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What’s Next for the PBOC?

Plus500 | Tuesday 26 December 2023

As we near the end of the year, monetary decisions across the globe are making headlines. While the Federal Reserve seems to be changing course, on the other side of the Pacific, the People’s Bank of China’s (PBOC) policies are casting a shadow over the world’s most populous nation’s economy. Let’s take a closer look at the latest shifts in Asia’s economy:

An illustration of China's flag and the Chinese Yuan

Yuan Raises Questions

China's central bank's intervention in the yuan's reference exchange rate to bolster a weakened currency has caused financial strain for the country’s business sector. This year, the People's Bank of China consistently set the yuan's fixing stronger than the market rate. 

This disparity resulted in companies reporting inflated losses on paper for their dollar assets due to the discrepancy between the fixing and spot rates. This practice, deviating from market-driven rates, has prompted concern among businesses, with some contemplating a shift toward using the yuan's spot rate for accounting purposes.

The disparity between the fixing and spot rates widened significantly in 2023 compared to previous years. As the PBOC aims to support the yuan, the fixing has remained consistently stronger than the market estimates since late June, resulting in a divergence of nearly 400 pips between the two rates.

Despite this, the Chinese finance ministry had recommended using the fixing for currency conversions since 2007. However, the noticeable impact on businesses has led some companies to consider adopting the spot rate instead, moving away from the traditional practice.

While the discrepancy has caused complications for some Chinese firms, it might not drastically alter the PBOC's management of the currency. Observers believe the bank will aim to minimise the fixing support over time, but the impact on the PBOC's actions regarding the yuan may be limited, particularly as the fixing gap has recently decreased to around 300 pips from its peak of over 1,400 pips in September.

Rally in the Cards?

Foreign investment in Chinese bonds surged abruptly last month, signaling a potential shift in sentiment toward the nation's assets, though uncertainties remain. Investors added 251 billion yuan ($33 billion) to China's debt market, marking the second-largest increase on record and potentially reversing 2022’s massive outflows of 616 billion yuan.

This unexpected influx largely stemmed from a global bond rally driven by expectations of more aggressive Fed monetary easing and interest from index-tracking funds. However, the sustainability of this momentum is questioned due to Beijing's conservative policies, concerns about China's long-term debt challenges, and the allure of cheaper emerging-market assets.

Experts suggest that China's bonds might not outperform global counterparts in the near term due to expectations of larger monetary easing elsewhere. Despite the November inflows across Asian markets benefiting China, the People's Bank of China remains cautious about significant policy loosening despite two rate cuts this year.

The PBOC's hesitance for aggressive easing is influenced by the widening US-China rate gap, discouraging substantial policy changes. While a less hawkish Fed in the future could open possibilities for PBOC easing, China's policy rates are already at historic lows, limiting incentives for aggressive rate cuts amid concerns about the efficacy of monetary loosening and subdued credit growth.

Moreover, geopolitical tensions, highlighted by Moody's Investors Service's downgrade of China's sovereign rating outlook, and persisting financial risks in the Chinese economy might further deter global investors' interest in Chinese assets.

Morgan Stanley (MS) analysts suggest a mixed outlook for China's bond flows, anticipating potential capital flight risks from funds transitioning away from global or emerging-market bond indexes to exclude China. The relatively low yields on Chinese bonds compared to other emerging markets like Mexico, Brazil, and Korea also diminish their appeal.

While some anticipate continued inflows into Chinese assets due to potential rate cuts and a more dovish global monetary policy landscape, others remain cautious, highlighting that last month's inflows might have been driven by temporary arbitrage opportunities arising from a cash squeeze in China's money market. (Source: Yahoo Finance)

Conclusion

Overall, while there's optimism about potential rate cuts in China and ongoing foreign inflows, uncertainties regarding policy decisions, global monetary dynamics, and geopolitical tensions continue to cast a shadow over China's bond market outlook. Traders and investors alike will have to wait and see how the various factors affecting the Chinese economy play out in 2024.


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