China’s foreign reserves fall again in November even as Beijing tightens screws on capital outflows
Reserves shrank by US$69.1 billion last month to hit US$3.052 trillion, central bank says
The fall in China’s foreign exchange reserves accelerated in November even though Beijing is gradually closing the door on capital outflows.
The larger-than-expected decline in the world’s biggest stockpile of foreign exchange exposed the flaws in Beijing’s current approach of selling state reserves to support the yuan and was very likely to force the authorities to take a stricter line on outbound investment and payments, analysts said.
The reserves shrank by US$69.1 billion last month to US$3.052 trillion, according to data released by the People’s Bank of China on Wednesday. The mainland has lost nearly US$1 trillion worth of reserves since the figure peaked in June 2014.
November’s drop, the largest monthly fall since January, came as the US dollar index hit a 13-year high following Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election.
Tim Condon, chief Asia economist at ING in Singapore, said the rapid fall was undermining the Chinese government’s plan of a gradual and orderly decline.
“The authorities will respond by tightening capital controls and stabilising the daily midpoint, which they have done in past episodes of market turbulence,” Condon said.
In a joint statement released on Tuesday, the central bank and the National Development and Reform Commission, the state’s economic planning agency, warned of “irrational investment” in foreign properties, hotels, cinemas, entertainment and soccer clubs.
Documents obtained earlier by the South China Morning Post show capital outflow controls are already in force involving forex clearance for outbound investment of more than US$5 million, plus stricter reviews in place over very large deals. Both outbound investment and these mega deals are set to limit the speed and size of capital flow.
“The recent control measures are pre-emptive to prevent capital outflow pressure from rising on the US Federal Reserve’s highly likely interest rate rise in December,” said Zhu Qibing, chief macro analyst at mainland brokerage CITIC Securities International.
The fall in the value of the yuan, the reduction in foreign exchange reserves and the government measures to control outbound investment have all come at once.
They have dealt a blow to Beijing’s ambitions to make the yuan an international reserve currency along with the US dollar, the euro, the British pound and the Japanese yen, which together comprise the special drawing rights basket of the International Monetary Fund.
Beijing’s efforts to calm market concerns about the yuan’s value, or breaking the one-way bet on the yuan’s depreciation, have so far achieved only limited success, if any at all.