Far more to Renminbi than USD/CNY cross

The prevailing market view, as depicted in a recent Reuters article, is seemingly that Chinese policy makers are happy to allow further Renminbi appreciation versus the Dollar driven by a rising domestic trade surplus and strong capital account inflows.

The Renminbi has indeed appreciated 2.2% versus the Dollar since our last report on 22nd October (PBoC likely to keep Renminbi on tight leash), with the USD/CNY cross currently trading near its lowest level since mid-2018.

However, the US accounts for only about 20% of Chinese trade in goods. The Renminbi Nominal Effective Exchange Rate is thus a far more accurate measure of overall Chinese export competitiveness and of the currency’s potential (dis)inflationary impact.

The Renminbi NEER slowly appreciated further in the run-up to the US elections on 3rd November but has since then depreciated about 0.9%, with the Renminbi underperforming many major currencies including the Euro and Korean Won. The Renminbi NEER is currently trading at the same level as it was on 22nd October, in line with our forecast that “near-term the PBoC is more likely in a first instance to slow the pace of Renminbi appreciation and ultimately arrest the currency’s climb”.

The Renminbi has weakened recently despite evidence of strong balance of payments inflows, including a record trade surplus of $74.4bn in November and a 11.8% yoy increase in FDI inflows, and data pointing to seasonal Renminbi strength in the month of November.

Price action in the past seven weeks suggests to us that the People’s Bank of China has been fixing the daily USD/CNY central parity rate slightly higher than implied by underlying market forces, allowing modest Renminbi NEER depreciation mainly to put a floor under Chinese consumer prices flirting with deflation (a view we expressed on 22nd October).

Near-term we expect the Renminbi to continue appreciating versus a slowly depreciating Dollar (Emerging Market currencies: Hopes and Realities, 2nd December 2020). However, we think the risk is tilted towards the PBoC further weakening the Renminbi NEER in coming weeks to the levels which prevailed in early September.




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