the creditor against exchange-rate losses. Such a stipulation, discussed from time to time in past months, may climb gradually up the international policy agenda in the coming year.

The message for the west is: Be prepared!

Yuan or not to Yuan? Yuan way to new monetary order

A ‘grown-up’ yuan means a more stable world economy


CHINESE New Year has come and will soon go. The eurozone debt crisis is well past two years. Yet uncertainty persists. The World Bank‘s January 2012 Global Economic Prospects reports:

“World economy has entered a very difficult phase characterised by significant downside risks and fragility and as a result, forecasts have been significantly downgraded. However, even achieving these much weaker outturns is very uncertain Overall, global economic conditions are fragile.”

This week’s IMF World Economic Outlook says more of the same: “The global recovery is threatened by intensifying strains in the euro area and fragilities elsewhere.” China, India, South Africa and Brazil have entered a slowing phase.

No country and no region can escape the consequences of a serious downturn. Nevertheless, growth in the East Asia and Pacific region (excluding Japan) is expected to slowdown to about 7.8% in 2012 (8.4% in 2011) and stabilise in 2013.

This reflects continuing strong domestic demand (evident in third quarter or 3Q 2011 GDP) while exports will slow to about 2% due to Europe heading towards recession and sluggish rich “Organisation For Economic Coercion And Direction (OECD)” demand.

The middle-income nations are, I think, in a good position to weather the global slowdown, with significant space available for fiscal relaxation, adequate room for interest rate easing, ample high reserves and rather strong underpinning for domestic demand to rise.

I see the modest easing in China’s growth being counterbalanced by a pick-up in GDP gains in 2013 over the rest of the region. Outside China, growth has slackened sharply to 4.8% in 2011 (6.9% in 2010), but is expected to strengthen in 2012, reaching 5.8% in 2013.


GDP growth in China, which accounts for 80% of the region, had eased to about 9.1% in 2011 (10.4% in 2010) and is expected to slacken further to a still robust 8.2%-8.4% in 2012.

The World Bank projections point to growth moderating at 8.3% in 2013, in line with its longer-term potential GDP. Expansion is expected to emanate from domestic demand, with private spending and fixed capital outlays contributing most of the growth in 2012.

For China, the health of the global economy and high-income Europe in particular, represents the key risk at this time. Domestic risks include property overheating, local government indebtedness, and bloating bank balance sheets.

The 4Q 2011 growth of 8.9% annoy investors who are looking for indications either weak enough to justify further policy easing or strong enough to allay fears of a hard landing. Bear in mind the forecast growth for 2012 will be the weakest in a decade, and may cool further as exports slump.

The Chinese economy is buffeted by two very different forces: (i) slow global growth will hurt Chinese exports (especially to its largest trading partner, European Union) which rose by 7% in December, and exporters foresee more trouble ahead; however, (ii) analysts point to strong retail sales (up 18% in December) reflecting rising wages and domestic spending which represented about 52% of GDP in the first quarter, higher than in 2009-11.

China is counting on its massive effort to build low-income “social housing” to provide enough demand to keep the real-estate market from collapsing.

It is unclear whether China can accelerate this program to build 36 million subsidised housing by 2015enough to house all of Germany’s households. But financial markets are anticipating worse news ahead. After all, the Shanghai Composite Index fell 21% in 2011. As the adage goes, stock analysts did forecast 10 of the past 3 recessions!

The yuan

Appreciation of the yuan (renmimbiRMB) against the US dollar in 2012 is expected to slow to about 3%, from +4.7% in 2011. The yuan closed at 6.3190 at end 2011, up about 8% compared with June 10 (when China effectively ended its 2-year long peg to the US dollar and has gained 30% since mid-2005 when it was last revalued.

The slowdown reflects growing demand for the US dollar amid uncertainty, lower growth, diminishing trade surplus, and growing US military presence in Asia, according to China’s Centre for Forecasting Science (of the Chinese Academy of Sciences) which reports directly to the State Council, China’s Cabinet.

Much of it will be in the latter year as China is likely to keep the yuan relatively stable in the first half to allow time to assess the impact of goings-on in the euro-zone. Dollars are pumped in via state banks, providing markets with a clear signal it will not allow the yuan to depreciate, while not in a hurry to let it appreciate either. The yuan has since moved sideways.

