China Economics: Yuan Rebalanced on back of Euro
According to China Daily News, China is going to make a long overdue move from pegging to the dollar and switching to a trade-weighted basket of currencies.
China to diversify foreign exchange reserves
(China Business Weekly)
Updated: 2004-05-08 09:12
China is looking to diversify its foreign exchange reserves out of US dollars, according to its top foreign exchange manager.
China's chief forex regulator, Guo Shuqing, said in a recent Financial Times interview the make-up of the country's US$440-billion forex cash pile was being altered to include more European and Asian bonds, given concerns over a weaker US dollar.
The mere thought of China offloading some of its vast US Treasury holdings is enough to send shivers down investors' spines, risking a further deterioration in the already-bloated US current account deficit and more dollar weakness.
But, analysts are advising them not to panic.
"It is easy to get carried away with how much they are diversifying. Certainly they are, but we are talking about a very conservative central bank, and they will only be doing it very gradually," said James Malcolm, foreign exchange strategist at JP Morgan in Singapore.
"If you look at the accumulation of reserves, some of that will be going into euros, but a lot will be staying in dollars. There is talk of more bailouts of State banks later this year, and that would argue for a build-up of dollars."
Others put Guo's comments in the context of a long-running process of China seeking a broader mix for its currency reserves.
"They have been shifting in this direction for some time," said Mary Davis, currency strategist at CSFB in London.
"Aggregate IMF (International Monetary Fund) data from 2002 showed a clear shift out of dollars into euro- and sterling-denominated instruments. They are doing this on an ongoing basis, and only an abrupt change would have major implications."
Analysts agree a shift in the currency regime to link the yuan to a trade-weighted basket of currencies, rather than a simple dollar peg, would have little impact on the management of China's forex reserves.
In earlier comments, Guo said China wanted to move to a floating system that would link the yuan to a basket of currencies. He did not give a timetable for the switch.
A basket would include at least the euro and yen, in addition to the US dollar, and up to seven other currencies, including those of China's main Asian trading partners.
Analysts have stressed this would not necessitate a change in the composition of reserves to reflect currency weightings in the basket.
"There is a strong incentive for the central bank to hold some forex reserves in the most liquid currency, as they want to be able to react quickly in the forex markets if necessary," analysts at Goldman Sachs wrote in a research paper earlier this year.
That means Chinese authorities are likely to maintain a large portion of their reserves in the world's most liquid currency, the US dollar.
The choice of a particular basket in the forex regime should not have any influence on the allocation of excess reserves, suggest Goldman Sachs' analysts.
A shift to a more flexible system would help release some of the upward pressure on the yuan.
That, in turn, would give Asian countries more scope to allow their own currencies to strengthen. They have been intervening in their own currencies to contain gains against the falling US dollar to maintain trade competitiveness in relation to China.
In that respect, Asia could be where the biggest currency moves are seen after a Chinese forex system shift.
Of course this is going to strengthen the Euro, as this Tech-Station Central Article Points out:
By Jeremy Slater Published 03/18/2004
For Europe's two biggest countries, enough is enough -- at least when it comes to the euro-dollar exchange rate. President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder have been talking lately about the poor state of their economies and how the recent strength of the European single currency against the dollar was not helping their attempts to create growth. Now they want something done about it.
Unfortunately, it's too little, too late. Even up until the beginning of this year very few statements had been made by anyone in authority, either in government or at the European Central Bank, about the euro's hitting new highs against the dollar. The greenback had been falling in value against the euro for over 18 months and yet no one had spoken of any potential problems until last month. In fact both Chirac and Schröder had signed a communiqué after the Group of Seven meeting in Dubai last September that suggested they were happy with the dollar's falling rate. So, guess what happened -- it kept on falling.
It was at just this sort of meeting where there could have been a chance to say to the Bush Administration that a high deficit and weakening dollar was not necessarily good for the world economy....
And what happened to the relative values of the dollar and the euro after the Boca Raton confab? Absolutely nothing, which is why Chirac and Schröder finally felt they had to step into the fray.
The problem for euro policy so far is that it has been run by a European Central Bank that is too busy trying to establish its political independence, therefore ignoring pleas by politicians, and that pays far too much attention to inflation rates. The ECBs hawkish stance was part of the reason why it failed to cut its interest rates as swiftly as the US Federal Reserve Bank did in late 2001 and 2002. This meant that it missed out on a chance to boost eurozone growth at the same time as America boosted its own.
