China’s yuan surges most since January


HONG KONG • China’s yuan jumped the most in more than six months on optimism that trade relations with the US may thaw, with analysts also pointing to a rumour that authorities sought to limit onshore banks from lending to offshore counterparts. Stocks pared early losses.

The yuan surged as much as 0.79% before paring its gain to 0.47% as of 5:08pm Beijing time yesterday. It was at 6.9015 per dollar after sinking on Wednesday to the weakest level since January 2017.

The offshore-traded currency strengthened even more as it rebounded from a six-day loss. The gap between offshore 12-month forwards and the spot rate spiked the most in more than two years.

The People’s Bank of China (PBoC) restricted commercial banks from using some interbank accounts to deposit or lend yuan offshore through free trade zone channels, Reuters reported.

“Two reasons supported the yuan yesterday: The restart of China-US trade talks, and the widespread market rumour that some banks at Shanghai free trade zone are not allowed to lend the yuan to offshore banks”, a move that could squeeze liquidity, said Gao Qi, Singapore based foreign-exchange strategist at Scotiabank.

“The yuan may stabilise at the current level or even strengthen in the near term, as sentiment improves on the trade front. Its fate in the longer term hinges on the trade talks and Turkey.”

China will dispatch Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen to the US for low-level trade talks in late August, the first official exchanges since earlier negotiations broke down two months ago.

Equities in Hong Kong and mainland China were volatile, as the trade news was offset by a decline in Tencent Holdings Ltd after the Chinese technology company reported its first drop in profit in at least a decade. The stock clawed back a little ground in the afternoon yesterday, paring its loss to 3% from as much as 5.1%.

The Hang Seng Index fell as much as 1.7% before bouncing back with a 0.3% gain. It closed down 0.8%. The CSI 300 Index closed down 0.5% after swinging from a loss of 1.8% to a gain of 0.7%.

“Some funds might be buying the dips after stocks dropped below key levels earlier, though I doubt any rebound amid a downturn would be strong enough to sustain,” said Linus Yip, a Hong Kong-based strategist at First Shanghai Securities Ltd.

“Investors will likely remain cautious despite the latest sign that China and the US will return to the negotiation table. There have been some twists and turns before and people expect more down the road on the trade issue.”

The yuan was the strongest currency in Asia yesterday. Over the past three months though, it has weakened about 7.6% against the dollar as the PBoC eased monetary policy to support a slowing economy and trade friction with the US worsened.

Policymakers have made it more expensive to short the yuan and urged banks to avoid “herd behaviour” in the currency market.

“Relief on China-US trade tensions cooled down expectations for further declines in the yuan toward seven per dollar, and prompted some investors to trim their short yuan positions,” said Ken Cheung, a senior currency strategist at Mizuho Bank Ltd.

“We maintain our view that policymakers will not let the yuan break seven this year. The central bank will step up actions to stabilise sentiment if necessary.”

In Hong Kong, meanwhile, the city’s monetary authority again stepped in to buy up the local currency to defend its peg to the greenback.

The de facto central bank bought HK$14.6 billion (RM7.59 billion) of local dollars on Wednesday, taking its spending on intervention this week to HK$16.8 billion.

Prior to this week’s moves, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority hadn’t stepped in since May. The currency was at 7.8496 per dollar.

According to Tommy Xie, economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp in Singapore: “The news that the Chinese vice commerce minister is visiting the US gives investors some hope for positive developments in China-US trade relations, which helps to boost sentiment on the yuan in the near term.”

Francis Lun, Hong Kong-based CEO of Geo Securities Ltd, said: “Markets were oversold and people started bottom fishing. In China, if you look objectively, all the factors are negative — the economy is very clearly slowing down. It’s a big reversal the people need to get used to.”

“Retail investors are coming in to buy up the market — you can tell from the smaller transactions. The rally may not be sustainable because the big funds may still be trying to sell.”

Daniel So, CMB International Securities Ltd strategist in Hong Kong, said: “Tencent’s disappointing results was the major reason dragging the markets down yesterday. Results are still the focus of the market now.”