Financial Regulatory Forum

Days of “special” yuan policy numbered – China central banker

By Reuters Staff
March 6, 2010

By Zhou Xin and Benjamin Kang Lim

BEIJING, March 6 (Reuters) – China flagged on Saturday it will let the yuan resume its rise at some point as it unwinds the super-loose policies it has been pursuing to prop up the world’s third-largest economy.

China is under intense pressure from the United States and Europe to abandon the exchange rate peg it instituted of around 6.83 yuan per dollar since mid-2008 to preserve the competitiveness of its exporters during the international financial crisis.

Speaking during the annual session of China’s parliament, central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan said Beijing would eventually have to drop this “special” yuan policy, one of a range of emergency measures taken to cushion the blow to growth.

“Practice has shown that these policies have been positive, contributing to the recovery of both our country’s economy and the global economy,” Zhou told a news conference.

But he added: “The problem of how to exit from these policies arises sooner or later.”

China would have to be careful in withdrawing the extraordinary stimulus it has provided since late 2008.

“If we are to exit from these irregular policies and return to ordinary economic policies, we must be extremely prudent about our choice of timing. This also includes the renminbi exchange rate policy,” he added.

Beijing fears a tide of capital will flow into China if speculators sense the yuan, also known as the renminbi, is strengthening.

Zhou expressed concern about whether China’s extensive holdings of U.S. assets would retain their value, but said the dollar was still the currency that played the key role in global trade and investment flows.

LINGERING CRISIS

Zhou was speaking after the bank issued a statement reaffirming a pledge made a day earlier by Premier Wen Jiabao to keep the yuan “basically stable” in 2010.

Economists say that phrasing is broad enough to accommodate a renewed appreciation of the exchange rate — a decision that would have to be taken by Wen and the State Council, China’s cabinet.

The People’s Bank of China has already ordered banks twice this year to increase the proportion of deposits they must hold in reserve, rather than lend out, in order to gently slow the economy and nip inflation in the bud.

But, unlike Australia or Malaysia, the central bank has yet to increase interest rates, leaving investors anxious for clues as to how rapidly it might withdraw its stimulus.

Zhou signalled the bank would tread carefully and “flexibly” in implementing its relatively loose pro-growth monetary policy.

“Even though the global economy is at present trending towards recovery, the influence of the crisis is still very serious,” he said.

Chinese exports plunged 16 percent in 2009 and Commerce Minister Chen Deming said it might take them two to three years to regain pre-crisis levels.

Speaking at the same news conference, Chen defended Beijing’s policies to help its exporters as being in line with global trade rules and said China’s trade surplus reflected broad economic factors, not a cheap exchange rate.

BE CAREFUL

Turning to the hot topic of lending to local governments, the central bank chief warned banks they were taking risks by financing some projects that were unviable and by extending credit against the collateral of land because the price of that land might fall.

Some economists and officials have voiced growing concern about a surge of credit to local governments, which typically pledge land as backing for loans taken out by investment companies under their control.

Yan Qingmin, head of the Shanghai bureau of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, said on Thursday these financing vehicles had borrowed a total of 6 trillion yuan ($879 billion) from banks by the end of 2009.

Land prices soared last year and critics fear a relapse could expose the weakness of local government finances and sow a new crop of bad loans on the books of the nation’s banks.

The PBOC said it would promote regional currency and financial cooperation and step up coordination and communication with other central banks, particularly on major policy issues.

It singled out continuing participation in meetings of the Group of 20 advanced and developing economies, which is supplanting the Group of Seven industrial nations as the premier global economic policy forum. (Writing by Alan Wheatley and Simon Rabinovitch; Editing by Bill Tarrant) ((benjamin.lim@thomsonreuters.com; +8610 6627-1212; Reuters Messaging: benjamin.lim.reuters.com@reuters.net)) ((If you have a query or comment on this story, send an email to newsfeedback.asia@thomsonreuters.com))

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