China’s holdings of US Treasuries rose for the third straight month in April, reaching the highest level since October 2016 at $1.09tn, as weakness in the country’s currency has begun to show signs of stabilising.
It comes after a period of sustained selling by Beijing, with 2016 marking the largest cut to China’s treasury holdings on record. The cut to China’s holdings came as Beijing sought to support the renminbi and manage capital flight by intervening in foreign exchange markets.
So far this year the renminbi has strengthened and China has tentatively returned to the Treasury market, buying $41.1bn of securities since January, with $4.6bn added in April. Still, the country’s holdings remain well below levels at the same time last year of $1.24tn, leading to it slipping into second place behind Japan as the largest foreign holder of Treasuries.
Japan cut its holding by $12.4bn in April to $1.11tn. Belgian holdings, seen by some as a proxy for China due to speculation that China executes through the European sovereign, fell to $96.4bn – below $100bn for the first time since August 2011.
Overall, foreign holders shed $28.6bn bring the total foreign ownership of Treasuries to $6.07tn.
In all the drama surrounding the French elections, few noticed the PBOC’s announcement that China’s FX reserves rose for the third straight month in April, increasing by $20.45 billion to $3.03 trillion, more than the $11 billion expected and the single biggest monthly increase in three years going back to April 2014, on the back of a weaker dollar and increasingly more draconian capital controls on outflows.
Cited by the WSJ, some economists attributed April’s increase to a dollar that continued to decline in the past month especially after Trump said the U.S. currency “is getting too strong.” The value of other currencies in China’s reserve basket, including the euro, the British pound and Japan’s yen, similarly played a significant role in the rise, said Yan Ling, an economist with China Merchants Securities.
Besides USD softness (USD has weakened against the CFETS basket by over 2% year-to-date through April) and perhaps stronger RMB sentiment, the capital flow management measures introduced over the last several months have also contributed to the slowdown in outflows, Goldman speculated in a Sunday note. That could reverse, as there may be incremental relaxation of the capital account as the flow situation has improved and an overly tight capital account could hinder legitimate international trade and the authorities’ long-term RMB internationalization goals.
China’s reflation story (on the back of a record amount of debt created last year) was put on display on Friday morning when both the Chinese manufacturing and non-manufacturing PMI rose more than expected, with the Manufacturing PMI rising to a level not seen since April 2012. According to the NBS, China’s Mfg PMI rose from 51.6 to 51.8 in March, the highest in almost five years, and above the 51.7 consensus estimate, while the non-manufacturing PMI also jumped, rising from 54.2 to 55.1, the highest in two years.
The National Bureau of Statistics reported that New Orders rose from 53.0 to 53.3 while new export orders rose to 51, the highest since early 2012. Broken by firm size, the state-measured PMI showed largest enterprises were the strongest at 53.3, followed by medium-sized companies, while small firms remained in contraction at 48.6. Perhaps the most notable internal metric was the employment index, which hit the 50 level for the first time since May 2012, marking the first time the manufacturing sector has not lost jobs in nearly 5 years.
As the chart below shows, the catalyst for the move higher has been the recent surge in producer prices, which have soared as much as 7% Y/Y on the back of soaring commodity prices; both have since peaked and it is expected that in the coming months, China’s inflationary pressures will subside especially given the recent efforst by Beijing to reign in out of control credit, especially shadow, issuance.
One of the world’s leading university ranking systems has found significant improvement in Asia’s tertiary education institutions over the past year, although long-established Western bodies continue to dominate the field in most key academic subjects.
QS Quacquarelli Symonds, a London-based group, published its 2017 rankings covering 1,127 universities from 74 countries across 46 subjects. Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, described as “perennial rivals” by QS, led all universities in the field in 15 and 12 subjects, respectively.
But the prominence of Asian universities has been increasing in recent years. While elite U.S. and European institutions are likely to remain at the top of the rankings in the near future, more Asian universities nonetheless are moving up the list, as regional economies grow and education spending increases.
“It seems certain that Asia’s leading institutions will continue to strongly displace the second tier of North American and European institutions,” said QS research director Ben Sowter.