Even though eurozone inflation is fairly stable at around 2 percent and the euro keeping at a high level, the ECB still refuses to budge the rates. True, these are at a post-war low, but a cut would be something the financial markets and currency traders would take notice of and make the euro more attractive to buyers. Also with negligible growth in the core eurozone markets, France, Germany and Italy, lowering interest rates would have a beneficial effect on any green shoots of an economic recovery. The bank is caught between a rock and a hard place at the moment, hence the reason why it left interest rates at 2 percent at its most recent monthly meeting.
In the past the ECB has been criticized for a lack of transparency and puzzling the markets with decisions on interest rates that seemed contrary to other economic facts. With Wim Duisenberg, the former Dutch bank chief, gone, many observers had hoped that the ECB would become more robust in its policy decisions. Its new chairman, Jean-Claude Trichet, who is less phlegmatic than his predecessor, was hoped to give more impetus and coherence to the ECB's presentation, but so far he has not been able to put his stamp on the bank. He is also understood to be closer to Schröder and Chirac on the need for growth than his board members...
Which means that the prospect for eurozone growth remains gloomy unless Schröder, Chirac and Trichet can be more voluble in the need for the euro to fall. It would not be bad if the heads of other central banks agreed, but don't expect the Fed to do that in an election year and the Bank of Japan is more interested in nurturing Japanese growth than anybody else's.
The problem is that as of early this year the Chinese foreign currency reserves in US dollars had hit a new high (Reuters):
China's foreign currency reserves, the second biggest in the world, rose $12.5 billion in January to $415.7 billion as more "hot money" poured in amid speculation the country will allow the yuan to rise in value.
The strong inflows may make it tough for Beijing to rein in rapid money and credit growth that have helped trigger inflation and cause overheating in some industries, analysts said.
China's foreign currency reserves are the second highest in the world after Japan and have risen in recent years as the world's fastest growing major economy generated strong exports and attracted foreign investment.
The January data left more than $8 billion unaccounted for after factoring in a $20 million trade deficit -- the first in 10 months -- and foreign investment of $4.1 billion.
Data provided by the central bank on Thursday did not give a break-down of capital flows, but analysts said the difference could be due to so-called hot money, the term for funds that skirt Chinese rules barring the free exchange of yuan for foreign currency.
They say China has billions of dollars in hot-money inflows each month.
The currency is pegged at about 8.28 to the dollar (CNY=), but pressure has mounted for Beijing to either widen the razor-thin trading band for the currency, or repeg it at a higher value that would better reflect the country's strong economic growth.
So speculators have been busy cashing in their dollars in the hope of making an easy profit if the yuan's value is set at a higher level.
To soak up the foreign currency coming in, Beijing has had to issue more yuan, which has pumped up lending and helped drive breakneck industrial expansion.
A picture of the whole situation can be encapsulated by reading Alan Greenspan's Federal Reserve Board Speech in 1999. The one issue that he doesn't address is how long is "temporary".
The two main policy tools available to monetary authorities to counter undesirable exchange rate movements are sterilized intervention operations in foreign exchange markets and monetary policy operations in domestic money markets.
Empirical research into the effectiveness of sterilized intervention in industrial country currencies has found that such operations have at best only small and temporary effects on exchange rates. One explanation for the limited measurable effectiveness of sterilized intervention is that the scale of typical operations has been insufficient to counter the enormous pressures that can be marshaled by market forces. In one sense, this is true by definition. Another is that the assets bought and sold in intervention operations are such close substitutes in the minds of investors that they willingly accept changes in the currency composition of their holdings without compensating changes in asset prices or exchange rates. A more recent strand of research into this topic claims that intervention operations can be effective when they signal future monetary policy operations, which are perceived to be more effective in altering asset prices, including exchange rates. The problem with this view is that it means that sterilized intervention is not an independent tool that can be used to influence exchange rates. It needs a supporting monetary policy stance to be effective.
We are left with the conclusion that foreign exchange market-sterilized intervention by itself has only a limited impact on exchange rates. This is underscored by the reported intervention by Japanese authorities of roughly $20 billion against the yen in April of last year that barely budged the dollar/yen exchange rate.
Hence, reserve assets do not expand, in a meaningful way, the set of macroeconomic policy tools that is available to policy makers in industrial countries. [emphasis added]
It's true that no bank, even a central bank, can through intervention in the long term prevent exchange rate movements in the FOREX. However some countries such as Japan and China have successfully prolonged that "temporary" into a stretch of many years!
