Yuan Thoughts, from anonymous

February 28, 2014 |

 The purpose of this post is to stimulate discussion about an important market development. It's not a prediction.

I believe that one of the most widely accepted memes in the financial markets over the past several years has been that the Chinese Currency was/is undervalued, manipulated and would not go down and must eventually go much higher. The fundamental arguments for this were the persistent balance of payments surplus, purchasing power parity, competitive advantage/cost, political pressure, the history of currency movements in places like Japan, relative growth rates and growth potential; monetary base; and the list goes on and on and on. In fact, I can't find any credible opinion to the contrary. (A couple of summers ago, Bill Ackman made a big PR splash buying "cheap" calls on the HK dollar predicting an inevitable and massive revaluation.)

Over the past few weeks, the Yuan has reversed course and started to decline. It has had a violent and 3 sigma decline in the past 3 days. The story is that the Chinese authorities are encouraging a "wider trading band."

I am not offering any predictions here. But it is striking that the impulse move is in the down direction, not the up direction … all the more so, when the universally accepted truth is that the Yuan can only rise.

Is this just a counter trend move? Or is something bigger going on? If the Yuan starts declining instead of rising, what are the second order effects on other markets? If this is more than a counter trend move in a secular bull market for the Yuan, then I believe there are some very important implications. Unfortunately, I'm not smart enough to know whether the supposition is true and/or what the second order effects may be.

A good place to start thinking about this might be historical analogs. What are the historical analogs? And when does the perma bull Yuan story get stopped out?

Alston Mabry writes: 

I agree. With all the issues out there on shadow banking, credit bubble, CBOC actions, ghost cities and shopping malls…who actually knows what's going on? If anybody "knows', it's the market itself. Once China frees up capital controls, import controls and currency controls and becomes relatively transparent accounting-wise…then the RMB will move on economics…mostly. But right now there are so many "shadow issues" in play that it's hard to assess the situation other than on a short-term trading basis.

Richard Owen writes: 

Disregarding the background 'China story' which is the key determinant of the secular factors (eg, do you believe China is massively insolvent or not, does it matter), when currencies are 'newly' brought to market (in the sense of being a new regime, if not a new currency), they often trade off initially. Domestic holders want to diversify and foreign buyers have no structural reason to accumulate inventory, thus have a 'show me' attitude on price. And since fx is a short duration asset, nobody is holding for the carry and a trend begets itself. Or to put it another way, as yuan trading is liberalised, does the marginal holder likely want to diversify out of existing stock more than a foreign holder wants to get into? Comparables are perhaps the euro introduction, where despite a hugely profitable convergence carry on long bonds, even underwritten by the ECB discount window, it initially sold off. Perhaps more analogously, when South Africa empowered its blacks, the Afrikaans community thought the end was nigh (as some chinese entrepreneurs do now) and began liquidating everything and selling into offshore currencies. They misread the situation, however, and the sandtown community provided a bid to the Afrikaans. My friend's uncle bootstrapped a working mans savings into a billion by buying the real estate liquidation, putting in newly arriving AAA multinationals as tenants and riding the yield curve down from teens to single digits.

anonymous writes: 

In the face of 2008 downturn, the Chinese government created more money than was done by the ECB or the Fed. The shadow banking system carried on making new loans to reestablish the housing bubble. Based on that slice of data, the RMB should not be rising against other foreign currencies, but falling.

Yes, trade surpluses are supportive to a currency, but China's big trade surplus with the US is balanced by some trade deficits with sources of raw materials, and production machinery, so that their trade surplus overall is not as big as with the US. The foreign direct investment into China has been very high as has the Carry Trade where borrowing in low interest rate countries like Japan and buying higher rate Chinese Treasuries, was profitable and gained even more as the RMB rose. This looks to be reversing and is thus a negative for the RMB and is big at maybe a half trillion dollars of hot money.

The image is of the Chinese government suppressing the currency to keep its exports growing and doing so by buying US Treasuries, and that was also pushing the image higher. But Chinese people are buying gold for safety, indicating that they have seen government spending and do not have confidence in the RMB. I think a downward spike in RMB could be followed by more selling if Carry Trade unwind becomes big. But PPP and Trade surplus will limit the move eventually, IMO.

anonymous writes: 

I also agree, (Chinese financial reporting is awful) but the assertion that we can know many outside variables from the US$ of the equation is very important. (Current account surpluses and deficits bear many similarities to double-entry accounting, in that aggregate balances in one direction or another should balance each other out.)

I submit that the current state of Chinese property and credit markets bear many similarities to what Hyman Minsky termed a "deviation amplifying" mechanism in his Financial Instability Hypothesis.

However, if asked how it will play out, my tendency is to say that at some point over the next few years, they are at substantial risk for a debt deflation. Personally, I'd have a tough time convincing myself to be short a deflating currency.

Charles Pennington writes: 

OK, here's an "N=1" kind of study…

Back in mid/late 2011 the Swiss franc ("CHF") was strengthening violently against the Euro, with the Euro almost going down to parity with CHF. Then the Swiss stepped in to weaken the CHF and forced the Euro back up to 1.2 CHFs. The Euro sat there, pegged at 1.2, but everyone feared that the risk was that the Euro would fall below 1.2. Instead the Euro ended up moving higher against the CHF in mid-late 2012 and 2013. Very similar to Rocky's China story.

Since mid 2012, EWL (the Swiss market etf) is up about 55% and FEU (the EuroStoxx etf) is up about 40%. EWL is probably a bit less volatile than FEU (though I didn't check), so EWL's gain is yet more impressive.

So the N=1 conclusion is that you should buy Chinese stocks.





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1 Comment so far

  1. matt on March 1, 2014 8:12 pm

    Maybe they are just tightening the noose…


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