Off-shore yuan

To make the yuan a true reserve currency, China begun to liberalise currency controls and encourage an offshore yuan market in Hong Kong, creating an outlet for moving the currency across borders. However, foreign investors in China have been slow in using the yuan.

In practice, it is still difficult to buy & sell yuan because of paperwork & bureaucracy. It is still easier to settle in US dollar as it is the universal practice. Its convenience outweighs the potential costs of any unfavourable move in the US dollar-yuan rate. Nonetheless, China is encouraging more businesses to use the yuan and more US banks to step-up their yuan-settlement business.

This market will grow as China diligently moves to internationalise its currency. Encouraged by the authorities, a vibrant offshore yuan market has blossomed in Hong Kong. Beijing still controls the currency and how the yuan bought in Hong Kong can be brought back to China.

Yuan deposits in Hong Kong rose more than 4 times to 622.2b yuan (nearly US$100bil) at end September 2011 from a year earlier according to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, and now account for 10.4% of bank deposits.

Growth in offshore yuan stalled in late 2011 as China slowed its currency appreciation against the dollar. Given Beijing’s gradualist approach to reform, the market will soon revive.

An audience poll at the recent 2012 Asian Financial Forum in London indicated 63% believes full yuan convertibility is more than 5-years away.

The very fact that London wants to be a yuan-trading centre now says a lot. Only 10% of China’s international trade is settled in yuan, rising to 15% in 2012. It’s still a small market in the global context.

The yuan is used for just 0.29% of all global payments in November 2011 according to financial messaging network Swift. By comparison, the euro’s share is about 40%.

Dim-sum bonds

A booming business in dim-sum bonds (offshore yuan denominated bonds) followed, with companies including Caterpillar and McDonalds issuing such bonds. In September 2011, a spurt of capital flight towards “safe haven” assets in the US tied to the worsening debt crisis in Europe caused currencies of emerging nations to depreciate against the US dollar.

In East Asia, modest declines were recorded compared with South Africa (the rand fell 22%) and Brazil (the real dropped 18%). Only the Indonesia rupiah (down 5.8%) and the Malaysia ringgit (fell 5.4%) come under some pressure.

This event slowed the appreciation of the yuan and with it, trading in dim-sum bonds eased as investors were no longer in a hurry to invest. Over the medium-term, most analysts expect this yuan market to grow in the face of its massive US$3.18 trillion in reserves, as China moves to build its international status.

When dim-sum bonds started to hit the market in 2010, investors were enthusiastic, bidding up prices and driving down yields. But in the second half of 2011, the average price of investment grade dim-sum bonds fell 3.3%, amid a broad flight towards quality spooked by euro-zone turmoil and Chinese accounting scandals.

Bankers hope new entrants (private banks, commercial banks, mutual funds & life insurers) will give the market more stability this year. They would add depth & breath to the market, which tripled to 185b yuan (US$30bil) in dim-sum bonds issued in 2011. Expectations are for such bond issuance to reach 240 billion yuan this year, as new issuers (including more foreign companies) join early adopters such as government entities & state run banks.

This offshore bond market has developed well over the past year. Investor diversification in both types & geographics is still evolving, which is key to the healthy growth of the market. Equally important, investors look to the continuing appreciation of the yuan.

In addition, its average yield has risen to 3.8% (from 2.35% since mid 2011) and most now trade at higher yields than comparable US dollar bonds.

This rise in yields reflects expectation for (i) slower yuan appreciation; (ii) increase in supply; and (iii) investors desire for a higher liquidity premium during market downturns. Overall, the dim-sum market is turning into a buyer’s market.

Bilateral arrangements

China is forging ahead in laying the groundwork to internationalise the yuan via bilateral arrangements with foreign companies, nations & financial centers, particularly Hong Kong (mainly because it can fully control the terms of the market). More mainland-based financial institutions will be able to issue yuan denominated bonds in Hong Kong.

This is part of a broader effort, first started in July 2009 when it encouraged enterprises in Shanghai & Guangzhou province to use the yuan when settling trade with Hong Kong, Macau and some foreign companies (see my column “China: RMB Flexibility Not Enough” of July 3, 2010).

