China Joins the Currency Wars: Updated

August 14th, 2015
in News, econ_news, syndication

Written by and

Original article Tuesday 11 August 2015.  Updates for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday at end of article.

Across most industry sectors a growing China economy is one of the catalysts to businesses around the world enjoying prosperity. And, as we have witnessed over the past months, that growth seems to be slowing appreciably. The Chinese have seen exports decline even as one of its largest customers, Europe, has seemingly started to see some economic strengthening. But part of that strengthening (maybe most of it?) can be attributed to monetary easing and QE (quantitative easing) by the ECB (European Central Bank) which has driven the euro about 20% lower vs. the U.S. dollar in recent months.


Follow up:

China has its currency (the yuan renminbi) pegged to the U.S. dollar. Until today the exchange rate was set at RMB 6.21 to the dollar. The revaluation today (11 August) moved the rate to 6.32, a devaluation of approximately 2%. While this is only 1/10 of the devaluation of the euro, it still will have some effect on China's trade with the eurozone and not be too disruptive for trade with the U.S.  See below for information about a second devaluation

Note: Many news sources today have mistakenly used the old exchange rate of 6.21 as the new rate.

Click for current live streaming chart at

Of course as will happen in any 'crisis' there may be some targeted sectors of the U.S. market that might benefit from the angst in China. One in particular is the New York City real estate market as even more of the wealth from over there looks to find a safe haven over here. Capital flight from China may be a more important positive factor for U.S. and other real estate markets favored by the Chinese than is the negative affect of the 2% loss of purchasing power for the Chinese.  Such considerations may be even more impactful if there develops a perception that further devaluations may be down the road.

Not the least of China's concerns is the weakening of its manufacturing sector since the rebound following the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 and the accompanying Great Recession. The graph below from GavKal Capital (annotated by Econintersect) shows a bearish pattern of succeeding lower highs and a level support line for the Markit PMI (Purchasing Managers' Index). This index covers small and medium sized privately held companies in China. These manufacturers are the most sensitive to exports. Devaluation of the renmenbi will be especially supportive to these companies.


Note: The Markit PMI has spent about 2/3 of the time below 50 starting in 4Q 2011 indicating a manufacturing contraction. Weakness in manufacturing has been building for some time in China - the currency change is not reacting to a new dynamic.

Even as supporting manufacturing exports does seem an attractive reason for devaluing, it may well be a secondary one. More important to China is the status of the yuan renminbi as a global currency. Last week the IMF declined to consider upgrading the status of the Chinese currency for at least another 12 months. Beijing has been pushing for inclusion of the yuan in the Special Drawing Rights currency basket designed to reduce global dependence on the U.S. dollar as the primary reserve currency.

But make no mistake! Even with the IMF decision the devaluation of the renminbi will have ripple effects across the globe!

For more of an explanation, this is an excellent article from the New York Times, 'China Devalues Its Currency as Worries Rise About Economic Slowdown'.

As China contends with an economic slowdown and a stock market slump, the authorities on Tuesday sharply devalued the country's currency, the renminbi, a move that could raise geopolitical tensions and weigh on growth elsewhere.

The central bank set the official value of the renminbi nearly 2 percent weaker against the dollar. The devaluation is the largest since China's modern exchange-rate system was introduced at the start of 1994.

China's abrupt devaluation is the clearest sign yet of mounting concern in Beijing that the country could fall short of its goal of roughly 7 percent economic growth this year. Growth is faltering despite heavy pressure on state-owned banks to lend money readily to companies willing to invest in new factories and equipment, and despite a stepped-up tempo of government spending on high-speed rail lines and other infrastructure projects.

A steep drop in the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock markets in late June and early July, only halted by aggressive government actions, appears to have dented consumer demand within China. Automakers, typically a bellwether of demand, have announced declines in sales last month; Ford China, for example, said last Friday that its sales had fallen 6 percent last month compared with July of last year.

China's devaluation represents a difficult dilemma for the Obama administration. The United States Treasury has tried to use quiet diplomacy in recent years to encourage China to free up its currency policies, while blocking efforts in Congress to punish China for major intervention in currency markets over the past decade to slow the rise of the renminbi. Many in Congress have long accused China of unfairly building up its manufacturing sector at the expense of American jobs by undervaluing the renminbi, and the Chinese devaluation could fan those criticisms.

In a seeming nod to such concerns, the central bank said that it would begin to use the market closing, not the previous morning's official setting, to calculate the renminbi's official daily fixing against the dollar. But China's economic weakness now means that further opening up of the currency to market forces could mean a weaker renminbi, not a stronger one. That, in turn, would make Chinese goods even more competitive in the United States and Europe.

China's central bank "has finally thrown in the towel on supporting the renminbi," said Eswar S. Prasad, a professor of economics at Cornell University. At the same time, he added, easing its grip on the currency's value "has blunted criticism by combining the currency devaluation with a more market-determined exchange rate." The United States and institutions such as the International Monetary Fund have called on China to be more hands-off in managing the renminbi.

