Before the weekend, the ringgit was at 3.25 to the USD, this morning it went to 3.19. The Chinese renminbi has been effectively pegged to the U.S. dollar since late 2008, as one of the supportive policies put in place during the global recession. This peg, and the fact that it impeded other countries adjustments, has contributed to international pressure, especially from the U.S., to allow more flexibility of the exchange rate as Chinese exports rebounded.
Ahead of the G-20 meeting, on June 19, 2010, the People's Bank of China announced the intention to move towards a more flexible exchange rate regime by allowing the currency to move within a band against a basket of currencies of its major trading partners. The statement, coming less than a week before G-20 leaders meet in Toronto on June 26-27, represents a departure from a two-year period during which the RMB was effectively pegged to the dollar.
An increase in inflationary pressures and stronger export growth led market actors to expect some appreciation against the USD by mid 2010. However, the RMB's significant rise against the EUR, and thus on a trade weighted basis, could deter significant appreciation against the USD and should the EUR fall further against the USD, so too might the RMB.
Despite market expectations of a major move, any shift might be modest. Standard Chartered's Stephen Green said in the FT: "The danger is that on Monday morning everyone gets very excited and then end up being disappointed with what happens. There is very little appetite for appreciation, so in the short-term the central bank is likely to be very conservative."
The initial response to the statement has been positive, with the U.S. and European leaders lauding the decision. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the IMF suggested that the move was in line with the "G-20 Mutual Assessment Process, to be presented in Toronto..., and will help increase Chinese household income and provide the incentives necessary to reorient investment toward industries that serve the Chinese consumer." The move also suggests that the G-20 will be more focused on the development in the eurozone.
Morgan Stanley's Qing Wang argues that an exit of renminbi from the US$ peg will come most likely in the Summer of 2010 (early Q3) involving a one-off revaluation of 2-3%, followed by gradual appreciation for a total strengthening of 4-5% in 2010. China is likely to exit the peg given its role in reducing imported inflation, because a free and open trade system is in China's interest, helps rebalance the domestic economy towards the non-tradable sector, and to move to a more flexible exchange rate needed for independent monetary policy. A move in July gives the U.S. administration the ability to claim successful diplomacy and Chinese to show their global responsibility before the November G20 meeting.
On April 8, 2010, the People's Bank of China sold RMB15 billion in three-year sterilization bills, the first batch since June 2008. The three-year bills are considered a more aggressive tool for managing liquidity, and may signal that the central bank is preparing to sterilize "hot money" inflows betting on RMB appreciation.
Greater CNY flexibility may lead to some initial nominal appreciation against G3. Other Asian currencies – especially those that are regarded as proxies for Chinese growth and commodity demand (AUD) - or non-FX assets in China (e.g., Shanghai A-share Index) may end up attracting greater inflows and seeing a bigger price action.
The expectation that a stronger CNY will support China’s demand for imports (including from the rest of Asia) can be beneficial for Malaysian Ringgit, Korean Won and Taiwan Dollar. Central banks across Asia may also feel a bit less pressure to stem FX appreciation in order to maintain competitiveness. The entire playbook would favour going long on the following currencies for the rest of 2010: long CNY, KRW, MYR and INR. Short the EUR and JPY. That being the case, the natural long will see a boost in financial assets in those respective countries.