The post-X’mas direct yuan-yen trade deal forms part of a wide-ranging currency arrangement between China & Japan to give the use of the yuan a big boost. After all, China is Japan’s largest trading partner with 26.5 trillion yen in 2-way transactions last year. Encouraging direct settlement in bypassing the US dollar would reduce currency risks and trading costs. Also, Japan will buy up to US$10bil in yuan bonds for its reserves even though it represents no more than 1% of Japan’s US$1.3 trillion reserves. And, it is now easier for companies to convert Chinese and Japanese funds directly into each other without an intermediate conversion to US dollar. About 60% of China-Japan trade is settled in US dollar, a well-established practice.

The package allows Japan backed institutions to sell yuan bonds in the mainland (instead of Hong Kong) helping to open China’s capital market.

In recent weeks, China has taken new steps to promote the use of yuan overseas, including allowing foreign firms to invest yuan accumulated overseas in mainland China; widening the People’s Bank of China (its central bank) network of currency swaps with other central banks to enable their banks to supply yuan to their customers, including with Thailand, South Korea and New Zealand totalling 1.2 trillion yuan.

It already has completed arrangements with the big Asean counterparts. Berry Eichengreen (University of California at Berkeley) observed: “Japan appears to be acknowledging implicitly that there will be a single dominant Asian currency in the future and it won’t be the yen.”

But Harvard’s Jeffrey Frankel is more down to earth: “This hastens a multicurrency world, but this is just one of 100 steps along the way.”

China still has a way to go in: (i) getting the yuan fully convertible (ii) reducing exchange rate interventions (iii) liberalising interest rates, and (iv) reforming the banking system. In all, so the yuan can really trade freely.

What to do?

The China-Japan deal points the way, nudging the yuan towards the inevitable becoming a reserve currency alongside now discredited US dollar and the euro. This is to be welcomed by all.

China must realise a fully internationalised yuan should be free to float (and to appreciate) part of its overall reform. Over the longer term, though, avoiding huge imbalances is good for everyone, not least China. While it is understandable for its Prime Minister to label China today as “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated and ultimately unsustainable,” opportunities to take advantage of new openings don’t come often.

Alexander Gerschenkron, my professor at Harvard (in my view, the best economic historian of his time) points to economies like China as having “advantages in backwardness,” including China’s ability to weather shocks: high reserves, robust fiscal situation and comfortable external position.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet sums it up best: “If it be not now, yet it will come – the readiness is all.” A grown-up yuan is good for China’s welfare.

It also means a more stable world economy which benefits the United States. For China, there will never be enough cushion. Politicians need to seize the moment and act boldly.

Former banker, Dr Lin is a Harvard educated economist and a British Chartered Scientist who now spends time writing, teaching & promoting the public interest. Feedback is most welcome; email:

To Yuan or not to Yuan, that is the question  

The government of Zimbabwe is considering using China’s Yuan as their national currency.
China has reportedly been offered mining rights by Mugabe, despite protests [EPA]

Bulawayo, Zimbabwe – From downtown shops that stock cheap clothing and shoes that fall apart after one wear, to mining concessions in platinum, gold and diamonds – the Chinese finger is now in virtually every Zimbabwean pie.

From city sidewalks to low-income suburbs, the Chinese have become part of the local population, and if some senior government bureaucrats have their way, the country could soon find itself adopting the Chinese Yuan as its official currency.

For some influential monetary policy czars, the massive assailing of the Zimbabwean economy by the Chinese now only requires the Yuan to strengthen these economic reconstruction efforts.

Invited by President Robert Mugabe as part of his infamous 2004 “Look East” policy to help drive the economy and employment creation, after relations with former traditional investment partners the European Union and United States soured, China has been able to create its own little sphere of influence and establish an ubiquitous presence in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe looks to China for economic revival

This is despite being unpopular with Zimbabwe’s industrial and commercial players – and general members of the public who accuse the Chinese of poor labour practices and shoddy goods and services.

Late in 2011, Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono, seen by many as a close ally of Mugabe, announced he was in favour of having the Chinese Yuan as the country’s official currency. After the Zimbabwean dollar was suspended in 2008, the country has been using a multi-currency regime, which includes the use of the US dollar, the South African rand and the Botswana pula.

According to Gono, the Chinese Yuan would be introduced alongside the Zimbabwean dollar. Mugabe’s political supporters have been calling for currency reforms to bring back the Zimbabwean dollar.

