The average daily turnover of yuan interbank settlements handled by Hong Kong's yuan clearing platform surpassed settlements in Hong Kong dollars last month, the head of the city's de facto central bank said.
Norman Chan Tak-lam, chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, said in an interview in New York last week that the robust growth of yuan cleared by the Real Time Gross Settlement system was an indication of a significant increase in offshore yuan commercial and trade activities conducted in the city.
The real-time system was upgraded from the Renminbi Settlement System in June 2007 with the Bank of China (Hong Kong) as its clearing bank.
According to statistics provided by the authority, the average daily turnover of yuan interbank payments processed through Hong Kong's yuan clearing platform last month reached 390 billion yuan, equivalent to HK$494 billion. That exceeded the HK$487 billion of interbank payments denominated in Hong Kong dollars that were cleared in Hong Kong.
It is the first time settlement of yuan interbank payments surpassed that of Hong Kong dollars in the city. In 2010 the average daily turnover of yuan payments through Hong Kong's clearing platform was 5.3 billion yuan. It surged to an average of 213 billion yuan per day last year.
Hong Kong was the first and is now the largest offshore yuan business centre in the world. By the end of April the city's yuan deposit pool amounted to 836.6 billion yuan, up 16 per cent year on year. The number of settlement banks and organisations has reached 209.
Other countries and cities have been catching up since 2009 when Beijing gradually relaxed rules to encourage international businesses to use the yuan to settle trade and to invest. Singapore, Australia, France, Britain and Japan are also all vying for yuan business.
"Hong Kong has the first-mover advantage in developing offshore yuan business and we are not afraid of competition," Chan said. "I am very upbeat on the prospect of the relevant business in Hong Kong."
Chan joined a seminar organised by the HKMA in New York last week to promote Hong Kong's role as the global offshore yuan business centre.
In another attempt to facilitate offshore yuan business in Hong Kong, Chan said the authority was considering allowing banks to receive yuan funds on the day they are requested under the yuan liquidity facility. Now, banks have to give notice of one business day. In January, the authority cut the notice period for participating banks from two business days.
Anita Fung Yuen-mei, chief executive of HSBC Hong Kong, said HSBC and the banking sector welcomed the idea as it would allow banks greater flexibility in managing their yuan business.
Meanwhile, Chan said the anticipated withdrawal of stimulus measures by the US Federal Reserve had caused huge uncertainty in financial markets.
"The larger the scale of quantitative easing measures and the longer the period those measures are implemented, the larger the risk for withdrawing the stimulus measures," he said.
Chan said he was not sure whether the cycle of rises in property prices in Hong Kong had come to an end. He noted that a decrease in prices was not significant despite the huge reduction in property transactions since the introduction of several rounds of measures by the authorities since last year.