China’s decision to “proceed further with reform” of the CNY exchange rate regime will dictate market activity at the turn of the week. The decision to act now reflects the fact that China is no longer in crisis mode policy. Although the eurozone sovereign crisis may have delayed China’s move, the authorities in China clearly felt that conditions had improved sufficiently enough to act. The decision will pre-empt some of the criticism that China would have faced at the G20 meeting next weekend, leaving attention firmly on Europe.
Before we all get too excited it should be noted that it is unlikely that China’s announcement presages aggressive action on the CNY. Stability appears to be the name of the game, a fact that has already drawn criticism from some in the US Senate who may still push for legislation over China’s exchange rate.
China will likely allow some, albeit gradual appreciation of the CNY. In this respect, it’s worth noting that the CNY appreciated by around 6.6% against the USD during 2007 and around the same amount in 2008 prior to the formal peg with the USD. Appreciation at a similar pace of coming months is unlikely.
The initial impact on the USD was an echo of the July 2005 move but to a far smaller degree. The USD was sold off across the board as market players reacted to the likelihood of the USD playing a less important role in China’s exchange rate mechanism. The USD rallied when China maintained its CNY fixing but lost ground as the CNY appreciated against the fixing.
The fact that net USD speculative positions halved over the past week according to the CFTC IMM data, suggest that the USD is far less vulnerable this week to selling pressure from a positioning perspective. In other words there will be no repeat of the sharp FX moves that were seen post the July 2005 CNY revaluation. Whilst the major currency impact is likely to prove muted, Asian currencies are set to benefit more significantly, with further strengthening likely this week.
China’s announcement will play into the tone of firmer risk appetite at the beginning of the week but the move in some risk currencies, especially the EUR is looking increasingly stretched. The EUR and risk appetite may have benefited from recent positive news flow including the announcement of European bank stress tests and the relatively positive reception to Spain’s bond auction, but speculative positioning (IMM) data reveals that there was already a strong short-covering rally over the past week, which saw net EUR short positions almost halve.
Further EUR/USD gains will be harder to come by, with an immediate obstacle around 1.2500. Perhaps another reason for China to be cautious about the pace of CNY appreciation is the likelihood of further EUR weakness and the impact that this would have on China’s trade with Europe. As it is EUR/CNY has already dropped by over 13% so far this year and China will not want to enact measures that will accelerate the pace of the move in the currency pair.