【英语中国】中国央行“一箭双雕” Beijing seeks to spear currency vultures with judicious arrow

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2014-3-2 08:53

小艾摘要: In guiding the renminbi into its steepest dive since 2005 this week, Beijing was employing a strategy of “one arrow, two vultures”, as the saying goes.The first vulture denotes the international spe ...
Beijing seeks to spear currency vultures with judicious arrow
In guiding the renminbi into its steepest dive since 2005 this week, Beijing was employing a strategy of “one arrow, two vultures”, as the saying goes.

The first vulture denotes the international speculators who have – in spite of warnings by Chinese officials – regarded renminbi appreciation against the US dollar as a one-way bet. The second vulture signifies the domestic shadow financiers who refuse to be brought down to earth.

Neither of Beijing’s avian quarries is dead or even mortally wounded, but the renminbi’s surprise decline will have ruffled plenty of feathers. More importantly, it serves notice that China is opening up a new front in its battle to reduce risks in a highly volatile financial system.

It takes a little detective work to unravel how guiding the renminbi lower helps China manage financial risks because it involves a vast twilight zone of financial dealings for which there is little data, official or otherwise. Nevertheless, it is the dealings in this zone – which includes domestic shadow finance and irregular cross-border capital flows – that are increasingly setting the tone for Beijing’s policies.

The story starts with the People’s Bank of China’s repeated failure to bring shadow finance to heel. Since the announcement of Document 463 in December 2012, authorities have been turning up the pressure on shadow finance, mainly with the aim of preventing high-interest trust loans from triggering defaults among local government borrowers. But official statistics show that such efforts have not yet borne fruit. Entrusted loans rose to Rmb396.5bn ($64.7bn) in January, almost double the levels of the same month a year ago.

Worse than this failure, though, is evidence that the PBoC’s policies may be backfiring. Dodging the central bank’s pressure to liquidate shadow financial assets (which offer attractive returns), banks are opting instead to sell off lower yielding enterprise bonds (debt issued by state-owned companies), thus raising the cost of financing to companies and local governments, according to research by China Confidential, a research service at the Financial Times.

While this squeezes the supply of credit to the “real” economy, the shadow finance segment is nourished by inflows of capital that gush through a hundred holes in China’s nominally “closed” capital account.

A shadow banker in Ningbo, eastern China, recently described the attractions of such a trade. “It is easy to borrow abroad at around 1 per cent annual interest. Then change that money into renminbi and bring it into the mainland,” said the banker, who declined to be identified because of the illegal nature of his business.

“You can get around 10 to 12 per cent by lending it to a trust or around 20 per cent by putting it with an underground bank. On top of that you get whatever the renminbi has appreciated by the time you need to repay the foreign loan.”

One sign that this cross-border carry trade has been robust of late is evidence of an increase in the over-invoicing of exports, a common ruse used to spirit funds into the mainland. A China Confidential survey of exporters in January found that 44 per cent of respondents thought that such fake invoicing was on the increase.

Besieged by these pressures, it is hardly surprising that the PBoC was keen to shoot an arrow. Its hope is that by instilling in speculators’ consciousness a sense that the renminbi can fall as well as rise, it will staunch the inrush of speculative capital lured by the outsized returns available in the mainland’s shadow finance markets.

In this, as ever, Beijing is looking for incremental shifts, such as the 1.2 per cent that the renminbi has depreciated by so far this year. It knows that if it were to try to stop the inflow of illegal capital entirely, it may trigger the very wave of financial defaults it is hoping to avoid. Thus a gradual approach using exchange rate flexibility to generate a market response seems to suit the PBoC’s objectives for now.

中国政府本周引导人民币汇率创下自2005年以来的最大跌幅。用中国话说,这一策略可谓“一箭双雕”。

第一个打击目标是海外投机者,他们一直无视中国官员的警告,押注于人民币对美元的单边持续升值。第二个打击目标,是中国国内不受约束的影子金融玩家们。

这两只鸟都没有被打死,甚至没有受到致命伤害,但人民币的意外贬值肯定大大惊动了它们。更重要的是,中国政府此举表明,它正开辟一条新的战线,来帮助自己应对动荡金融市场中的高风险。

要搞明白引导人民币汇率下跌如何能帮助中国控制金融风险,我们需要做一点“侦探”工作,因为这个问题涉及到一大片不透明的金融交易,官方或非官方数据在这里几乎不存在。不过,正是这一领域中的各种交易——包括境内的影子金融以及非正规的跨境资本流动——正日益决定着中国政府的政策基调。

故事的源头,在于中国央行(PBoC)规范影子金融的努力屡告失败。自2012年发布463号文以来,中国监管部门一直在加大对影子金融的施压力度,主要目标是防止高息信托贷款引发地方政府借款者违约。但官方统计数据显示,这一努力仍未取得成效。信托贷款规模今年1月增至3965亿元人民币(合647亿美元),几乎是上年同期的两倍。

更糟的是,有证据显示,中国央行的政策可能起到了反作用。英国《金融时报》旗下研究机构《中国投资参考》(China Confidential)的研究显示,面对央行要求清算影子银行资产(此类资产收益率诱人)的压力,各银行转而选择出售收益率较低的公司债券(多由国企发行),因此增加了企业和地方政府的融资成本。

这种做法挤压了实体经济的信贷供应,而与此同时,中国名义上封闭的资本账户其实存在无数漏洞,境外资本能够透过这些漏洞源源不断流入中国,滋养影子金融部门的蓬勃发展。

最近,在华东城市宁波,一名影子银行玩家描述了这类交易的吸引力。他说:“在国外,很容易以1%的年利率借到钱。然后将借到的钱兑换成人民币,将其带入境内。”他拒绝透露自己的身份,因为他从事的业务是违法的。

“借给信托公司能拿到10%到12%的利息,借给地下钱庄能拿到20%左右。除此之外,到了偿还海外贷款的时候,你还能拿到人民币在此期间的升值收益。”

这种跨境“套息交易”近来非常活跃的一个迹象就是,虚开出口发票现象有所增加。虚开出口发票是将境外资金秘密带入境内的常用招数。《中国投资参考》1月对出口商的一项调查发现,44%的受访者认为,虚开发票现象近来在增加。

面临这些压力,中国央行急于“投石打鸟”就容易理解了。它的期望是,通过迫使投机者意识到人民币可以涨也可以跌,抑制投机资本的流入,而这种资本目前主要是受到中国境内影子金融市场超高回报率的吸引。

这一次,中国政府依然采取了惯用的渐进式手法,比如今年迄今人民币累计跌幅仅1.2%。中国政府清楚,如果它试图将非法资本完全挡在门外,可能恰恰会引发它原本希望避免的一波金融违约。因此,就目前而言,这种渐进手法——利用利率弹性波动来制造市场反应——看上去符合中国央行的目标。

译者/何黎

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