“With the continuous firming of the Chinese Yuan, the US dollar is fast ceasing to be the world’s reserve currency and the eurozone debt crisis has made things even worse,” Gono told state media in November.

“As a country, we still have the opportunity to avoid being caught napping, by adopting the Chinese Yuan as part of consolidating the country’s ‘Look East’ policy.

“It’s only recently when we had the startling revelations, with Angola offering to bail out her former colonial master Portugal from her debt crisis. This can also happen with Zimbabwe if we choose the right path,” Gono added.

He continued: “If we continue with our ‘Look East’ policy, it will not be long [until] we will also be volunteering to bail out Britain from her debt crisis, and I will not wait for my creator’s day before this happens. There is no doubt that the Yuan, with its ascendancy, will be the 21st century’s world reserve currency.”

‘Handing over’ the country?

Officials from Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front see huge potential in using the Yuan, citing the growth of the Chinese economy under BRICS, which brings together emerging global economic powerhouses Brazil, India, China and South Africa.

But not everyone is as upbeat about such prospects.

There are concerns that this could mean “handing over” the country to the Chinese, who already have been offered huge mining rights by Mugabe – despite protests from his coalition government partners. The country’s finance minister, Tendai Biti, has said that Mugabe was forfeiting state resources to China, whom critics are calling “Africa’s new coloniser”.

Economist Eric Bloch said “it is not practical” for Zimbabwe to adopt the Chinese Yuan.

“Zimbabwe won’t have any interaction with international markets, as the US dollar remains the standard currency in international trade,” Bloch explained.

With China increasingly being touted to overtake the US as the world’s largest economy, the temptation to embrace all things Chinese has proven too much to resist for poor economies across the globe, contends Tafara Zivanayi, an economics lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe.

“There has been false hope given to Chinese economic growth, with many African countries imagining they can transfer this growth to their own economies,” Zivanayi said.

“Such decisions (to adopt a foreign currency) as usually based on international trade indices and monetary policies of the country where the currency is domiciled. Even if there have been projections that the Chinese economy will surpass the US economy, this won’t happen overnight,” Zivanayi said.

“There are still concerns about Chinese penetration of international, especially low income, markets and creating wealth for itself and not host countries,” Zivanayi said.

Even traders who have long ridiculed cheap Chinese products and have no grasp of international trade intricacies find themselves offering opinions about the prospects of adopting the Chinese Yuan.

“As long as things have worked fine for us using the American dollar, why change that formula?” asked Thabani Moyo, a commuter omnibus driver. His colleagues, who are struggling to handle giving change in the basket of currencies they receive, nodded in agreement.

Gono and other opponents of US currency cited this lack of change in coins as a reason why Zimbabwe needed to adopt a single currency or revert to its own, previously useless, dollar.

However, during the presentation of the national budget for the 2012 fiscal year, Biti told parliament that Zimbabwe would continue using US currency until the economy stabilised.

Not everyone supports the introduction of the Chinese Yuan. “We want real money, not zhing-zhong,” taxi driver Jourbet Buthelezi said, referring to the pejorative term Zimbabweans use for sub-standard Chinese goods.

A version of this article was first published on Inter Press Service.
Source: IPS

China’s US$3.2 trillion headache


WHILE the downgrade of US government debt by Standard & Poor’s shocked global financial markets, China has more reason to worry than most: the bulk of its US$3.2 trillion in official foreign reserves more than 60% is denominated in dollars, including US$1.1 trillion in US Treasury bonds.

So long as the US government does not default, whatever losses China may experience from the downgrade will be small. To be sure, the dollar’s value will fall, imposing a balance sheet loss on the People’s Bank of China (PBC, the central bank). But a falling dollar would make it cheaper for Chinese consumers and companies to buy American goods.

If prices are stable in the United States, as is the case now, the gains from buying American goods should exactly offset the PBC’s balance sheet losses.

The downgrade could, moreover, force the US Treasury to raise the interest rate on new bonds, in which case China would stand to gain. But S&P’s downgrade was a poor decision, taken at the wrong time. If America’s debts had truly become less trustworthy, they would have been even more dubious before the agreement reached on Aug 2 by Congress and President Barack Obama to raise the government’s debt ceiling.

