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 renminbi. 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 Renminbi 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.
Thirdly, the fall in the yuan will mean the purchasing power of Chinese businesses and households will deteriorate. It will also make raw material prices, which are largely denominated in USD, more expensive. The suggests further downward pressure on commodity prices and further pressure on commodity-rich export nations like Australia, New Zealand and Brazil. A weakening yuan suggests weakening demand and could result in lower growth for economies that export to China and weaker growth for the Asian region.
Any move to liberalise the determination of exchange rates should be viewed positively for the global economy. Given China’s level of importance as a key manufacturer of goods and its huge cache of foreign reserves, it is unsurprising that large moves in the exchange rate can have significant spillover effects for other economies and financial assets. Any further evolution of the determination of the daily fixing rate of the renminbi will continue to be closely watched, especially in an environment where the Chinese economic growth profile continues to be questioned.