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Hong Kong's HK$51.3b intervention mops up 30% of cash


THE Hong Kong Monetary Authority bought a total of US$6.5 billion in defence of the local dollar's peg to the greenback in the past week, a move that will drain about 30 per cent of the aggregate balance of liquidity by Friday.

The de facto central bank took its buying of the local dollar since last week to HK$51.3 billion (S$8.6 billion), with the city's three-month borrowing cost spiking to the highest level this year. The aggregate balance of interbank liquidity will be drawn down to HK$128.5 billion on Friday, compared with the pre-intervention level of HK$180 billion.

If the HKMA keeps the average pace of its intervention, the aggregate balance will be drained in about three weeks, Credit Agricole CIB strategist Gary Yau wrote in a note on Wednesday.

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"We are somewhat surprised by the size of outflows so far and, more importantly, they are both consistently large and also increasing," Mr Yau said.

"The pattern and size of HKMA operations so far suggest that the aggregate balance will be down to low levels fairly soon, at which point the gap between US rates and HK rates should reduce sizeably in our view."

The HKMA's purchase of the Hong Kong dollar has been smooth and sound, and the size of the outflows isn't too big, HKMA deputy chief executive Howard Lee said in a press briefing on Thursday. The de facto central bank doesn't see large-scale shorting of the currency, and the slowly climbing interbank rates will continue to rise, he said.

The Hong Kong dollar edged 0.01 per cent higher to HK$7.8494 against the greenback as of 10.13am local time. The three-month interbank rate - known as Hibor - jumped for a fourth day on Wednesday, climbing to the highest level since Dec 27 at 1.32 per cent. Its discount to the US Libor remained above 1 percentage point - a level that makes shorting the city's currency still attractive.

The HKMA will likely reduce the amount of purchase next week, as the aggregate balance may drop to HK$100 billion with declines in short positions on the Hong Kong dollar, said Carie Li, an economist at OCBC Wing Hang Bank in Hong Kong. BLOOMBERG