That agreement allowed the world to hope that the US economy would embark on a more predictable path to recovery. The downgrade has undermined that hope. Some people even predict a double-dip recession. If that happens, the chance of an actual US default would be much higher than it is today.

 Reason to worry: China’s US$3.2 trillion problem will become a 20-trillion-renminbi problem if China cannot reduce its current account surplus and fence off capital inflows. — AP

These new worries are raising alarm bells in China. Diversification away from dollar assets is the advice of the day. But this is no easy task, particularly in the short term. If the PBC started to buy non-dollar assets in large quantities, it would invariably need to convert some current dollar assets into another currency, which would inevitably drive up that currency’s value, thus increasing the PBC’s costs.

Another idea being discussed in Chinese policy circles is to allow the renminbi to appreciate against the dollar. Much of China’s official foreign reserves have accumulated because the PBC seeks to control the renminbi’s exchange rate, keeping its upward movement within a reasonable range and at a measured pace.

If it allowed the renminbi to appreciate faster, the PBC would not need to buy large quantities of foreign currencies.

International experience

But whether renminbi appreciation will work depends on reducing China’s net capital inflows and current account surplus. International experience suggests that, in the short run, more capital flows into a country when its currency appreciates, and most empirical studies have shown that gradual appreciation has only a limited effect on countries’ current account positions.

If appreciation does not reduce the current account surplus and capital inflows, then the renminbi’s exchange rate is bound to face further upward pressure. That is why some people are advocating that China undertake a one-shot, big-bang appreciation large enough to defuse expectations of further strengthening and deter inflows of speculative “hot” money. Such a revaluation would also discourage exports and encourage imports, thereby reducing China’s chronic trade surplus.

But such a move would be almost suicidal for China’s economy. Between 2001 and 2008, export growth accounted for more than 40% of China’s overall economic growth. That is, China’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate would drop by four percentage points if its exports did not grow at all. In addition, a study by the China Centre for Economic Research has found that a 20% appreciation against the dollar would entail a 3% drop in employment more than 20 million jobs.

There is no short-term cure for China’s US$3.2 trillion problem. The government must rely on longer-term measures to mitigate the problem, including internationalisation of the renminbi. Using the renminbi to settle China’s international trade accounts would help China escape America’s beggar-thy-neighbour policy of allowing the dollar’s value to fall dramatically against trade rivals.

But China’s US$3.2 trillion problem will become a 20-trillion-renminbi problem if China cannot reduce its current account surplus and fence off capital inflows. There is no escape from the need for domestic structural adjustment.

To achieve this, China must increase domestic consumption’s share of GDP. This has already been written into the government’s 12th Five-Year Plan. Unfortunately, given high inflation, structural adjustment has been postponed, with efforts to control credit expansion becoming the government’s first priority. This enforced investment slowdown is itself increasing China’s net savings, i.e., the current account surplus, while constraining the expansion of domestic consumption.

Real appreciation of the renminbi is inevitable so long as Chinese living standards are catching up with US levels. Indeed, the Chinese government cannot hold down inflation while maintaining a stable value for the renminbi. The PBC should target the renminbi’s rate of real appreciation, rather than the inflation rate under a stable renminbi. And then the government needs to focus more attention on structural adjustment the only effective cure for China’s US$3.2 trillion headache. – Project Syndicate

Yao Yang is Director of the China Center for Economic Research at Peking University.

The Renminbi’s Journey to the World

As China’s currency becomes more popular internationally, the country will have less need to hold US dollar assets.


BEIJING – Recently, HSBC bank released an upbeat survey predicting that China’s currency, the renminbi (RMB), will become one of three global settlement currencies (alongside the dollar and euro) sometime this year. It seems that the RMB’s internationalization has been progressing without anyone really noticing. The key remaining questions concern whether or not the RMB will become an important international currency anytime soon, and whether it is poised to pose a serious challenge to the US dollar’s domination of the international monetary system.

