'China doesn’t need to punish itself for other’s foolish trade policies': Wall Street warns Beijing against weakening its currency

  • The Chinese yuan has been sinking to fresh lows versus the dollar.
  • The People’s Bank of China has tolerated the depreciation beyond its own stated exchange-rate policy.
  • But analysts say yuan depreciation as a tool in a trade war would be too costly.
  • Follow the Chinese yuan in real time here.

Amid China’s currency sell-off and a trade battle with the US, some analysts are drawing comparisons to 2015 when the central bank allowed the yuan to drop nearly 5%.

The yuan on Tuesday hit its lowest level versus the dollar in nearly a year. The currency has plummeted 6% versus the dollar since March, when the Trump administration announced plans to penalise China for what officials found to be unfair trade practices.

“There have been some fluctuations in the foreign exchange market recently,” People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Wang said in a statement. “We are paying close attention to this. This is mainly due to factors such as the strength of the US dollar and external uncertainty, and some procyclical behaviours.”

Chinese officials have said they will not use yuan depreciation as part of a trade battle with the US, but the slide has still raised questions about whether the PBOC could use the yuan to boost exports.

While some of the depreciation has been a result of a greenback rally, Citigroup’s top China economist, Li-Gang Liu, said there is also evidence officials have “tolerated the depreciation beyond its own stated exchange rate policy.”

The PBOC last week cut its reserve requirement ratio, or the amount of money commercial banks have to store, for some institutions by 50 basis points. The move is expected to release more than $US100 billion in liquidity.

Deutsche Bank strategist Perry Kojodjojo said he does not believe China would “weaponize” its currency as part of retaliation against the US, given the potential costs. For one, adepreciation similar to that of 2015 could hurt equities and risk capital flight.

Kojodjojo noted that in an environment where China is already seeing its current account surplus thin, this could tip its balance of payments into a “notable” deficit.

“This would likely dent China’s hopes of further internationalizing the [yuan] – and should in itself be a deterrent to using [the yuan] as a policy option in the trade wars,” Kojodjojo said.

Liu said a depreciated yuan could also give life to industries China has been trying to reduce overcapacity in, often those which are labour-intensive and highly-polluting. This could reduce incentive to move up the value chain, he said, stalling Beijing’s Made in China 2025 plan.

“China doesn’t need to punish itself for other’s foolish trade policies,” Li-Gang said, agreeing that a significant devaluation would be “too costly” for China in both the short- and long-run.

Macquarie’s Larry Hu and Irene Wu wrote in a recent research note that the People’s Bank of China might have chosen not to intervene as part of a deleveraging campaign.

“Some are more pessimistic than us as they view the recent depreciation from the angle of trade war or stimulus,” they wrote, adding that they see those claims as a “myth.”

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