【英语中国】分析:中国仍有资本外流压力 China capital outflows persist despite FX reserves rebound

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2016-5-10 20:29

小艾摘要: Capital flows from China persisted in April despite a reported rise in foreign exchange reserves, which mainly reflec-ted the impact of a weaker dollar on the central bank’s euro and yen holdings.Aft ...
China capital outflows persist despite FX reserves rebound
Capital flows from China persisted in April despite a reported rise in foreign exchange reserves, which mainly reflec-ted the impact of a weaker dollar on the central bank’s euro and yen holdings.

After falling for 18 of 20 months until February, slicing $791bn off the headline total, China’s official reserves rose by a combined $17bn in March and April, hitting $3.22tn last month.

But a look inside the data suggests significant latent outflow pressure remains. China has also benefited from global tailwinds in recent months that may not last. The strongest of these is the pause in interest rate rises by the US Federal Reserve, which caused a broad decline in the dollar versus global currencies.

“No matter due to tacit policy co-ordination or just dumb luck, the weakened US dollar has greatly eased the pressure on renminbi and capital outflows from China,” Larry Hu, a China economist at Macquarie Securities, wrote yesterday.

Fundamentals have certainly improved since the renminbi’s sharp fall in early January sent shockwaves through global markets. Predictions that uncontrolled capital flight would lead to a collapse in the renminbi, or rapid depletion of China’s reserves, now look increasingly rash.

The People’s Bank of China’s use of forex reserves to stabilise the renminbi exchange rate, a tactic that has been derided as unsustainable, has largely succeeded in beating back speculators. Hedge funds that placed bets on renminbi depreciation are rethinking their strategy.

But the delay in Fed tightening has been crucial to the slowdown in outflows. The Fed’s rate rise in December, combined with easing steps by the PBoC since late 2014, had drawn funds out of China. But amid signs that China’s economy has stabilised, the PBoC has done no further easing since late February.

A weaker dollar also boosts China’s headline reserves directly through valuation effects, by increasing the dollar-denominated value of the PBoC’s non-dollar assets. Royal Bank of Scotland estimates that mark-to-market accounting boosted China’s headline reserves by a total of $54bn in March and April — implying that on a flow basis, reserves continued to decline.

Further, if inflows from trade and foreign direct investment are stripped out, China suffered portfolio outflows of about $45bn in both March and April, said RBS. While far less alarming than outflows of roughly $200bn last August, this figure shows that sentiment-driven capital is still leaving China.

“If the Fed hikes rates later this year and the Chinese economy rolls over again, forcing the PBoC to take more easing measures, we could see depreciation pressures re-emerge,” said Harrison Hu, China economist at RBS in Singapore.

The PBoC’s efforts to staunch the outflows have also come at a cost to its own credibility and long-term reform goals.

The central bank has repeatedly said it intends to let market forces set the exchange rate and reduce capital controls that limit cross-border flows. But since last year that goal has taken a back seat to efforts to restore stability.

Not only has the PBoC spent hundreds of billions of dollars of reserves to defend the exchange rate, it has reimposed some capital controls in an effort to discourage currency speculation. Those include restricting forex purchases by individuals and halting a programme to allow Chinese residents to invest in foreign hedge funds.

Ironically, backsliding on pro-market reforms is largely the result of the central bank’s well-intentioned but poorly communicated effort to reduce intervention. In August, when the PBoC announced changes to the way it sets the exchange rate, it framed the move as a step towards granting more influence to market forces. But as the change came at a time when market forces were certain to push the currency weaker, many foreign investors interpreted it as an act of competitive devaluation to boost exports.

Even at the time, many analysts said this cynical interpretation was wrong, noting that China’s trade surplus was already near record highs. But the market’s panicked response to the August move, which led to unprecedented capital outflow and a much sharper fall in the exchange rate than the central bank had anticipated, essentially forced the PBoC to return to large-scale market intervention.

This intervention focused on propping up the exchange rate, further undermining the PBoC “currency war” interpretation. But even so it strengthened the broader view that the PBoC would never relinquish control of its exchange rate.

“Recently, the central bank has focused on maintaining stability but that’s not the direction of reform. It’s more like imposing stability is an ad hoc measure,” said Zhang Bin, senior fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a think-tank that advises the government. “As for when the central bank will return to pushing forward reforms, at the moment it’s tough to say.”

