The People’s Bank of China said the country does not benefit any more from increases in its foreign-currency holdings, adding to signs policy makers will rein in dollar purchases that limit the yuan’s appreciation.
“It’s no longer in China’s favor to accumulate foreign-exchange reserves,” Yi Gang, a deputy governor at the central bank, said in a speech organized by China Economists 50 Forum at Tsinghua University yesterday. The monetary authority will “basically” end normal intervention in the currency market and broaden the yuan’s daily trading range, Governor Zhou Xiaochuan wrote in an article in a guidebook explaining reforms outlined last week following a Communist Party meeting. Neither Yi nor Zhou gave a timeframe for any changes.
China’s foreign-exchange reserves surged $166 billion in the third quarter to a record $3.66 trillion, more than triple those of any other country and bigger than the gross domestic product of Germany, Europe’s largest economy. The increase suggested money poured into the nation’s assets even as developing nations from Brazil to India saw an exit of capital because of concern the Federal Reserve will taper stimulus.
Yi, who is also head of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, said in the speech that the yuan’s appreciation benefits more people in China than it hurts.
His comments are “consistent with the plans to increase the renminbi’s flexibility so they become less interventionist,” Sacha Tihanyi, senior currency strategist at Scotiabank in Hong Kong, said by phone today. The central bank may widen the yuan’s trading band in “the coming few months,” he added.
The yuan’s spot rate is allowed to diverge a maximum 1 percent on either side of a daily reference rate set by the People’s Bank of China. The trading range was doubled in April 2012, after being expanded from 0.3 percent in May 2007. The band could be widened to 2 percent, Hong Kong Apple Daily reported today, citing an interview with the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s former chief executive Joseph Yam.
Capital inflows into China accelerated in October, official data suggest. Yuan positions at the nation’s financial institutions accumulated from foreign-exchange purchases, a gauge of capital flows, climbed 441.6 billion yuan ($72 billion), the most since January.
About half of October’s increase in the positions was attributable to surpluses in trade and foreign direct investment, with the rest accounted for by inflows of “hot money,” Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Hong Kong-based analysts MK Tang and Li Cui wrote in a Nov. 18 note.
The yuan has appreciated 2.3 percent against the greenback this year, the best-performance of 24 emerging-market currencies tracked by Bloomberg. Non-deliverable 12-month forwards rose 0.2 percent this week and reached 6.1430 per dollar on Nov. 20, matching an all-time high recorded on Oct. 16. The currency closed steady at 6.0932 in Shanghai today.
“It appears that many in the People’s Bank think the time is about right to scale back currency interventions,” Mark Williams, London-based chief Asia economist at Capital Economics Ltd., wrote in an e-mail yesterday. “But China has got itself into a situation where stopping intervention will be very hard to do” and comments such as Yi’s will spur speculative inflows, he added.
Less intervention and smaller gains in foreign-exchange reserves may damp China’s appetite for U.S. government debt. The nation is the largest foreign creditor to the U.S. and its holdings of Treasuries increased by $25.7 billion, or 2 percent, to $1.294 trillion in September, the biggest gain since February. U.S. government securities lost 2.6 percent this year, according to the Bloomberg U.S. Treasury Bond Index.
“The Chinese government does not have much of an incentive to continue to accumulate Treasury bills and other reserves,” Andy Seaman, who helps oversee some $1.6 billion at Stratton Street Capital LLP in London, wrote in an email today. “It just loses money on these as the renminbi appreciates. Reserves have been rising sharply again, even as the renminbi has appreciated, suggesting further upwards pressure if intervention stops.”
Yi’s comments didn’t imply China will be cutting its holdings of U.S. government debt, said Scotiabank’s Tihanyi. “They are probably going to keep their allocations reasonably stable unless there’s a big policy shift, but it means they will possibly be buying less at the margin,” he said.