FX Trading focus:
USDCNH plunges at a rapid clip – what gives?
The Chinese renminbi jolted higher on the first session of the New Year, a surprise move of considerable magnitude, and one that is no accident and sends a message – but what message? Arguably, the CNY strengthening is merely playing a bit of relative catchup with other US dollar crosses, as for example, AUDCNY exactly touched the 2020 high again on the last days of 2020 before dipping on this CNY rally. Perhaps that is the very message, that China wants to manage its currency in such a way as to keep it relatively strong, if not so strong as to break the range against the official basket, nor against any major trading partner By that way of thinking, then, AUDCNH might be a low beta trade for further CNH resilience and strength. This would be part and parcel of its strategic move to attract capital via a strong and stable currency and higher policy rates, allowing it to absorb demand from global Covid-19 stimulus and the luxury to keep a relatively tight policy to allow some scale of deleveraging that it never really pursued in previous cycles of recent date.
The other argument might be that in the reflationary world that threatens from both Covid-19 supply disruptions and the arrival of fiscal forcing, that China wants to maintain a firm currency to guard against rising price pressures from commodity imports. In any case, the focus from here will eventually shift on whether China plans to allow the renminbi to pull higher above the range high that marked the top in recent weeks – coinciding with two prior peaks in the last couple of years – and that level is only about a percent above the current level.
After a few weeks in which the USDCNH exchange rate largely ignored the weaker US dollar, the renminbi jolted higher to start the year in one of the biggest moves in recent memory and below the largely symbolic 6.50 area – never a particular chart level in focus in other cycles. I’ll hang on to the view that China is happy to keep the renminbi at the strong side of the range in the official basket without a major isolated appreciation (this view encouraged recently when the CNY stopped appreciating at the twice-touched area near 96.0), but will watch closely if that basket level moves above 96.0, which could suggest a willingness to allow it to appreciate further to the next major high around 98.0. Eventually, it will be interesting to see how the US-China relationship develops under a Biden presidency and how the exchange rate would react to higher inflation as well as a deepening dis-engagement of the two economies.