Friday 4 July 2008

"Hot Money" in China: the noose tightens

Today the FT reports on China's continuing problem with "hot money". The flows are perceived to be hampering China's attempt to curtail the ever increasing inflationary pressures.

The policy of requiring exporters to park money is a backward development and is more red tape to trade. This is a dangerous move and could even have inflationary ramifications in the West if cheap Chinese goods prove harder to come by.

China to tighten capital controls in clampdown on 'hot money' [FT]

China announced a major strengthening of capital controls last night in an attempt to limit the amount of speculative "hot money" entering the economy and frustrating its efforts to contain inflationary pressures.

In an announcement on its website, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, the country's foreign exchange regulator, said exporters would be required to park revenues in special accounts while the authorities verified the funds were the result of genuine trade.

The new system risks becoming a cumbersome burden for exporters such as suppliers of cheap goods to western retailers.

Exporters will now be required to provide documentary evidence that their invoices are based on genuine transactions if they wish to change dollars into renminbi. The regulator said the new computer system for checking invoices would be introduced from August 4. A trial period begins on July 14.

Recent leaked figures showed record inflows of capital entering China over the past two months. Officials believe some money came in illegally after companies exaggerated export revenues.

China has become an attractive country for investors and companies because interest rates are now above US levels and the renminbi is expected to appreciate.

According to Reuters, China's foreign exchange reserves increased by a record $114.8bn (£57.6bn) in April and May to $1,800bn. Although it is impossible to calculate how much of that inflow is short-term, speculative capital, the figures were substantially higher than the combined numbers for the trade surplus and foreign direct investment.

The capital inflows have made economic management more difficult because, even though domestic inflation has been high in recent months, the Chinese central bank has been reluctant to raise interest rates for fear of attracting more hot money.

Authorities have so far prevented the inflows from causing money supply to grow too sharply by issuing bonds and lifting bank reserve requirements.

There has been a growing discussion among private sector economists about whether the authorities should introduce a large, one-off appreciation of the currency in order to limit speculation. However, most economists believe that the government would be very reluctant to take such a step as parts of the export sector are already suffering badly because of higher costs, including the stronger renminbi.


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