M&G: Implications of China’s record RMB devaluation

Anthony Doyle, director of fixed income investment at M&G Investments, comments on the possible implications of China’s record weakening of the renminbi (RMB).

The People’s Bank of China (PBoC) has announced this morning that it is improving the pricing mechanism of the daily fixing rate of the RMB. It will do this by referencing the previous day’s closing rate and by taking into account “demand and supply conditions in the foreign exchange markets” as well as exchange rate movements of other major currencies. As a result, the USDCNY (US dollar to Chinese Yuan RMB rate) was fixed higher by 1.9% as a one-off adjustment and represents a record weakening of the Chinese currency. It is the first weakening in the exchange rate by the PBoC since 1994.

The announcement of the PBoC that it will increase yuan flexibility suggests the daily fixing of the currency will be much more dependent on the market. As a result, it is unlikely that the yuan will continue to exhibit relatively low volatility and may continue to depreciate over the medium term as the authorities grapple with a slowdown in economic growth.

There are a number of implications of a weakening yuan over the medium term. Firstly, any move to weaken the yuan against the USD is likely to be bullish for US treasuries at the margin, resulting in lower yields. If the yuan depreciates in value, then China will have more USD to invest in US treasuries through foreign reserve accumulation, suggesting a strengthening in demand. However, unless we see a sustained weakening in the yuan in the weeks ahead then this move is unlikely to have a large impact in the demand for US treasuries in the short-term.

Secondly, this move will put downward pressure on already low inflation rates in the developed economies. Import prices for developed economies are likely to fall, suggesting lower producer and consumer prices. A substantial amount of Chinese manufactured goods consumed in the developed world are now cheaper and could cheapen further, resulting in lower costs for inputs which could lead to lower consumer prices.

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