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China seen strengthening yuan as trade talks with US loom

Hong Kong

CHINA appears to be propping up the yuan just as it prepares to restart trade negotiations with the US.

After falling to a one-year low, the offshore yuan - one of the world's weakest currencies in recent months - on Thursday surged the most since January 2017 as cash supply dwindled and the central bank set its daily fixings at stronger than expected levels. That came as the Ministry of Commerce said it would send a delegation to the US later this month, stoking hopes of a revival of talks that stalled in June.

"China and the US are finally sharing common interests on the yuan: while Washington always wants a stronger currency, Beijing may think the exchange rate has fallen enough and needs to stabilise," said Zhou Hao, a senior economist at Commerzbank AG in Singapore. "We will see intense defense if the yuan moves closer to seven per dollar."

The New York Times, citing an unidentified person briefed on the plans, said on Friday the US Treasury Department will seek to pressure China to strengthen the yuan at the trade talks this month.

President Donald Trump has accused China of keeping its currency artificially weak to garner a trade advantage, saying on television channel CNBC last month that the yuan is "dropping like a rock", to America's detriment. The yuan has fallen more than 8 per cent versus the dollar since March as the People's Bank of China eased monetary policy to support a slowing economy while trade friction with the US worsened. But Chinese policymakers worry a disorderly drop could trigger capital outflows and threaten financial stability.

"China wouldn't want the yuan to slide too quickly before important meetings, and that could be one of the reasons why the policymakers moved to support the currency," said Nathan Chow, senior economist at DBS Bank Hong Kong Ltd. "The yuan will still face pressures as there are many uncertainties with the low-level trade talks. I don't think China will bend to the US that easily."

The offshore yuan was little changed at 6.8626 per dollar as at 4:44 pm in Hong Kong after swinging between a loss of 0.21 per cent and a gain of 0.3 per cent. The onshore rate rose 0.17 per cent. One-year interbank borrowing costs of the yuan in Hong Kong - known as Hibor - surged 55 basis points, the most since December 2016, to 4.26 per cent, reflecting tighter liquidity.

Measures to tighten cash supply are nowhere near as aggressive as in the aftermath of a shock yuan devaluation three years ago, said Sue Trinh, head of Asia foreign-exchange strategy at Royal Bank of Canada in Hong Kong. The offshore yuan's overnight Hibor surged to a record 66.8 per cent in early 2016. It was at 2 per cent on Friday. BLOOMBERG


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