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Renminbi to appreciate, become convertible by 2015, says Barclays

23 May 2012

The currency is likely to appreciate due to China’s strong economic growth, and it could reach ‘basic convertibility’ by 2015, says Yiping Huang, chief emerging Asia economist of the UK bank.

The Chinese renminbi could continue to appreciate in value against the US dollar over the coming years and Beijing may also seek to make it convertible at a “basic” level by 2015, believes Barclays.

Speaking at the Euromoney Conferences’ Global Offshore RMB Funding Forum 2012 in Hong Kong on May 23, Yiping Huang, chief economist of emerging Asia for Barclays said that the renminbi could continue to appreciate further on the back of China’s economic strength.

“On a long-term outlook I would argue that the currency has significant potential to continue rising,” Huang said. “Globally if a country’s GDP is growing faster than the world average by one percentage point this leads its currency to typically increase by at least half a percentage point.”

Given that the Chinese authorities are targeting 7.5% GDP growth this year and analysts expect its economy to expand by up to 8.3%. Meanwhile the global economy is predicted to grow by 3.5% according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which would suggest sizeable continued appreciation potential for the renminbi.

China’s currency has already appreciated from Rmb6.8208 against the US dollar on January 1, 2010 to Rmb6.31493 on the week of May 23, a rise of 7.4%.

Huang also feels that Beijing could seek to conduct a ‘basic convertibility’ of its currency by 2015, because this is the year that the IMF decides on the weighting of its special drawing rights (SDRs).

SDRs act as an artificial form of currency that serves as the official currency for several international organisations. Their value is based upon an underlying basket of several internationally-used currencies.

SDRs are important because they can be used to settle trade balances between countries and be used to pay the IMF. If the renminbi were to become part of the basket of currencies used to value SDRs it would effectively entirely legitimise its global usage.

“If China and the US are serious about adding the renminbi to the SDR basket [something the US has said it would support] then reform must accelerate as the next basket will be decided in 2015,” Huang said. “The renminbi will need to meet the necessary requirements, which is basically that the currency is broadly used for international settlement of trade and financial activities; it basically needs to be convertible.

“So the renminbi may become convertible faster than many expect; I think China is aiming for basic convertibility [by 2015].”

Huang said that basic convertibility would require three key steps: outward direct investment; debt financing; and portfolio investment.

“The authorities look willing to ease the first two, with cross border capital flows rising,” he said. “Basic convertibility also implies increasing convergence of the interest rate and exchange rate [of the onshore renminbi and offshore renminbi].”

23 May 2012