China has made progress in the use of the renminbi (RMB) as a settlement currency [GALLO/GETTY]

An international currency is used and held beyond the issuing country’s borders, and plays the role of unit of account, medium of exchange, and store of value for residents and non-residents alike. Certainly, there are many potential benefits for China to be gained from the RMB’s internationalization:

·        Elimination of exchange-rate risks to which Chinese firms are exposed;

·        Greater funding efficiency for Chinese financial institutions, thus strengthening their competitiveness in global financial markets;

·        A boost to China’s trade with its neighbors, owing to the reduction in transaction costs;

·        Less need for China to hold US dollar assets and risk capital losses on the country’s foreign-exchange reserves;

·        Eventual status as one of the world’s major reserve currencies, which would provide China more freedom to maneuver in domestic and international economic policy.

China’s enthusiasm for RMB internationalization since 2009 partly reflects its frustration with the lack of progress in reforming the international financial architecture, and with the state of regional financial cooperation. Chinese officials believe that RMB internationalization is a way for China to set its own agenda without being overly constrained by external conditions beyond its control.

Thus far, China has made significant progress in the use of the RMB as a settlement currency, in the issuance of RMB-denominated bonds, and in signing currency-swap agreements with foreign central banks. RMB deposits in Hong Kong are growing exponentially.

Despite these achievements, however, RMB internationalization could still easily go awry. For example, various incentives have been provided to encourage enterprises to use the RMB to settle transactions. But, with an undervalued exchange rate and strong expectations for the RMB to appreciate in the future, foreign importers of Chinese products refuse to use the RMB to settle transactions, while foreign exporters are happy to accept RMB. As a result, even with the same trade balance, China ends up with more foreign-exchange reserves, though using the RMB as a settlement currency is supposed to reduce their accumulation.

Indeed, so far, RMB internationalization has shown a clear pattern of asymmetry – and not only as a settlement currency for China’s imports, but not for exports. RMB-denominated bonds meet strong demand, yet non-residents have no great incentive to issue them. And, while foreign lenders are happy to extend RMB loans, they are not welcome by foreign borrowers. Given strong expectations of RMB appreciation, internationalization will inevitably lead to a serious currency mismatch, with possibly detrimental consequences for China’s welfare.

A more fundamental problem for RMB internationalization is what it implies for China’s capital controls. Although the internationalization of a currency is not tantamount to capital-account liberalization, the degree of internationalization is conditional on capital-account liberalization. In fact, internationalization of the RMB has opened a new hole in China’s wall of capital controls. The big increase in RMB deposits in Hong Kong is a case in point.

When a currency endures a prolonged process of one-way appreciation, speculative capital aimed at exchange-rate arbitrage is bound to seek all chances to flow in. Hot money will increase currency appreciation pressure and complicate macroeconomic management. The profit-taking by speculators at the end of the game will lead to huge welfare losses to the recipient country, in this case China.

Fear of hot money was the main reason why China refused to de-peg the RMB from the dollar until July 2005. While China did decide to allow the RMB to appreciate gradually after that, it has relied on capital controls to prevent hot money from flowing in. The controls are leaky, to be sure, but they have worked (so far), which is why China has effectively maintained macroeconomic stability over the years.

The key objective of China’s capital controls is to prevent non-residents from holding domestic RMB-denominated assets that are unrelated to trade and long-term capital flows. But RMB internationalization encourages non-residents to hold more RMBs and RMB-denominated assets. As a result of RMB internationalization, RMB deposits held by Hong Kong residents have reached RMB370 billion ($57 billion), and the amount may reach RMB1 trillion by the end of the year.

One might wonder what difference there is between hot money and RMB deposits held by non-residents. The answer depends on why non-residents hold these deposits. The attraction of the RMB should come from China’s strong economic fundamentals and faith in its economy. If it comes from expectations of RMB appreciation, the success of RMB internationalization can be easily reversed and will cause more problems for China’s monetary authority to solve in the future.

Fortunately, China’s monetary authority has already noticed the subtlety of the distinction between legitimate demand for RMB-denominated assets and hot money. This means that the pace of RMB internationalization could become more measured than international investors have expected.

While internationalization of the RMB is necessary (and inevitable), it should be guided by market principles and pursued in a cautious manner. To get the sequence of policy adjustments right is vital. In any case, the RMB’s path to becoming a truly international currency promises to be a bumpy one.

By,Yu Yongding, currently President of the China Society of World Economics, is a former member of the monetary policy committee of the Peoples’ Bank of China and former Director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of World Economics and Politics.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

%d bloggers like this: