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China’s Tightening Tool Box…

March 12th, 2010 Michael McDonough

The wheels of tightening may be gaining momentum in China, after February’s higher than anticipated inflation release.  High inflation leading to negative real deposit rates may entice investors to withdraw deposits and invest in more speculative assets, potentially spurring what is arguably already a bubble in the country’s housing sector.  I believe that China has been avoiding an increase in its deposit rates, at least before tightening by the U.S. Fed, in order to avoid further spikes in hot-money inflows (from investors looking to take advantage of interest rate differentials and anticipated appreciation in the RMB).  But, China’s inflation may have passed a threshold forcing the government to act.

Chinese Consumer Prices on an Annual Basis:

Source: Bloomberg

So what does further tightening in China look like?  First off we will likely see China continue removing excess liquidity through open market operations, increasing the yields and issuance of PBOC paper.  As the chart below illustrates, China has already begun this process, but thus far has proven to not be enough.

China People’s Bank of China 1Y Reference Yield:

Source: Bloomberg

China will most likely continue raising its reserve required ratio (RRR), which they have already increased to 16.5% from 15.5% since the start of the year.  I expect the RRR will move to it’s historic high of 17.5% over the next several months.

Chinese RRR:

Source: Bloomberg

A recovery in Chinese exports and inflationary concerns should reignite a gradual appreciation in the RMB, which was suspended at the onset of the global financial crisis.  (For more on this please see my recent piece on the RMB NDF curve).

RMB/USD:

Source: Bloomberg

Finally, the coup de grâce in Chinese tightening will be any hike in the country’s reference deposit/lending rates.  This would be a clear indicator that Chinese authorities mean business, and the country’s tightening cycle is approaching full swing.  Many analysts suspect we could see a hike in this rate within the next three weeks. possibly as early as next week.  Reverberations from this move would be felt globally, especially in the material and global transport sectors.  Easy money and large increments in new lending spurred almost insatiable demand from the country for raw materials for both final use and speculative purchases.  But, let us not forget, despite creating short-term volatility, these moves are necessary to guarantee China’s future economic growth.  Therefore, China’s tightening cycle will likely lead to quite a few buying opportunities both inside and outside of the country going into the future.

Chinese 1Y Deposit Rate vs. Fed Funds Target:

Source: Bloomberg

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