The renminbi’s seemingly endless grind lower against the US dollar has been one of the financial stories of 2016, triggering a wave of capital outflows from China that Goldman Sachs estimates may have totalled $1.1tn since August 2015.
The once closely controlled Chinese currency has tumbled 6.5 per cent to an eight-year low of Rmb6.945 against the greenback this year, taking its slide since August 2015 to 10.6 per cent.
As increasingly panicky Chinese and foreign entities have sought to evade the ongoing devaluation of their renminbi holdings by getting money out of the country, capital outflows have surged, with estimates of their size ranging from the $520bn the Institute of International Finance believes was spirited out of China in the first 10 months of 2016 to Goldman’s $1.1tn figure.
中外各类实体越来越惊慌失措，为了避免自己所持的人民币资产持续贬值，他们纷纷寻求将资金转移出中国，这导致资金外流激增。各机构对中国资金外流规模有不同的估计，比较低的有国际金融协会(Institute of International Finance)估计的2016年头10个月流出5200亿美元，比较高的就是上文高盛的估计——自2015年8月以来流出了1.1万亿美元。
Yet, arguably, there is another interpretation of what is happening to the currency of the world’s second-largest economy, one which may help allay some of the panic.
Since the end of June, the renminbi has been remarkably stable against the trade-weighted basket of 13 currencies introduced by the People’s Bank of China in December 2015.
Having closed at an index level of 95.02 on June 30, the renminbi has oscillated in a range of 93.78 to 95.34, according to the weekly updates released by the China Foreign Exchange Trade System, an arm of the People’s Bank. The most recent figure, for December 16, shows a reading of 94.99, just 0.03 points below that of June 30.
根据中国央行下属的中国外汇交易中心(China Foreign Exchange Trade System)发布的每周更新数据，人民币汇率指数在6月30日收于95.02的水平，此后一直在93.78到95.34的区间内振荡。12月16日的最新数据显示，该指数读数为94.99，只比6月30日的读数低了0.03点。
“Although there has been a lot of talk about crisis or big problems against the dollar, [the renminbi] has held very stable in basket terms since early July,” says Robert Minikin, head of Asia FX strategy at Standard Chartered.
渣打银行(Standard Chartered)亚洲外汇策略主管罗伯特.米尼肯(Robert Minikin)表示：“尽管许多人都在说人民币兑美元汇率可能遭遇危机或者出现大问题，但自7月初以来人民币相对于货币篮子一直非常稳定。”
That this has been little noticed is largely due to the market’s (and indeed the media’s) almost total obsession with the renminbi’s bilateral rate against the dollar.
Yet Zhou Xiaochuan, the governor of the People’s Bank, said in February that keeping the renminbi “at a broadly stable level” against the basket, would be the “keynote” of the bank’s new exchange rate regime.
Admittedly, Mr Zhou’s argument was somewhat undermined by the behaviour of the renminbi in the first half of 2016, when it fell 5.9 per cent against the basket, before finding stability in the second half.
As a result, the currency has fallen almost as much against the basket as against the dollar this year, although the shape of the slide has differed sharply, with the renminbi’s 2.1 per cent fall against the greenback in the first six months of the year accelerating to a 4.5 per cent slide in the second half, as the first chart shows.
But might something important have changed mid-year? Might the People’s Bank now be using its formidable currency intervention to achieve the target Mr Zhou outlined in February? Mr Minikin thinks so.
His argument is that the basket has been king since its introduction in December 2015 but that the renminbi’s starting level against the basket was problematic, given the currency’s “powerful upswing” in trade-weighted terms between the middle of 2014 and Aug 2015. (Over the longer term it rose more sharply still, as the second chart, based on an index drawn up by the Bank for International Settlements, indicates).
During the first half of 2016, the People’s Bank “took back roughly half of that overvaluation,” he says, allowing the currency to drift back towards a “truer” level.
“All along they were assessing the value of the currency on a trade-weighted basis, but at the beginning of this year the starting point was not a very good level to lock in because they were locking in the revaluation of 2015,” Mr Minikin says.
However, with the trade-weighted renminbi seemingly reaching a level the People’s Bank was comfortable with by the end of June, since then “the authorities are doing exactly what they said they would do and pretty much what we think they should do,” he adds.
Not everyone shares this interpretation of events, however. Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics, says “there are two ways” of reading the situation, with one being that “since the middle of the year the People’s Bank has more formally adopted a peg against the basket”.
然而，不是每个人都认同这种解读。凯投宏观(Capital Economics)首席亚洲经济学家马克.威廉姆斯(Mark Williams)表示“有两种方式”解读这种情况，一种是“自年中以来央行更正式地采用了钉住货币篮子的机制”。
“I don’t think that’s right,” Mr Williams says, however. Instead, he believes the stability against the basket is more the result of the resurgence of the dollar, which fell on a trade-weighted basis in the first half of the year, before rallying in H2.
Because of this, any continued renminbi depreciation against the basket in H2 would have led to a sharper fall still against the greenback.
“If they had allowed weakness against the basket that would have led to more concerns about what is happening to the renminbi and more capital outflows,” Mr Williams says.
Instead, he argues that the People’s Bank has engaged in “opportunistic devaluation against the basket”.
In other words, when the dollar was falling, the PBoC felt able to let the renminbi weaken against the basket, but when the dollar rose, the central bank instead kept the renminbi stable against the basket, in order to minimise its decline against the resurgent greenback.
Indeed, since November 8, when Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the US presidential election set off a powerful dollar rally, the renminbi has strengthened in trade-weighted terms.
“You end up with these stop-start moves against the basket and the dollar,” says Mr Williams. “The issue is that, try as they might, the People’s Bank can’t get financial markets to focus on the basket.”
Win Thin, global head of emerging market currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman, believes the renminbi’s steadiness against the basket since the end of June is little more than a reflection of Beijing’s desire for “some measure of stability”.
布朗兄弟哈里曼(Brown Brothers Harriman)新兴市场货币策略全球主管Win Thin认为，自6月底以来人民币相对于货币篮子的稳定只是反映出北京方面维持“一定程度的稳定”的意愿。
“The last thing they want is uncontrolled capital outflows. It’s not just China, we have seen outflows from most of the emerging markets,” he says.
Despite this, Mr Thin says few people he comes across focus on the rate against the basket. “We look at the bilateral rate for our clients. Investors, politicians, everyone is still pretty much fixated on the dollar rate,” he says.
Mr Minikin says an increased focus on the basket would help reassure people that China is not heading for the rocks.
“Over time, as market participants and corporates become more attuned to the new regime, people will realise that there isn’t any big China crisis or devaluation out there, so this will allow confidence to be restored,” he says.
Nevertheless, even the StanChart man does see scope for turbulence ahead. His 2013 book The Offshore Renminbi: The Rise of the Chinese Currency and Its Global Future, outlined the turbulence faced by the Australian dollar when that currency was internationalised in the 1980s.
然而，即使是米尼肯，也看到未来有出现动荡的可能。他在2013年出版的著作《人民币的崛起：国际地位及影响》(The Offshore Renminbi: The Rise of the Chinese Currency and Its Global Future)讲到了澳元在上世纪80年代国际化进程中出现的动荡。
With Beijing now committed to allowing the renminbi to follow suit, he believes a few more bumps in the road may be inevitable.