Listen further here as in March, 2004 Alan Greenspan discusses the topic to the Club of New York on the current accounts balance.
Rather than engage in exchange rate forecasting, today I will discuss certain developments in foreign exchange markets, and in the international financial system in general, which bear on the ultimate outcome of our current account adjustment process. Before raising the broader issues of adjustment, I should like to address the actions of certain of the players in the exchange market that are likely to delay the adjustment process, but only for a time.
I refer to the heavy degree of intervention by East Asian monetary authorities, especially in Japan and China, and the apparent stepped up hedging of currency movements by exporters, especially in Europe. As all of you who follow these markets are aware, since the start of 2002, the extraordinary purchases by Asian central banks and governments of dollar assets, largely those by Japan and China, have totaled almost $240 billion, all in an apparent attempt to prevent their currencies from rising against the dollar. In particular, total foreign exchange reserves for China reached $420 billion in November of last year and for Japan more than $650 billion in December.
The awesome size of Japan's accumulation results from persistent intervention to suppress what Japanese authorities have judged is a dollar-yen exchange rate that is out of line with fundamentals. One factor boosting the yen is a significant yen bias on the part of Japanese investors. This propensity, in my judgment, runs far beyond the normal tendency of investors worldwide to buy familiar domestic assets and eschew foreign-exchange risk.
Nowhere else in the world will investors voluntarily purchase ten-year government obligations at an interest rate of 1 percent or less, especially given a rate of increase in the outstanding supply of government debt that has generally been running at 9 percent over the past year. Not surprisingly, very few Japanese government bonds (JGBs) are held outside of Japan.
Aside from the holdings of the Bank of Japan, almost all JGBs are held by Japanese households, banks, insurance companies and the postal saving system. And none of them holds significant amounts of foreign assets; 99 percent of household assets are in yen, and, including the postal saving system, about 91 percent of the assets of financial institutions are in yen. Japanese nonfinancial corporations do hold a larger share of foreign assets in their securities' portfolios, but the absolute amounts are small. The Japanese have made significant foreign direct investments, especially in the United States, and the Ministry of Finance does, of course, hold large dollar balances as a consequence of exchange rate intervention. But the Japanese private sector, by and large, has exhibited limited interest in accumulating dollar or other foreign assets, removing what in other large trading economies would be a significant segment of demand for foreign assets.
The degree of domestic currency bias in Japan, which far exceeds that of its trading partners, may thus have contributed to a foreign exchange rate for the yen that appears to be elevated relative to the dollar and possibly other internationally traded currencies as well.1 Of course, this preference for yen assets, while a persistent influence on the value of the yen, has at times been overwhelmed by other factors.
Granted the level of intervention pursued by the Japanese monetary authorities has influenced the market value of the yen, but the size of the impact is difficult to judge. In any event, it must be presumed that the rate of accumulation of dollar assets by the Japanese government will have to slow at some point and eventually cease. For now, partially unsterilized intervention is perceived as a means of expanding the monetary base of Japan, a basic element of monetary policy. (The same effect, of course, is available through the purchase of domestic assets.) In time, however, as the present deflationary situation abates, the monetary consequences of continued intervention could become problematic. The current performance of the Japanese economy suggests that we are getting closer to the point where continued intervention at the present scale will no longer meet the monetary policy needs of Japan.
China is a similar story. In order to maintain the tight relationship with the dollar initiated in the 1990s, the Chinese central bank has chosen to purchase large quantities of U.S. Treasury securities with renminbi. What is not clear is how much of the current upward pressure on the currency results from underlying market forces, how much from capital inflows owing to speculation on potential revaluation, and how much from capital controls that suppress the demand of Chinese residents for dollars and other currencies.
No one truly knows whether easing or ending capital controls would lessen pressure on the currency and, in the process, also eliminate inflows from speculation on a revaluation. Many in China, however, fear that an immediate ending of controls could induce capital outflows large enough to destabilize the nation's improving, but still fragile, banking system. Others believe that decontrol, but at a gradual pace, could conceivably avoid such an outcome.
Chinese central bank purchases of dollars, unless offset, threaten an excess of so-called high-powered money expansion and a consequent overheating of the Chinese economy. The Chinese central bank last year offset --that is, sterilized-- much of its heavy dollar purchases by reducing its loans to commercial banks, by selling bonds, and by increasing reserve requirements.
