China Will Continue to Export Lower Prices Across the World

chinaIn June 2014, the Chinese foreign exchange reserves peaked at $3.99 trillion. Since then the foreign exchange reserves have been falling, first gradually and then at a very rapid pace. Between June 2014 and December 2014, the foreign exchange reserves fell by around $150 billion to $3.84 trillion.

In 2015, the foreign exchange reserves fell at a very rapid rate. During the course of the year, the foreign exchange reserves fell by a whopping $512.7 billion. As of December 2015, the Chinese foreign exchange reserves stood at $$3.33 trillion. They fell by a further $100 billion dollars and stood at $3.23 trillion as of the end of January 2016.

What is happening here? Money is rapidly leaving China. Wei Yao and Jason Dew of Societe Generale write in a recent research note: “China is waging an uphill battle against capital outflows. In the past six quarters a cumulative $657 billion of net capital has left China.”

Yao and Dew write that there are three major areas of outflows when it comes to the money that is leaving China. First, the resident banking outflows have amounted to $353 billion. What does this mean? The Chinese are allowed to move up to $50,000 out of China, every year. Hence, banking outflows of $353 billion means that the Chinese are moving their money out of China. It also means that the Chinese banking system is increasingly integrated with the global financial system.

Second, the non-resident banking outflows have been at $248 billion. This means that the non-resident Chinese are withdrawing their money out of the Chinese banking system.

Further, between 2005 and 2013, the Chinese yuan was allowed to gradually appreciate against the dollar. In late 2005, one dollar was worth around 8.3 yuan. By the end of 2013, one dollar was worth around 6.05 yuan.

Many companies used this era of the appreciating dollar to borrow money in dollars. With the yuan appreciating against the dollar, it made sense to borrow in dollars. At a very simplistic level, a company which borrowed a million dollars when one dollar was worth 8.3 yuan would get 8.3 million yuan when it converted the dollars to yuan. When returning this money in 2013, assuming the entire principal amount of the loan needed to be returned in the end, the company needed only 6.05 million yuan to buy the million dollars, it would need to repay the loan. The interest payments in yuan would also have been lower as the yuan appreciated.

Nevertheless, since the start of 2014, the yuan has been depreciating against the dollar. At the beginning of 2014, one dollar was worth 6.05 yuan. Currently it is worth around 6.52 yuan. This basically means that the Chinese companies which had borrowed in dollars will need more yuan to repay the loans. Hence, the loans are being repaid because the fear is that the yuan will continue to depreciate against the dollar in the time to come. These repayments are also showing up in non-resident banking outflows of $248 billion.

The third and the most interesting item of outflow is the net errors and omissions. This is typically a balancing number and is usually close to zero for most countries, write Yao and Dew of Societe Generale. In the Chinese case this number over the last six quarters stands at $327 billion.

What does this mean? It means that the Chinese are moving their money out of China circumventing the existing regulations. What this also tells us is that the Chinese are not confident about the state of the Chinese economy and are now moving their money out of China, through unofficial channels. And that is indeed worrying.

The People’s Bank of China, the Chinese central bank, manages the value of the Chinese yuan against the dollar. When a large amount of money leaves China, people and institutions taking their money out sell yuan to buy dollars. This essentially should cause a shortage of dollars in the market. A shortage would mean that the dollar would appreciate against the yuan or the yuan would depreciate rapidly. Over the years, the Chinese have not allowed the value of the yuan to vary rapidly against the dollar. The value has always been managed.

In order to ensure that the yuan maintains its value against the dollar, the Chinese central bank needs to sell dollars and buy yuan. This ensures that there are enough dollars going around in the financial system and hence, the value of the dollar does not appreciate rapidly against the yuan.

The trouble is that the Chinese central bank does not have an endless supply of dollars. Only the Federal Reserve of the United States, the American central bank, can create dollars of thin air. This explains why it has gone slow in defending the yuan against the dollar, in the recent past, and allowed its currency to depreciate against the dollar.

While $3.23 trillion of foreign exchange reserves may sound like a lot of money, it isn’t. The International Monetary Fund has a methodology for calculating the adequate level of foreign exchange reserves. As Yao and Dew write: “Based on the IMF methodology…our calculations indicate that China’s reserves are at 118% of the recommended level. Reserve adequacy has been deteriorating sharply over the past five years.”

This means that adequate Chinese reserves are to the tune of $2.8 trillion. The rate at which Chinese foreign exchange reserves have been falling, reaching a level of $2.8 trillion shouldn’t take more than six months. Also, it is worth remembering here that these foreign exchange reserves aren’t exactly in a vault somewhere. They have been invested all over the world. And the question is how liquid these investments are. Until when can the Chinese keep selling these investments in order to defend the value of the yuan?

Interestingly, Yao and Dew feel that there is a greater than 60% probability that the People’s Bank of China will move towards a free-float and let the market decide the value of the yuan against the dollar. They also feel that there is a 30% probability that the Chinese central bank will continue to follow the current strategy of trying to defend the yuan and at the same time allow it to depreciate against the dollar, now and then.

Either ways, the value of the yuan against the dollar will be at much lower levels in the months to come.

What will this mean for the world at large? It will mean that Chinese exports will become even more competitive than they currently are. And this will lead to China exporting more deflation (i.e. lower prices) to other parts of the world.

The column originally appeared in Vivek Kaul’s Diary on Equitymaster on February 17, 2016

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Foreign investors exit Russia lock, stock and barrel: Rouble crisis has lessons for India

Pmr-money-rouble-10-obvVivek Kaul

The Russian rouble has been in trouble of late. The value of the currency crashed from 55 roubles to a dollar as on December 11, 2014, to nearly 73 roubles to a dollar as on December 16, 2014. Since then the currency has recovered a little and as I write this around 67 roubles are worth a dollar.
What caused this? A major reason for this has been the fall in the price of oil by 50% in the last six months. As I write this the Brent Crude Oil quotes at slightly less than $60 to a barrel. The Brent Crude price dropped below $60 per barrel only this week.
The Russian government is majorly dependant on revenues from oil to meet its expenditure. The money that comes in from oil contributes around half of the revenues of the government and makes up for two-thirds of the exports.
As The Economist points out: “The state owns big stakes in many energy firms, as well as indirect links via the state-supported banks that fund them.” Given this excessive dependence on oil, Russia needs the price of oil to be in excess of $100 per barrel, for the government expenditure and income to be balanced.
As Javed Mian writes in the
Stray Reflections newsletter dated November 2014: “Today, Russia needs an oil price in excess of $100 a barrel to support the state and preserve its national security.” The Citigroup in a report puts the break-even cost of the Russian government budget at an oil price of $105 per barrel. The oil price, as we know, is nowhere near that level.
The rouble lost 10% against the dollar on December 15 and another 11% on December 16. Why did this happen? Foreign investors are exiting Russia lock, stock and barrel. The Russian central bank recently estimated that capital flight
could touch $130 billion this year.
The foreign investors are selling their investments in roubles and buying dollars, leading to an increase in demand for dollars vis a vis roubles. This has led to the value of the rouble crashing against the dollar.
The Russian central bank has tried to stem this flow by buying the “excess” roubles being dumped on to the foreign exchange market and selling dollars. It is estimated that on December 15, 2014, it sold around $2 billion to buy roubles.
But even this did not help prevent the worse rouble crash since 1998. This forced the Russian central bank to raise the interest rate by 650 basis points (one basis point is one hundredth of a percentage) to 17%. Despite this overnight manoeuvre, the rouble continued to crash against the dollar and fell by 11% on December 16.
The Russian central bank has spent more than $80 billion in trying to defend the rouble against the dollar this year and is now left with reserves of around $416 billion. The question is will these reserves turn out to be enough?
Russian companies and banks have an external debt of close to $700 billion. Of this around $30 billion is due this month and
another $100 billion over the course of next year, writes Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in The Telegraph.
He also quotes Lubomir Mitov, from the Institute of International Finance, as saying that any fall in reserves below $330bn could prove dangerous, given the scale of foreign debt and a confluence of pressures. “It is a perfect storm. Each $10 fall in the price of oil reduces export revenues by some 2 percent of GDP. A decline of this magnitude could shift the current account to a 3.5 deficit,” Mitov told Evans-Pritchard.
This has implications for Russia on multiple fronts. With oil revenues falling, the Russian economy will contract in 2015. Before raising the interest rates to 17%, the Russian central bank had said that the economy could contract by 4.7% because of oil prices falling to $60 per barrel.
Also, inflation which before this week’s currency crisis was at 9.1%, could go up further. As The Economist points out: “Russian shopkeepers have started to re-price their goods daily. Less than two weeks ago one dollar could be bought with 52 roubles; on December 16th between 70 and 80 were needed. Shops defending their dollar income need a price rise of 50% to offset this.”
Further, so much money leaving Russia in such quick time, the country may also have to think of implementing capital controls.
The revenue projections of the Russian government have gone totally out of whack.
The Financial Times reports that two weeks back, the Russian president Vladmir Putin, “ signed the federal budget for 2015-17 — which is still based on forecasts of 2.5 per cent annual gross domestic product growth, 5.5 per cent inflation and oil at $96 a barrel.” These assumptions will have to junked.
Putin might also might have to go slow on the aggressive military strategy that he has been following for a while now As Mian points out: “Russia is the world’s 8th-largest economy, but its military spending trails only the US and China. Putin increased the military budget 31% from 2008 to 2013, overtaking UK and Saudi Arabia, as reported by the International Institute of Strategic Studies.”
Whether this happens remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the Russian crisis has led to financial markets falling in large parts of the world. As I write this the BSE Sensex is quoting at around 26,700 points having fallen by around 1800 points over the last two weeks.
So, what are the lessons in this for India? The first and foremost is that foreign investors can exit an economy at any point of time, once they finally start feeling that the economy is in trouble. They may not exit the equity market all at once but they can exit the debt market very quickly.
This is something that India needs to keep in mind. From December 2013 up to December 15, 2014, the foreign institutional investors have invested Rs 1,63,523.08 crore (around $25.7 billion assuming$1=Rs63.6) in the Indian debt market. This is Rs 44,443 crore more than what they have invested in the stock market.
Even if a part of the money invested the debt market starts to leave the country, the rupee will crash against the dollar. This is precisely what happened between June and November 2013 when foreign institutional investors sold debt worth Rs 78,382.2 crore.
When they converted these rupees into dollars, the demand for dollars went up, leading to the rupee crashing and touching almost 70 to a dollar. It was at this point of time that Raghuram Rajan in various capacities, first as officer on special duty at the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and later as RBI governor, helped stop the crash.
This is a point that the finance minister Arun Jaitley needs to keep in mind and drop the habit of asking Rajan to cut interest rates, almost every time that he speaks in public. Rajan knows his job and its best to allow him and the RBI to do things as they deems fit. Further, Rajan and RBI are more cued into what is happening internationally than perhaps any of the politicians can ever be.
Also, one reason that foreign institutional investors have invested so much money in the Indian debt market is because the returns on government debt are on the higher side vis a vis other countries. If the RBI were to cut the repo rate (or the rate at which it lends to banks) these returns will come down and this could possibly lead to the exit of some money invested by foreign investors in India’s debt market. And that would not be good news on the rupee front.

The article originally appeared on www.FirstBiz.com on Dec 17, 2014

(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)

Why rupee might even touch 65-70 to a dollar

rupee

Vivek Kaul

The rupee crossed 60 to a dollar again and touched 60.06, briefly in early morning trade today. As I write this one dollar is worth around Rs 59.97. This should not be surprising given that the demand for dollars is much more than their supply.
The external debt of India stood at $ 390 billion as on March 31,2013. Nearly 44.2% or $172.4 billion of this debt has a residual maturity of less than one year i.e. it needs to be repaid by March 31, 2014. The external debt typically consists of external commercial borrowings (ECBs) raised by companies, NRI deposits, loans raised from the IMF and other countries, short term trade credit etc.
Every time an Indian borrower repays external debt he needs to sell rupees to buy dollars. When this happens the demand for dollars goes up, and leads to the depreciation of the rupee against the dollar. The demand for dollars for repayment of external debt is likely to remain high all through the year.
Data from the RBI suggests that NRI deposits worth nearly $49 billion mature on or before March 31, 2014. With the rupee depreciating against the dollar, the perception of currency risk is high and thus NRIs are likely to repatriate these deposits rather than renew them. This will mean a demand for dollars and thus pressure on the rupee.
External commercial borrowings of $21 billion raised by companies need to be repaid before March 31, 2014. Companies which have cash, 
might look to repay their foreign loans sooner rather than later. This is simply because as the rupee depreciates against the dollar, it takes a greater amount of rupees to buy dollars. So if companies have idle cash lying around, it makes tremendous sense for them to prepay dollar loans. The trouble is that if a lot of companies decide to prepay loans then it will add to the demand for dollars and thus put further pressure on the rupee.
Things are not looking good on the trade deficit front as well. Trade deficit is the difference between imports and exports. Indian imports during the month of May 2013, stood at $44.65 billion. Exports fell by 1.1% to $24.51 billion. This meant that India had a trade deficit of more than $20 billion. 
Trade deficit for the year 2012-2013 (i.e. the period between April 1, 2012 and March 31, 2013) had stood at $191 billion. The broader point is that India is not exporting enough to earn a sufficient amount of dollars to pay for its imports.
The trade deficit for the month of April 2013 had stood at $17.8 billion. If we add this to the trade deficit of $20.1 billion for the month of May 2013, we get a trade deficit of nearly $38 billion for the first two months of the year.
With the way things currently are it is safe to say that the trade deficit for 2013-2014(or the period between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014) is likely to be similar to that of last year, if not higher. What will add to the import pressure is a fall in the price of gold.
Hence, if we add the foreign debt of $172 billion that needs to be repaid during 2013-2014, to the likely trade deficit of $191 billion, we get $363 billion. This is going to be the likely demand for dollars for repayment of foreign debt and for payment of excess of imports over exports, during the course of the year.
A further demand for dollars is likely to come from foreign investors pulling money out of the Indian stock and bond market. 
The foreign investors pulled out investments worth more than Rs 44,000 crore or around $7.53 billion, from the Indian bond and stock markets during the month of June, 2013.
This is likely to continue in the days to come given that the Federal Reserve of United States, the American central bank, has indicated that it will go slow on printing dollars in the days to come. This means that interest rates in the United States are likely to go up, and thus close a cheap source of funding for the foreign investors.
Now lets compare this demand for dollars with India’s foreign exchange reserves. 
As on June 21, 2013, the foreign exchange reserves of India stood at $287.85 billion. Even if we were to ignore the demand for dollars that will come from foreign investors exiting India, the foreign exchange reserves are significantly lower than the $363 billion that is likely to be required for repayment of foreign debt and for payment of excess of imports over exports.
