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Christopher Balding

Funny Numbers Show Money Leaving China

Individuals and companies have found a creative way to move assets to safer havens.
Businesses funnel money out by overpaying for imports.

Businesses funnel money out by overpaying for imports.

Source: ChinaFotoPress/Getty Iimages

News that China's foreign-exchange reserves rose by $10 billion in March rather than declining has quieted doomsayers. Worries that the reserves could dip to dangerous levels as soon as this summer -- after shrinking by an estimated $1 trillion last year -- appear to have been premature. Still, questions linger over exactly how much money is leaving China and why. The true picture may not be as rosy as the headline numbers suggest.

Before the March upturn, capital had been flooding out of China at a rapid clip -- an average of $48 billion per month over the previous six months, according to official bank data. The reasons were several. Fearing further declines in the value of the yuan, several companies paid off their dollar loans; others pursued big acquisitions abroad. Individual investors sought out higher returns as the Fed prepared to raise rates. The government spent billions to prop up the value of the currency. Some individuals and companies reduced their offshore yuan deposits. Still others looked to spirit money out of the country to safer havens.