Goldman Finds ‘Sharp Devaluation’ Fear in China Metals Trade

  • Bank told of concern over weaker yuan by base metal investors
  • Chinese currency is heading for the worst quarter on record

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said metals investors in China are concerned that the government may sharply weaken the nation’s currency in a decision that could trigger large swings in prices.

There are “fears in the market over a sharp devaluation in China,” analysts Jeffrey Currie, Yubin Fu and Max Layton wrote in a report. The June 29 note summarized views from Chinese metals traders, producers and investors, and didn’t give the bank’s own assessment of prospects for a devaluation.

China’s government shocked global financial markets with a surprise devaluation last August as policy makers confronted slowing economic growth. Earlier this week, the yuan traded at its weakest against the dollar in more than five years in turmoil following Britain’s vote to quit the European Union, and the currency is headed for its worst quarter on record. A weaker yuan makes raw materials more expensive for China to import, while making Chinese products more competitive overseas.

Large Moves

A devaluation “would present headwinds for metals prices and lead to market speculation about large moves of prices short term,” the analysts wrote, summarizing comments from those they talked to. The bank canvassed views from investors at a local conference in mid-June as well as more recently.

“Any further yuan devaluation could throw a bit of a spanner in the works,” said Daniel Hynes, senior commodities strategist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. Should markets continue to steady after the initial Brexit shock, “it’s pretty much: ‘move along, there’s nothing to see here’,’’ he said.

Policy makers in China are trying to guide the currency lower versus those of its trading partners as the economy slows, while simultaneously damping expectations of faster depreciation. The currency has lost 2.9 percent against a basket of peers this quarter, while the offshore yuan fell against the dollar.

“There appeared to be consensus that a bull metals market is unlikely in the medium term, given China’s transition from old economy to new economy,” the analysts wrote. “Most participants believe that the fundamentals of the base metals market are unchanged.”

After the August devaluation, metals dropped amid concern the shift may hurt demand for raw material imports in the world’s top user. The LME Metals Index, a gauge of the six main base metals, fell 2.5 percent that month, part of a seven-month losing streak. This week, it headed for a back-to-back quarterly gain and was set for the best run since the period to December 2013.

Metals may get near-term support from strong credit conditions in the second half as well as from the Federal Reserve pausing on rates, the participants told Goldman, according to the note. “If the Fed does not tighten meaningfully, which is what the onshore markets now seems to expect, metals prices are also expected to be supported,” the bank said.

— With assistance by Martin Ritchie

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