China's yuan to weaken around 3.5% in a year but not sharply

The Chinese yuan is expected to weaken some 3.5 per cent against the U.S. dollar over the coming year, according to analysts in a Reuters poll.

REUTERS: The Chinese yuan is expected to weaken some 3.5 per cent against the U.S. dollar over the coming year, according to analysts in a Reuters poll who do not expect the central bank to sharply devalue the currency in coming months.

Pressure on the yuan has ebbed recently on views that the US Federal Reserve may raise interest rates more gradually this year, which has held back the dollar, and as the People's Bank of China (PBOC) continues to clamp down on speculation.

"China's saving grace is that appreciation of the U.S. dollar has been capped, so there is less pressure for yuan devaluation in this environment," said Janu Chan, an analyst at St. George Bank in Sydney.

"If they devalue, but only by small increments, then it will encourage capital outflows. If they devalue sharply in one go then they will need to worry about rising value of dollar-denominated debt held by corporates, and potential defaults."

China roiled global markets twice in six months by suddenly devaluing the yuan last August and then allowing it to slide sharply at the beginning of 2016.

In both cases it stepped in quickly when the moves generated unexpectedly heavy selling pressure. While officials have reiterated that they see no reason for further fundamental depreciation, most economists and traders expect the currency will remain under pressure as the economy cools.

Despite recent higher mid-point yuan fixings by the PBoC, foreign exchange analysts who are worried Beijing could suddenly shift its policy of maintaining a steady currency, have only cut their yuan forecasts slightly.

They expect the yuan to trade around 6.60 a dollar by end-March, almost 1 percent lower than 6.54 on Thursday, easing steadily to 6.70 by end-August and 6.78 by end-Feb 2017.

Although that 12-month consensus is not as weak as the 6.80 in last month's poll, which would be a record low, it is over 3 percent lower than the current rate and indicates how most forecasters prefer to call a weaker exchange rate for the yuan.

The most pessimistic call was 7.60 in a year.


The twin currency depreciations since last August have led to massive capital outflows from China and forced the PBoC to prop up the yuan in currency markets.

Beijing has burnt through over US$420 billion of reserves in the last six months alone, despite imposing measured capital controls to stabilise the exchange rate.

Still, 30 of 38 strategists who answered an extra question said China's central bank is unlikely to devalue the yuan sharply by mid-year, similar to last month's poll.

But Beijing tends to surprise markets and investors with its policy changes and most strategists have struggled to call the yuan with any decent degree of accuracy in the past.

"Although we see the highest probability in further renminbi support by the PBoC, one should not be surprised by a significant change of direction in Beijng's FX policy. We have witnessed this already twice within the last three quarters," Frederik Kunze of NORD/LB said.

An improvement in sentiment in the Chinese yuan, however, is usually a proxy for currencies of other Asian countries which trade heavily with the world's second-largest economy.

Central bank Vice Governor Yi Gang said late last month that the PBOC aims to keep the yuan's value relatively stable against a basket of currencies, although there would be increased yuan fluctuations against the U.S. dollar.

The Reuters poll also showed the South Korean won would lose about 3 per cent to trade around 1,250 per dollar in the next twelve months from 1,213 on Thursday.

The won rose to its highest level in two weeks on Thursday as a pickup in global oil prices encouraged investors to seek risky assets.