February 27, 2021

Rise in Chinese Currency Draws Attention

HONG KONG — China’s currency has staged a small but unexpected rally in currency markets this week, as the country’s central bank has allowed it to rise 0.72 percent against the dollar, with most of the move coming Wednesday and Thursday.

The State Administration of Foreign Exchange, which is part of the central bank, fixed the initial trading value Thursday morning below 6.4 renminbi to the dollar for the first time in the modern history of the currency.

Economists and traders interpreted the new trading value, 6.3991 to the dollar, as a signal that the central bank might be willing to tolerate a slightly faster rate of appreciation against the dollar, something the United States and other big industrial nations have long pressed China to do.

Daniel Hui, a senior foreign exchange strategist at HSBC, said in a research note that the recent movement in the daily fixing of the renminbi “indicates something has changed — the question is why, and if it will last.”

Allowing the renminbi to strengthen can help China fight inflation, by making imports cheaper. But a stronger renminbi can also hurt exports and employment at China’s many export-oriented factories by making Chinese goods more expensive in foreign markets.

The government’s National Bureau of Statistics announced Tuesday that inflation in consumer prices had reached 6.5 percent in July, the highest level in three years. At the same time, China’s exporters are showing unusual strength despite economic weakness in the West.

China’s General Administration of Customs announced Wednesday that exports were up 20.4 percent in July from a year earlier, more than most economists had expected, producing a trade surplus of $31.5 billion, the country’s largest in more than two years.

But any sustained acceleration in the appreciation of the renminbi could bring greater speculative inflows of money to China. As a result, many economists have been predicting that China may soon allow the currency to trade in a wider band each day around the initial fixing, which is done in Shanghai. Greater volatility makes it harder for speculators to borrow money to put bets on a rising renminbi.

The Administration of Foreign Exchange sets an initial trading value each day and then keeps the currency within a tight range around that value through the day by buying dollars, frequently on a large scale, and selling renminbi. In theory, the currency can vary during the day by as much as 0.5 percent, but the government has tended to keep the daily trading in a much tighter range, often less than 0.1 percent.

China’s foreign exchange reserves swelled by $350 billion in the first half of this year — equal to one-ninth of the country’s economic output in the period — mostly because of this currency market intervention. The Administration of Foreign Exchange also earns interest on its reserves, which totaled $3.2 trillion at the end of June.

Bettina Wassener contributed reporting from Hong Kong, and David Jolly from Paris.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=ca626d2d8bdea6feb3df3c20f21dbd18

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