MacroScope

ECB uncertainty

For European markets, Germany’s March inflation figure is likely to dominate today. It is forecast to hold at just 1.0 percent. The European Central Bank insists there is no threat of deflation in the currency area although the euro zone number has been in its “danger zone” below 1 percent for five months now.

Having appeared to set a rather high bar to policy action at its last meeting, this week the tone changed. Most notable was Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann, normally a hardliner, who said printing money was not out of the question although he would prefer negative deposit rates as the means to tackle an overly strong euro.

That looked like a significant shift although he did stress there was no need for imminent action.

Has something changed? Certainly the currency seems to be focusing minds though it’s probably too early for anything dramatic at next week’s policy meeting. With inflation running at just 0.7 percent and the euro near $1.40 – buoyed by emerging market outflows – further currency appreciation would cut import prices in a way that will push inflation lower still.

Weidmann speaks again this afternoon.

China’s Xi Jinping has said little during his week travelling Europe but will hold a news conference with Germany’s Angela Merkel later in the day.
As we reported from sources yesterday, Frankfurt will become the first hub for yuan payment transactions in Europe with the German and Chinese central banks set to seal the deal today. That’s one in the eye for London which has been pushed hard as the yuan offshore trading centre by the British government and will sign its own agreement next week.

China at a crossroads on yuan internationalization project

As China marks the third anniversary of the first ever bond sale by a foreign company denominated in renminbi, questions are rife on what lies next for the offshore yuan market.

Since hamburger chain McDonalds sold $29 million of bonds on a summer evening just over three years ago, China’s yuan internationalization project has notched up impressive milestones.More than 12 percent of China’s trade is now denominated in yuan from less than 1 percent three years ago, Hong Kong – the vanguard of the offshore yuan movement – has more than one trillion yuan of assets in bank deposits and bonds and central banks from Nigeria to Australia have added a slice of yuan to their foreign exchange reserves.

China’s aim to internationalize the yuan has two major objectives: One, to ensure that its companies do not have to shoulder the foreign exchange risk of swapping yuan into dollars in global trade. The second is that as China gradually makes the transition from a current account surplus nation to a deficit country, it would, like the United States, want its debt to be denominated in its own currency.

Yield is king in China’s ‘dim sum’ offshore yuan bond markets

 

A return to China’s offshore yuan bond markets, or “dim sum” as they are colorfully known in Hong Kong, may be sweet for Gemdale, a mainland property developer. But not all fund managers are smiling. The company raised five-year money at 5.63% amounting to 2 billion yuan. Not bad, considering that last July, it raised a lesser sum for a shorter tenor while coughing up nearly double of what it paid this time around. Add the fact that it did so by keeping to the same weak bond covenant and Gemdale seems to have pulled off a stunner.

But Gemdale doesn’t seem to be the only one. In recent days, issuers with weak bond covenants have discovered a ready market for their debt and at much cheaper rates. In theory, bond covenants can be divided into two halves: affirmative and negative ones. The former promises to pay bond holders on time while the latter forbids it from exceeding certain financial ratios such as interest paid/EBITDA, debt to equity, etc. And of course, they are secured by the company’s assets or backed by bank guarantees or letters of credit

But when theory meets reality (read: offshore hunger for yield meets hungry onshore Chinese issuers), financial “creativity” is the outcome. So mainland companies set up complicated structures to ensure they are able to keep regulators and ratings agencies happy while getting access to cheap capital quickly without having to negotiate labyrinthine approvals processes.

The risk from China’s shadow banks

Many blame America’s shadow banking system, where dangers lurked away from the scrutiny of complacent regulators, for the massive financial crisis of 2008-2009. Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said in a speech on Thursday that he is now worried about the risks to China from its own version of the shadow banks.

During the recent credit boom fueled by the 4-trillion-yuan fiscal stimulus, off-balance-sheet lending by banks and private loans by nonbanks exploded. This shadow-banking lending activity accounted for an estimated 20 percent of China’s total loans in 2011. With the cooling of the real estate market and with slower economic growth likely in the near term, a large share of these loans could turn bad. And because these loans took place outside the view of regulators, the effect of a sudden disruption in repayment is virtually impossible to predict.

Fisher was highlighting this concern to suggest that, while China’s efforts to reform its currency system are welcome, the authorities must be careful not to open the country up to volatile capital flows at a time when the world financial system is already very fragile:

Manifest currency? U.S. dollar’s global dominance not set in stone

Incumbency, it is often said, confers many advantages.

Sitting U.S. presidents certainly have reaped its benefits – in the past 80 years, only three have been unseated.

Most economists believe the same benefits apply to reserve currencies. Yes, the U.S. dollar may one day be supplanted as the leading international currency, the thinking goes, but that day is many decades away.

Then again, maybe not.

A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research that looks more closely at the dollar’s own rise to the top in the 20th century suggests, among other things, that “the advantages of incumbency are not all they are cracked up to be.”

from Breakingviews:

China’s trade deficit is sign of things to come

By Wei Gu and Edward Hadas
The authors are Reuters Breakingviews columnists. The opinions expressed are their own.

China will have to get used to monthly trade deficits. Special factors contributed to the $4.2 billion negative number for the first two months of 2012, but something fundamental is changing. A smaller portion of China’s imports are of goods which will be processed for export, and a higher portion is going straight into domestic consumption.

A 13 percent volume increase in soybean imports may be partly due to precautionary purchase after drought losses in South America. And the 50 percent year-on-year increase in copper imports is suspicious. Copper can be used a wheeze to circumvent tight monetary policy. Importers get a letter of credit for commodity imports, sell the commodity quickly and keep the credit until maturity.

China renminbi as reserve currency: yuan a bet?

China’s importance to the global economy makes it difficult to believe the role of the yuan in foreign exchange will not continue to expand. Will that dominance advance sufficiently to make the Chinese renminbi one of the world’s reserve currencies? A new study from the Brookings Institution suggests that in the long run, the ascendance of the yuan to reserve-currency standing is likely. It notes that of the six largest economies in the world, China is the only one whose currency does not have reserve status. But the road to getting there will be long and tortuous, the study warns, and there will be plenty of potholes.

Getting there will require overcoming two main challenges, according to Eswar Prasad and Lei Ye, who authored the report:

Sequencing of capital account opening with other policies, such as exchange rate flexibility and financial market development, to improve the cost/benefit trade-off.

Live video: Geithner testifies on China and the Yuan

Live video of Timothy Geithner’s testimony to the U.S. Senate Banking Committee today.

Unlocking the Yuan

Reuters’s top news and innovation teams have put together a web site on the yuan and the debate over its revaluation. Particularly worth a look after the weekend’s statement by China that it would allow more flexibility in its currency exchange. You can access it here, but it looks like this:

Yuan2

from Sebastian Tong:

Stop pushing and we’ll do it

The growing acrimony in the international debate over China's currency policy has led some to warn that Beijing could dig in its heels if pushed to hard to let its yuan rise. crybaby

But Barclays Capital says Beijing could let its currency strengthen as early as next month, notwithstanding its public resolve against Washington's threat to label it as a currency manipulator.

"They do have a 'If you stop pushing, we'll do it' attitude, which is kind of childish, really. But it will happen because they are the only country in the world, besides India, where there is a whiff of inflation," says Barclays' asset allocation head Tim Bond.