But the ratio of the money supply to the monetary base in China has been rising steadily for a number of years as financial efficiency improves. Thus the modest rise that has occurred in currency and commercial bank reserves has been enough to support a twelve-month growth of the M2 money supply in the neighborhood of 20 percent through 2003 and a bit less so far this year. Should this pattern continue, the central bank will be confronted with the choice of curtailing its purchases of dollar assets or facing an overheated economy with the associated economic instabilities. Lesser dollar purchases presumably would allow the renminbi, at least temporarily, to appreciate against the dollar.
Other East Asian monetary authorities, in an endeavor to hold their currencies at a par with the yen and the renminbi, accumulated about $120 billion in reserves in 2003 and appear to have continued that rate of intervention since.
* * *
There is a general view that this heavy intervention places upward pressure on the euro. It is assumed that the dollar's trade-weighted exchange rate reflects its worldwide fundamentals, and therefore if the Asian currencies are being suppressed, the euro and other non-Asian currencies need to appreciate as an offset.
But a more likely possibility is that Asian currency intervention has had little effect on other currencies and that the trade-weighted average of the dollar is, thus, somewhat elevated relative to the rate that would have prevailed absent intervention. When Asian authorities intervene to ease their currencies against the dollar, they purchase dollar-denominated assets from private sector portfolios. With fewer dollar assets in private hands, the natural inclination to rebalance portfolios will tend to buoy the dollar even against currencies that are not used in intervention operations, including the euro. These transactions raise the dollar against, for example, the yen, lower the yen against the euro, and lower the euro against the dollar. The strength of the euro against the dollar thus appears to be the consequence of forces unrelated to Asian intervention. As I will explain later, this does not mean that when Asian intervention ceases the dollar will automatically fall because other influences on the dollar cannot be foreseen.
Some have argued that purchases of U.S. Treasuries by Asian officials are holding down interest rates on these instruments, and therefore U.S. interest rates are likely to rise as intervention by Asian monetary authorities slows, ceases, or even turns to net sales. While there are obvious reasons to be concerned about such an outcome, the effect of a reduction in the scale of intervention, or even net sales, on U.S. financial markets would likely be small. The reason is that central bank reserves are heavily concentrated in short-term maturities; moreover, the overall market in short-term dollar assets, combining both public and private instruments, is huge relative to the size of asset holdings of Asian monetary authorities. And because these issues are short-term and hence capable of only limited price change, realized capital losses, if any, would be small. Accordingly, any incentive for monetary authorities to sell dollars, in order to preserve market value, would be muted.
* * *
A different issue arises with the apparent level of hedging by exporters in Europe and elsewhere. The effect, however, is the same as Asian official intervention: It slows the process of adjustment.
Against a broad basket of currencies of our trading partners, the foreign exchange value of the U.S. dollar has declined about 12 percent from its peak in early 2002. Ordinarily, currency depreciation is accompanied by a rise in the dollar prices of our imported goods and services, because foreign exporters seek to avoid price declines in their own currencies, which would otherwise result from the fall in the foreign exchange value of the dollar.
Reflecting the swing from dollar appreciation to dollar depreciation, the dollar prices of goods and services imported into the United States have begun to rise after declining on balance for several years. But the turnaround to date has been moderate and far short of that implied by the exchange rate change. Apparently, foreign exporters have been willing to absorb some of the price decline measured in their own currencies and the consequent squeeze on profit margins it entails in order to hold market share. In fact, given that the nearly 9 percent rise in dollar prices of goods imported from western Europe since the start of 2002 has been far short of the rise in the euro, profit margins of euro-area exporters to the United States may well have turned negative.
Nonetheless, euro-area exports to the United States, when expressed in euros, have slowed only modestly. A possible reason is that European exporters' incentives to sell to the United States were diminished significantly less than indicated by the dollar price and exchange rate movements owing to accelerated short forward positions against the dollar in foreign exchange markets. A marked increase in foreign exchange derivative trading, especially in dollar-euro, according to the Bank for International Settlements, is consistent with increased hedging of exports to the United States and to other markets that use currencies tied to the U.S. dollar.2
However, most contracts are short-term because long-term hedging is expensive. Thus, although hedging may delay, and perhaps even smooth out, the adjustment, it cannot eliminate, without prohibitive cost, the consequences of exchange rate change. Accordingly, the currency depreciation that we have experienced of late should eventually help to contain our current account deficit as foreign producers export less to the United States. On the other side of the ledger, the current account should improve as U.S. firms find the export market more receptive. But in the process, dollar prices of imports will surely rise.
