US/China Tensions Ratchet Higher

FX policy tension is a theme that looks to be making a come back. The potential for CNY revaluation continues to be hotly debated, with international pressure on China intensifying. For its part China continues to resist such calls, but growing speculation that the US will label China a “currency manipulator” in the semi-annual US Treasury report on 15 April suggests that the issue will remain very much on the radar screen.

Tensions have ratcheted higher in the wake of a proposed bill by US senators targeting countries with “fundamentally misaligned currencies” and those needing “priority action”. Any country that is targeted would then have a year to correct its currency or face a case at the World Trade Organisation. If China is labelled as a currency manipulator it could also result in anti dumping regulations.

Much of the increase in tension may be attributable to politicking ahead of the November mid-term Congressional elections but it is clear that the issue is not going away quickly. Chinese Premier Wen’s strong comments over the past weekend denying any need for revaluation of the CNY suggests that the stakes will get even higher over coming months.

It is looking increasingly difficult for the US administration to ignore Congress’ calls for stronger action on FX. Moreover, US President Obama’s pledge to double US exports within 5-years will require some USD weakness, but the USD will need to weaken against Asian currencies led by China and not just against the usual culprits such as the EUR.

There is little sign of this happening anytime soon as Asian central banks continue to intervene to prevent their currencies from strengthening. Nonetheless despite China’s insistence that it does not believe the CNY is undervalued China is likely to be edging closer to an eventual revaluation in the CNY sometime in Q2 2010 as it combined a stronger currency with higher interest rates and tighter lending to curb inflation. A stronger CNY will also spur other Asian central banks to allow stronger currencies.

A deterioration in the China/US relationship could have potentially significant FX implications. The latest US Treasury TIC report this week showed that China reduced its holdings of US Treasuries for the third straight month in January. Should China feel that it needs to retaliate against a more aggressive US trade or FX stance it could reduce its holdings of US Treasuries further.

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3 Responses to “US/China Tensions Ratchet Higher”

  1. Sachin Says:

    Sir,

    The global FX policy moves are bound to get tenser in the coming months. US might be tempted to pressurize China even more to revalue Yuan to curb the cheap flow of imports from the world’s fastest growing economy. This may spur the ailing US industrial activity somewhat but may not provide a fillip to the economy the way ultra low interest rates did earlier in the decade. The housing boom in the middle of the decade was primarily driven by cheap mortgages. China was instrumental in this, buying the treasuries in bulk and preventing long term interest rates from rising even as the Fed hiked the rates. With China reducing its purchases this time around, the short term and long term rates are bound to rise- curbing the possibility of a credit filled explosion.

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