The rankings are based on academic paper citations as well as on survey responses from 74,651 academics and 40,643 employers worldwide.
According to the QS report, the best Asian performers were from China, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, although universities in the Philippines also made rapid progress lower down the list.
Two months ago, when looking at an alternative measure of Chinese capital outflows using SAFE data, Goldman found that contrary to official PBOC reserve data, “China’s Capital Outflows Are Soaring Again”, having hit $78 billion in September.
Over the weekend, and following the latest PBOC data which revealed an outflow of $56 billion in November (which was only $34 billion when FX adjusted), Goldman repeated its FX flow calculation using SAFE data, and found the China continues to mask the full extent of its outflows, which in November spiked to $69 billion, and that “since June, this data has continued to suggest significantly larger FX sales by the PBOC than is implied by FX reserve data”, once again suggesting that China is eager to mask the true extent of reserve outflows, perhaps in an attempt to not precipitate the feedback loop of even further panicked selling of Yuan and even more outflows, and thus, even more reserve depletion.
According to Goldman’s MK Tang, money has been leaving in yuan payments for 14 consecutive months, while the central bank’s yuan positions have slumped the most since January. The situation could get worse, said Banny Lam, head of research at CEB International Investment Ltd, cited by Bloomberg.
In addition to its now traditional credit-funded boom-bubble-bust cycle which rotates from asset to asset, and is then promptly recycled courtesy of the nearly $35 trillion in various financial system “assets”, another staple of the “new” Chinese economy are smog alerts following every burst in economic strength driven by “old economy” manufacturing.
That’s what happened overnight, when following months of manufacturing expansion, China’s pollution problem has again caught up, and as a result Beijing’s city government ordered 1,200 factories near the Chinese capital, including a major oil refinery run by state oil giant Sinopec, to shut or cut output on Saturday after authorities issued the highest possible air pollution alert.
Traffic on the city’s roads was lower than usual as residents complied with limits on car use and many of the city’s 22 million residents sat out the haze at home. “I’ll just take a rest and not go outside,” said Wang Jianan, a 23-year-old Beijing resident and teaching assistant. With Christmas just a week away, others resorted to dark humour to help cope with the latest episode of toxic air.
Chinese media reported that at least 388 people have been fined for lighting outdoor barbecues and fires.
China will soon slap a penalty on an un-named U.S. automaker for monopolistic behaviour, the official China Daily newspaper reported on Wednesday, quoting a senior state planning official.
Investigators found the U.S. company had instructed distributors to fix prices starting in 2014, Zhang Handong, director of the National Development and Reform Commission’s price supervision bureau, was quoted as saying.
News of the penalty comes at a sensitive time for China-U.S. relations after U.S. president-elect Donald Trump called into question a long-standing U.S. policy of acknowledging that Taiwan is part of “one China”.
Beijing maintains that self-ruled Taiwan is a wayward province of China and has never renounced the use of force to take it back.
Zhang was quoted in an exclusive interview with the newspaper as saying that no one should “read anything improper” into the timing or target of the penalty.
It seems that Trump’s phone call with Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen as well a recent pair of tweets from the president-elect blasting China for devaluing their currency, taxing U.S. imports and military provocations in the South China Sea have served their purpose of ruffling some feathers in Beijing.
While the “official reaction” out of Beijing to Trump’s “provocations and falsehoods” has been muted, newspapers across China, often viewed as a mouthpiece of the Communist Party, have spent the day lashing out at the “diplomatic rookie.”. Per Yahoo News, the People’s Daily accused Trump of “provoking friction and messing up China-US relations,” a move they say will not help “make America great again.”
Donald Trump is a “diplomatic rookie” who must learn not to cross Beijing on issues like trade and Taiwan, Chinese state media said Tuesday, warning America could pay dearly for his naivety.
Trump’s protocol-shattering call with Taiwan’s president and a subsequent Twitter tirade against Beijing’s policies could risk upending the delicate balance between the world’s two largest economies, major media outlets said.
“Provoking friction and messing up China-US relations won’t help ‘make America great again'”, said a front-page opinion piece in the overseas edition of Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.