* * *
When the temporary forestalling of the U.S. balance of payments adjustment process comes to an end, does that suggest a steepening of the decline in the dollar's exchange rate?
As I pointed out in the beginning, the most sophisticated analytical techniques have been unable to profitably project the exchange rates of major currencies. Yet, most commentators argue that because the current account deficit must eventually narrow, the price-adjusted value of the dollar must accordingly decline. But how can exchange rates and the current account be systematically related, if exchange rates are inherently unpredictable? The answer is that the point at which the U.S. current account deficit will be forced to narrow is itself inherently difficult to predict. The current account reflects the myriad forces that bring our transactions with foreign economies into balance at our borders, of which exchange rates are only one. But those forces that, in the end, are reflected in a current account surplus or deficit are both domestic and foreign. Indeed, our current account balance can be shown to be exactly equal to the difference between domestic saving and domestic investment. In fact, it is often instructive in longer-term analysis to view our current account in terms of its domestic counterparts. [emphasis added]
What Greenspan is saying so obtusely is that the dollars value will fall, that foreign bank interventions can delay but not stop this, that the dollar will fall to bring the current accounts balance into line, and that the timing of such a correction will primarily be determined by domestic US economic and financial policy. An important concept is the concept of "servicing debt". Debt can be afforded so long as one can make the interest payments. When confidence is undermined in one's ability to service one's debt, then lenders either charge a higher rate of interest as a risk premium or they cease to make credit available without collateral assets.
This is why the earlier discussion of US financial policy and the structural deficit that is being put into place is so important with regard to the adjustment of the currency versus other national currencies. The primary winner of the yuan readjustment is the Euro, but the Euro is already overvalued and so the pressure must go somewhere- possibly into purchases of gold as a reserve asset. (China Daily)
The country's annual consumption is about 200 tons, while its production is roughly 180 tons a year.
The major reasons for the shortage are the limited natural reserves and inadequate production facilities.
In China, there are some 800 gold mines, with a total workforce of 400,000; and, on average, each mine has a daily handling capacity of more than 50 tons of ore, their combined annual gold production capacity totalling 150 tons.
However, Kang said, 80 per cent of them have a daily ore processing capacity of less than 20 tons each.
Small in production scale, backward in technology and management, and low in production efficiency, most Chinese gold mines are not competitive and suffer from high production costs, he said.
Many analysts suggest that the central bank should spend part of its foreign exchange reserves on importing gold, and place the gold purchased in the domestic market.
Purchasing foreign gold with the reserves will not only help take billions of yuan out of circulation, but will also boost overall national import volumes, Xi said, thus "easing pressures from abroad for the appreciation of the yuan."
Savings in China hit 10.9 trillion yuan (US$1.3 trillion) at the end of last November. Trying in vain for years to encourage a high growth in private spending, China has had to rely on proactive fiscal policies marked by heavy government investment to maintain its fast gross domestic product growth.
Encouraging trading in gold is one effective way to help solve the problem, said Xi.
In addition, here is a March, 2004 analysis supporting the idea that Japan and China will have to partially diversify into gold in the near term to deal with their foreign currency reserve excess in the dollar.
When governments debase the dollar, gold is the only effective hedge Gold is a good to thing to have. Gold recently recorded a 15-year high, rising more than 70 percent from the low. We believe gold's historic role, as a superior asset class in a world of devalued currencies will emerge this year taking gold beyond $510 an ounce. Coincidently, Japanese Finance Minister, Sadakazu Tanigaki, stated the government will diversify its huge foreign exchange reserves and will "carefully consider whether it will change the composition of its US $673 billion foreign reserves, including its holdings in gold." At yearend, Japan's gold reserves totaled 765 tons or a meager 1.5% of total reserves. The Chinese, the new global juggernaut has only 600 tons of gold in reserves. That will change in a China-centric world. And, the Washington Agreement was renewed for another five years with the fifteen banks declaring, "Gold will remain an important element of global monetary reserves".
Let my readers understand me carefully. Except for the past few years, gold has been a terrible investment. Its price has depreciated over time even as inflation rose. Meaning that a 1884 investment in gold was worth significantly less in 1994 dollars. However the current pressure for a realignment on the dollar is going to create a movement in several prices - gold, oil, and the euro - as well as a repositioning of debt situations. This is something that the central bankers know must and in fact will happen. Exactly when it happens, is not something that can be precisely predicted. But in my next article I will begin discussing the details of the China investment scene and especially all the "hot money" pouring in trying to take advantage of a yuan repositioning against the dollar.