Forex Blog: Currency Trading News & Analysis.

May 27th 2007

Commentary: What to do about the Chinese Yuan?

The Chinese Yuan refuses to die as a topic of conversation among forex speculators. In theory, the currency is among the world’s most prosaic; since its famous “revaluation” by the Chinese government nearly two years ago, the Yuan aka RMB has appreciated at a leisurely pace, roughly equivalent to 3% per year. Last week, the CCP took a step further in liberalizing its currency system by widening the band in which the Yuan is permitted to fluctuate, to .5% daily.

However, this did little to appease foreign diplomats and American politicians, who contend that the Yuan remains vastly undervalued, and that the Chinese government is guilty of currency manipulation. Two American Senators, Lindsey Graham and Charles Schumer, are still threatening to introduce a latent piece of legislation into Congress, which would slap a 27.5% tariff on all Chinese imports, unless the CCP promptly increases the value of the Yuan. (The 27.5% represents an average of the high and low estimates, 40% and 15%, respectively, of the extent of the Yuan’s undervaluation relative to the USD.) For its part, China maintains that not only is the currency fairly valued, but also that it will not be pressured into hastening the Yuan’s rate of appreciation. So, two questions need to be answered: Is the Yuan undervalued and if so, should China allow it to appreciate at a more rapid pace?

The first question is probably the trickier of the two to answer. Economists use admittedly crude techniques to value currencies. One method involves a calculation of purchasing power parity (PPP), which dictates that currencies should adjust in value relative to each other in inverse proportion to their respective price levels. In the case of the Yuan, PPP analysis suggests that the Yuan may be undervalued by as much 50%. However, this is to be expected; since income levels in China are vastly lower than in the US, one would expect prices to be lower, irrespective of exchange rates. Other methods used to estimate the fundamental value of the Yuan involve sophisticated statistical analysis, producing estimates of undervaluation ranging from 0% to 50%. In short, it appears as though the Yuan remains marginally undervalued, but the extent of which remains guesswork.

Upon concluding that the Yuan is undervalued, should China be expected to allow the currency to fluctuate more freely (i.e. appreciate)? It depends on who you ask.  American officials argue that the revaluation of the Yuan represents a crucial piece of the drive to reduce the burgeoning US trade deficit. However, upon closer examination, this notion is revealed to be false since most of China’s exports to the US are themselves repackaged products from other parts of Asia. Further, a sudden revaluation of the Yuan would likely result in the relocation of Chinese production to facilities to other low-wage countries, thus doing little to stem the US trade deficit. From China’s point of view, its economy is helped by an artificially cheap currency in that its export sector receives an indirect subsidy. However, it is constrained in its ability to conduct monetary policy as well as in its need to accumulate massive forex reserves, both of which would be relaxed in the event of a revaluation.

Not withstanding that China’s stubbornness mean it will not be bullied into appreciating its currency, it is probably in everyone’s best interest if it capitulates. My prediction, for what it’s worth, is that China will ultimately allow the RMB to appreciate at a slightly faster pace against the USD, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 5% a year.

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Posted by Adam Kritzer | in Chinese Yuan (RMB), Commentary | No Comments »

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