ETF Securities Research Blog

What the Chinese authorities can do next?

The wording changes in the Chinese National People’s Congress annual keynote speech suggest more currency liberalisation, thus increasing currency volatility. We expect more risk aversion towards Chinese assets in the short run.

The Chinese National People’s Congress dropped the pledge to ensure that the Renminbi “remains generally stable at an appropriate and balanced level”. Chinese officials also said “the Renminbi exchange rate will be further liberalised, and the currency’s stable position in the global monetary system will be maintained”. In our opinion, these changes in the statement increase the risk of higher currency volatility while a one-off devaluation seems less likely at this stage. We also believe the currency liberalisation is more likely than another devaluation of the Yuan as the latter would complicate further the Chinese relationship with the US who relentlessly accused China of currency manipulation.
The Yuan fell 7% against the US dollar last year as the Chinese economic growth slowed and capital outflows rose. In an attempt to slow down the drop of the yuan, the PBOC sold its FX reserves (almost US$3bn in 2016) and implemented stricter capital controls (capital account fell to -US$200mn at the end of last year).
china challenges

The latest hawkish comments from FOMC’s member suggest higher US rates sooner rather than later. These comments might have had an impact on Premier Lu Keqiang’s decision to change the statement, giving more flexibility to the Chinese authorities in conducting economic policy. The latest keynote speech also signals that Chinese authorities would be unlikely to divest their FX reserves at the current pace for long if the dollar appreciates further.

Overall, we believe the Chinese authorities could move toward more currency liberalisation, meaning more currency risk for investors. They could also implement stricter capital controls to reduce capital outflows, which would likely increase risk aversion from foreign investors. Finally, the PBOC could decide to tighten its monetary policy, which is potentially too accommodative now taking into account the explosive trend on the Chinese credit market (China’s total debt reached 250% of GDP in late 2016 from 160% before the financial crisis). However, the PBOC would face a great challenge in tightening monetary policy to reduce capital outflows, slow down credit growth and limit the depreciation of the Yuan without triggering a credit and banking crisis and ultimately a recession.

We expect more risk aversion towards Chinese assets in the short run alongside increased currency volatility and bond risk contingent on the next PBOC’s policy move. Over the longer term, China’s economic growth will slow down gradually as the country continues its convergence toward more developed economies, which favours Chinese bonds over equities.

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