China foreign exchange reserves rise to $3.088tn

BEIJING: China’s foreign exchange reserves rose slightly more than expected in January as the yuan rallied on hopes for progress in Sino-US trade talks that could lift some pressure on the cooling Chinese economy.
China’s reserves rose by $15.2 billion in January — the biggest increase in a year — to $3.088 trillion, central bank data showed on Monday. That compared with a rise of $11 billion in December.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected an increase of $9.3 billion.
The relatively modest rise in China’s reserves in January was due to an appreciation of non-dollar currencies and increases of the prices of financial assets it holds, the foreign exchange regulator said in a statement.
China struck an upbeat note on Monday as trade talks resumed with the United States, but also expressed anger at a US Navy mission through the disputed South China Sea, casting a shadow over the prospect for improved Beijing-Washington ties.
Many analysts are doubtful Beijing will agree to Washington’s demands for major structural reforms, but believe the two sides may find enough common ground to keep talking and postpone a US tariff hike on Chinese goods that is slated for March 1.
Analysts believe China has been keen to keep the yuan stable in recent weeks to provide a better atmosphere for the trade discussions. Trump has repeatedly criticised Beijing’s managed currency regime, saying it is manipulating the yuan to gain a trade advantage.
The yuan appreciated 2.6 per cent against the faltering dollar in January, hitting its highest level in over 6 months at one point, after falling 5.3 per cent last year.
Weighed down by tighter credit conditions and weakening demand, China’s economic growth cooled to 6.6 per cent in 2018, the slowest pace in 28 years.
So far, tighter capital controls have prevented heavy capital outflows like those seen in the last downturn in 2015. China’s foreign exchange reserves fell by $67.24 billion in 2018, though they remain the world’s largest.
Developments in trade talks are expected to be the key determinant for the yuan’s direction in the near-term, with time quickly running out before the early March deadline.
But investors will also be closely watching China’s data for any hints it may be at risk of a sharper economic slowdown.
Monthly factory activity gauges have shown back-to-back contractions and hundreds of companies have issued profit warnings in recent weeks.
Most analysts earlier this year still expect the yuan to break the key 7 to the dollar mark by July, as the dimming economic outlook pushes authorities to ramp up policy easing. It is now around 6.7952. — Reuters