China Shakes Markets with Yuan Move – China Real Time Report – WSJ

China devalued the yuan by nearly 2% on Tuesday in a surprise move that shook markets around the world and appeared to be a response to sharply weaker exports and plummeting factory prices in a softening economy. The central bank described its action as a new way of setting the daily parity or reference rate – a rate it sets for the currency against the dollar –  to better reflect market rates.  (The markets get a chance to trade the currency around that rate, but not by much. The yuan can go up or down only 2% from that crucial central rate.)

So far this year, the parity rate has hardly budged against the dollar even though the latter has been rising steadily against other currencies. That has made China’s exports more expensive in many markets just as the world’s second largest economy is slowing.  The People’s Bank of China says it will now pay more attention to the market levels when it sets its parity rate. It also called the move a “one-time fix.”

Economists are hotly debating the significance of the move, in part because it seems to be speaking to many different audiences. It will help the struggling export sector, which has stalled amid weak global demand. Exports in July, for example, sank more than 8% and they were down nearly 1% for the first seven months of the year.

At the same time, it was essential for the People’s Bank of China not to alarm domestic and foreign investors to avoid triggering a wave of capital outflows. Investors tend to dump a weakening currency and move their assets into other currencies. Thus, the PBOC said the move was a one-time reform effort to bring the yuan more in line with the markets.

Finally, the central bank may also have had the International Monetary Fund in its sights. The yuan is up for possible inclusion in international agency’s Special Drawing Rights, a basket of currencies that serves as a global reserve. Too big a move might have damaged Beijing’s case that the yuan is a suitable candidate for addition to that basket of currencies, analysts said.

via Economists React: China Shakes Markets with Yuan Move – China Real Time Report – WSJ.

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