虽然有报道称中国外汇储备出现回升,但4月份中国资本外流仍在持续。中国外汇储备增加主要反映的是,美元走弱对中国央行持有的欧元和日元资产的影响。

在截至今年2月的20个月中,中国有18个月外汇储备出现下降,总计减少7910亿美元。而3月和4月,中国外汇储备共计增加170亿美元,在4月末达到3.22万亿美元。

但细看该数据可知,中国仍潜藏着很大的资本外流压力。近几月,中国同样受益于全球有利形势,但这种形势或许不会持续。其中最大的利好是美联储(Fed)暂停加息,这导致美元相对全球各地的货币出现普遍贬值。

麦格理证券(Macquarie Securities)中国经济学家胡伟俊(Larry Hu)昨日写道:“不管是因为心照不宣的政策协调还是仅靠偶然的运气,美元走弱都极大地缓解了人民币以及中国资本外流的压力。”

自1月初人民币汇率暴跌对全球市场造成冲击以来,中国经济基本面的确有所改善。有人预测,无法控制的资本外逃将导致人民币崩盘,或者导致中国外汇储备快速耗尽,但现在看来,这些预测越来越显得轻率。

中国央行利用外汇储备稳定人民币汇率的策略——被讥讽为不可持续——大体上成功地击退了投机者。押注人民币贬值的对冲基金正在重新思考各自的策略。

但美联储推迟加息对中国资本外流放缓至关重要。美联储去年12月的加息,以及中国央行自2014年底以后实施的宽松措施,促使资金撤离中国。但由于看到中国经济已经企稳的迹象,中国央行自2月底以来便不再进一步出台宽松政策。

美元走弱也通过估值效应——使中国央行非美元资产以美元计算的价值出现增加——直接提振中国整体外汇储备数字。苏格兰皇家银行(RBS)估计,今年3月和4月,以市值计价的会计制度令中国外汇储备数字共计增加了540亿美元——这表明,从资本流动的角度来说,外汇储备仍在继续下降。

此外,苏格兰皇家银行表示,如果不计入贸易和外国直接投资带来的资本流入,中国在3月和4月都出现了约450亿美元的证券投资流出。虽然这与去年8月约2000亿美元的流出规模相比没那么令人担忧,但这个数字表明,受情绪驱动的资本仍在撤离中国。

苏格兰皇家银行驻新加坡中国经济学家胡志鹏(Harrison Hu)表示:“如果美联储今年晚些时候加息,同时中国经济再次出现恶化,迫使中国央行采取更多宽松措施,我们会看到贬值压力再次出现。”

中国央行遏制资本外流的努力也让其在公信力以及长期改革目标方面付出了代价。

它曾一再表示要让市场力量来决定汇率,减少限制跨境流动的资本管制。但自去年以来,这一目标已让位于恢复稳定的举措。

中国央行不仅耗费数千亿美元外汇储备来捍卫人民币汇率,还重新实施了部分资本管制措施,以阻止外汇投机。这些措施包括限制个人购买外汇,以及中止一项允许中国居民投资海外对冲基金的计划。

具有讽刺意味的是,市场化改革的倒退在很大程度上由中国央行减少干预的努力导致——这项努力初衷虽好,但没有做好沟通工作。去年8月,中国央行宣布改革汇率形成机制,并将此举视为朝着让市场力量发挥更大作用的方向迈出的一步。但由于此次改革正值市场力量肯定会推动人民币走弱之际,许多外国投资者将之解读为以竞争性贬值来提振出口的行为。

即便在当时,许多分析师也表示,这种充满怀疑的解读是错误的,他们还指出中国的贸易顺差已逼近历史高位。但市场对中国央行去年8月举措的恐慌反应——导致前所未有的资本外流和远超中国央行预期的汇率跌幅——实际上迫使中国央行重新回到大规模市场干预的老路。

此轮干预主要聚焦于支撑汇率,这进一步削弱了关于中国央行进行“货币战”的解读。但它也强化了一个更为普遍的看法,即中国央行绝不会放弃对人民币汇率的控制。

“最近,央行专注于维护(汇率)稳定,但这并非改革的方向。维护汇率稳定更像是一种临时措施,”为政府献策的智库中国社会科学院(CASS)的高级研究员张斌说,“至于央行何时回归推进改革之路,目前还很难说。”

译者/隆祥

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