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Print Edition> Business
UPDATED: April 14, 2014 NO. 16 APRIL 17, 2014
Market Watch No. 16, 2014


How to Liberalize the RMB Exchange Rate

Sharp depreciation of the renminbi against the U.S. dollar will soon end.

An official of the U.S. Department of the Treasury said the recent depreciation of the Chinese currency could raise "serious concerns" if it signaled a policy shift away from allowing market-determined exchange rates.

A meeting was held between G20 finance ministers and central bank governors on April 10 in Washington, and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank also held their spring meetings in the U.S. capital. Before the meetings were held, the U.S Government needed to clarify its attitude toward the renminbi exchange rate, which had sharply dropped in the first quarter. It mainly focuses on two points: Whether or not the yuan's exchange rate has been manipulated by the government, and if the yuan's depreciation will cause competitive depreciation by other trading entities to increase exports. The U.S. treasury official's statement was neutral. In fact, no country can cast off the influence of the U.S. Federal Reserve or the U.S. Department of the Treasury during exchange rate reform, be they Japan, Germany or India.

The yuan's exchange rate is at a critical point with frequent changes occurring.

Previously, the yuan had depreciated a lot, leaving only a tiny space for further devaluation. In the first quarter of this year, the renminbi dropped 2.6 percent against the U.S. dollar, almost offsetting all of the appreciation that had taken place over the whole year of 2013. Since the end of March, the renminbi exchange rate against the U.S. dollar has ceased unilateral depreciation. Rapid depreciation of the renminbi not only confounded market expectations on the unilateral appreciation of the yuan, but also left more room for China's central bank to continue exchange rate reform. On March 17, China widened its yuan trading band from 1 percent to 2 percent.

We should be clear on the fact that further depreciation of renminbi will go against Chinese economic growth. If investors were to lose confidence, there would be large capital outflow, and a sharp drop in the price of domestic assets may lead to a debt crisis. The yuan may then lose its functions as a reserve currency and investment tool, and the yuan's internationalization process would fail.

The space for the unilateral appreciation of the yuan is also not large. China's central bank officials have repeated many times that as China's trade surplus reduces, China will not have sufficient trade surplus to further push up the yuan's exchange rate.

Up one minute, down the next, the yuan's exchange rate confuses the market. When China widened the yuan's trading band in the past, the fluctuation narrowed instead. For example, when China allowed its renminbi exchange rate to rise or fall 1 percent as of April 2012, the yuan continued unilateral appreciation. The new round of exchange rate fluctuation will not only cut the earnings of hedging funds, but also impose a big challenge on China's export-oriented companies. According to an April 7 report by Yiwu Business News, an official of Yiwu Customs said if the yuan's exchange rate goes up 1 percent, the profits of cotton and textile industry will drop 12 percent and those of garment industry will go down 13 percent. This trend will reverse if the renminbi depreciates.

Liberalization of the renminbi exchange rate is a major task for China's market-oriented reform. China is following Germany's road of exchange rate reform while hoping not to repeat the mistakes Japan made in its reform. Under pressure from the United States, the Japanese yen has appreciated rapidly since 1971. To offset the adverse impact toward exports, the Japanese central bank had to cut its interest rates again and again, intensifying asset bubbles. After the interest rate rose in 1989, the asset bubbles collapsed.

When a country has a huge amount of foreign exchange reserve and huge trade surplus, as China does, it has a domestic impetus for the exchange rate to go up and its economy is strong enough to offset the adverse impact of currency appreciation. The exchange rate must be liberalized when it should be, in order to avoid missing out on a prime opportunity. When the exchange rate goes up, it is wrong to adopt a low interest rate, which will encourage a large amount of low-interest capital to come into the real estate market.

The liberalization of the renminbi exchange rate is like walking on a tightrope. China should follow the German model, widening trading band of its exchange rate when the economy can tolerate and strictly controlling the interest rate so as to prevent the asset price bubbles caused by low interest rates. As opposed to Japan and Germany, China is not making satisfactory progress in its economic restructuring. People are concerned whether or not the poor quality of large enterprises under government protection can stand the pain brought by the exchange rate reform.

This is an edited excerpt of an article by Ye Tan, a financial commentator, published in the Shanghai-based National Business Daily



Sales growth of China's passenger vehicles in March

34.53 mln

Train trips in China during the three-day Qingming Festival holiday (April 5-7)


IMF-forecasted GDP growth in Hong Kong in 2014

6.9 tln yuan

The yuan-clearing bank services of the Singapore branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in the first quarter, 2.7 times the total amount cleared last year

6.58 mln

Number of cars that Toyota will recall globally to fix malfunctions in the steering and seats, one of the largest recalls to date in the global auto industry

153 mln yuan

Net profits of Avic Heavy Machinery Co. Ltd., an industry leader, in 2013, down 28.18 percent from 2012

Email us at: yushujun@bjreview.com

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