This clearly tells us that India is in a messy situation on this front. If we were to just look at the ratio of foreign exchange reserves to imports we come to the same conclusion. The current foreign exchange reserves are good enough to cover around six and a half months of imports ($287.85 billion of foreign exchange reserves divided by $44.65 billion of monthly imports). This is a very precarious situation 
and was last seen in the early 1990s, when India had just started the liberalisation programme. This is a very low number when we compare it to other BRIC economies(i.e. Brazil, Russia and China), which have an import cover of 19 to 21 months.
That’s one side of the equation addressing the demand for dollars. But what about the supply? Dollars can come into India through the foreign direct investment(FDI) route. When dollars come into India through the FDI route they need to be exchanged for rupees. Hence, dollars are sold and rupees are bought. This pushes up the demand for rupees, while increasing the supply of dollars, thus helping the rupee gain value against the dollar or at least hold stable.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) recently pointed out that 
the foreign direct investment in India fell by 29% to $26 billion in 2012. So things are not looking good on the FDI front for India. A spate of scams from 2G to coalgate is likely to keep foreign businesses away as well. The recent mess in India’s telecom policy and the Jet-Etihad deal, which would have been the biggest FDI in India’s aviation sector till date, doesn’t help either.
The other big route through which dollars can come is through foreign investors getting in money to invest in the Indian stock and bond market. But as explained above that is likely to be come down this year with the Federal Reserve of United States announcing that it will go slow on its money printing programme in the months to come.
NRI remittances can ease the pressure a bit. India is the world’s largest receiver of remittances. In 2012, it received $69 billion, as per World Bank data. But even this will not help much to plug the gap between the demand for dollars and their supply.
Then come the NRI deposits. As on March 31, 2013, they stood at around $70.8 billion, having gone up nearly 20.8% since March 31, 2012. NRIs typically invest in India because the interest that they earn on deposits is higher in comparison to what they would earn by investing in the countries that they live in.
Interest rates offered on bank deposits continue to remain high in India in comparison to the western countries. So does that mean that NRIs will renew their deposits and not take their money out of India? Interest is not the only thing NRIs need to consider while investing money in India. They also need to take currency risk into account. With the rupee depreciating against the dollar, the ‘perception’ of currency risk has gone up. Lets understand this through an example.
An NRI invests $10,000 in India. At the point he gets money into India $1 is worth Rs 55. So $10,000 when converted into rupees, amounts to Rs 5.5 lakh. This money lets assume is invested at an interest rate of 10%. A year later Rs 5.5 lakh has grown to Rs 6.05 lakh (Rs 5.5 lakh + 10% interest on Rs 5.5 lakh). The NRI now has to repatriate this money back. At this point of time lets say $1 is worth Rs 60. So when the NRI converts rupees into dollars he gets $10,080 or more or less the same amount of money that he had invested.
With the rupee depreciating against the dollar, the ‘perception’ of currency risk has thus gone up. Given this, NRIs are unlikely to bring in as many dollars into the country as they did during the course of the last financial year (i.e. the period between April 1, 2012 and March 31,2013).
In short, the demand for dollars is likely to continue to be more than their supply in the time to come. This will ensure that the rupee will keep depreciating against the dollar. 
Economist Rajiv Mallik of CLSA summarised the situation best in a recent column “Prepare for the rupee at 65-70 per US dollar next year. That still won’t be the end of the story.”
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on July 3, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)