The Chinese currency has been a global point of contention for nearly a decade. China officially ended the renminbi's fixed peg to the dollar in 2005. Since then, it has risen in two long, slow climbs. The first was from July 2005 to August 2008, when it was interrupted by the global financial crisis. The renminbi then resumed its rise from June 2010 to early last year, when it dipped slightly, then stabilized.

The overall increase since 2005 has been more than 25 percent against the dollar. It has strengthened even more against other major currencies, like the euro and the yen.

But the Chinese currency is not freely tradable, and its movements are tightly controlled by the government.

Each morning in Shanghai, China's central bank sets a midpoint for the renminbi's value against the dollar and other major currencies. This can be as much as 2 percent higher or lower than the previous day's value, although the change is almost always a tiny fraction of 1 percent.

But on Tuesday, the central bank fixed the value of the renminbi at 6.2298 per dollar, down 1.9 percent from Monday's official fixing. In a statement on its website, the central bank said it was seeking "to perfect" the renminbi's exchange rate against the dollar.

The bank, the People's Bank of China, said it was reacting to trends in the market, where traders in recent months had been betting on a weaker renminbi. In trading in mainland China on Tuesday, the renminbi weakened further to close at 6.3231 per dollar, a drop of 1.8 percent from the close on Monday. By the end of the Asian business day, it had fallen even further in offshore trading to around 6.36 renminbi per dollar, a drop of about 2.7 percent, signaling overseas investors expected further weakening.

The move also jolted the currencies of countries that depend heavily on China as a market for exports. The Australian dollar fell 1.1 percent against the United States dollar on Tuesday, and the South Korean won declined 1.4 percent.

"While China's policy makers have long suggested that foreign exchange reforms would happen, the abrupt nature of today's announcement has injected considerable volatility into the renminbi and other Asian currencies," analysts at HSBC wrote Tuesday in a research note.

The central bank also said it would seek to prevent what it described as "abnormal" capital flows. Weaker economic growth has prompted sizable outflows from China in recent months, which have most likely been exacerbated by the country's stock market volatility. A falling renminbi generally increases the risk of more outflows.

While China grew at a 7 percent rate in the first half of the year, that was made possible mainly because of a boost from the financial services industry, which benefited from the country's stock market boom. With the downturn in the nation's markets over the past two months, growth is slowing more evidently.

This is despite an all-out effort by the government to prop up share prices. The measures included extraordinary support from state-run banks, which in July made new loans worth 1.5 trillion renminbi, or about $240 billion at the time, according to data released Tuesday. The last time Chinese banks approached that amount of lending was 2009, when Beijing was deploying 4 trillion renminbi in stimulus to stem the damage from the global financial crisis.

A depreciating renminbi also has implications for China's pledges to open its economy and financial markets wider, including efforts in recent years to lift the currency's global prominence.

The central bank has been lobbying the International Monetary Fund to include the renminbi among freely traded benchmarks like the dollar, euro and yen, so that other countries can include it as an official reserve currency.

While acknowledging these efforts, the fund issued a report last week saying that "significant work remains outstanding" before it could decide whether to include the renminbi as a global benchmark, adding that no changes were likely to be made before September of next year.

The fund also singled out China's official daily fixing of the renminbi's exchange rate, saying this "is not based on actual market trades."

Tuesday's devaluation "is likely intended to improve the 'market-driven' quality" of the exchange rate to appeal to the I.M.F., Wang Tao, the chief China economist at UBS, wrote Tuesday in a research note.

"However, we think it unlikely that the Chinese government will let only market momentum drive the renminbi exchange rate from now on," Ms. Wang added, "as that can be quite destabilizing."

Update for Wednesday:

In another surprise move China devalued the yuan a second time today almost as much as the first move on Wednesday.  See two-day chart below.  This makes the term currency war seem much more relevant.  Click on chart below to see latest data which shows a 0.9% drop in the exchange rate 15 minutes before the close.  The USD/CNY ended Wednesday at 6.3870, after reaching an intraday high near 6.4447.

Click for latest live streaming chart at

Update for Thursday:

China devalued the yuan for a third consecutive day today (13 August).   The opening move was a devaluation of 0.9% to nearly 6.4449, but that was quickly moderated in the first hour and most of the day was between 6.40 and 6.42 with a close at 6.3989, up about 0.2% for the day.  See the first chart below.  This brings the devaluation for the week to approximately 3%.  Econintersect infers that this is at least the temporary target for the yuan renminbi (6.4).  The second chart below shows the entire devaluation move.

Click for current live streaming chart at

Click for current live streaming chart at

Update for Friday:

As we suggested at this time yesterday, the PBoC (People's Bank of China seems to have 6.40 as the target exchange rate for now.  See 7-day chart below:

Click for current live streaming chart at


Update for Saturday

Friday trading ended up relatively uneventful, except for a 0.1% strengthening of the yuan in the last hour of trading.  The chart below shows the action for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  The settling to an exchange rate around 6.4 is clearly evident.

Click for current live streaming chart at

Additional reading:


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