Experts downplay yuan's depreciation
Though the yuan may face continued pressure from a strong US dollar in the coming weeks, the Chinese currency may gain a firmer footing later this year with a more stable COVID-19 situation and slower US monetary tightening, experts said on Thursday.
The offshore yuan exchange rate against the dollar dropped below 6.80 on Thursday afternoon, a level not seen since September 2020, making the year-to-date depreciation about 7 percent.
The onshore yuan, meanwhile, came in at around 6.79 on Thursday afternoon, weakening by about 600 basis points from Wednesday's close.
Wang Youxin, a senior researcher at Bank of China, said the yuan's slump on Thursday can be attributed to expectations of further US monetary tightening triggered by a weaker-than-anticipated slowdown in US inflation.
The April US consumer price index published on Wednesday grew 8.3 percent year-on-year, down from 8.5 percent a month earlier, but higher than the 8.1 percent growth anticipated by economists.
Wang said the still hot inflation has strengthened the dollar by further convincing investors that the US Federal Reserve will likely resort to an aggressive half-percentage-point rate hike in June to tame inflation.
He added that depreciation pressure on the yuan could peak around June and see a relief in the third quarter when the Fed may slow and even consider ceasing tightening. Furthermore, the Chinese economy is expected to speed up upon better COVID-19 containment.
"The domestic COVID-19 situation remains the biggest factor to watch. The faster the situation stabilizes, the quicker the Chinese economy and the yuan will recoup their strength," Wang said.
Experts said the weakening yuan comes amid a broad depreciation against the dollar among East Asian currencies, led by the Japanese yen.
Against such a backdrop, though the yuan's recent depreciation could inflate import costs and roil investor sentiment, it can help Chinese exporters maintain their competitiveness and help stabilize the country's export growth, they said.
Wen Bin, chief researcher at China Minsheng Bank, said a moderate depreciation of the yuan can help foreign trade enterprises better cope with fluctuations in external demand.
Despite the yuan's quick depreciation against the dollar, Wen said the Chinese currency has remained largely stable compared with a basket of currencies and stayed within a reasonable range in general.
The CFETS RMB Index, which tracks the yuan exchange rate against a basket of currencies, came in at 102.39 on May 6, roughly the same level seen at the beginning of the year, according to the China Foreign Exchange Trade System.
Wang Tao, head of Asia economics and chief China economist at UBS Investment Bank, said economic climate and market sentiment may dominate future movements of the yuan, adding that the yuan could fall through 7.0 against the dollar around the middle of the year before strengthening later.