SAFE Press Spokesperson Answers Media Questions on Foreign Exchange Receipts and Payments for the First Three Quarters of 2017
The State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) has recently disseminated the data on banks' foreign exchange settlement and sales as well as their foreign-related receipts and payments for customers for September 2017. Its press spokesperson answered media questions on relevant issues.
Q 1: Could you brief us on the characteristics of China's cross-border capital flows in the first three quarters of this year?
A: China's cross-border capital flows found an equilibrium in the first three quarters, and the supply and demand of foreign exchange has been balanced recently. The main characteristics are as follows:
First, the deficits in banks' settlement and sales of foreign exchange and in their foreign-related receipts and payment contracted significantly. In the first three quarters, the deficit in banks' settlement and sales was USD 112.9 billion, down by 54% year on year, versus a deficit of USD 3.8 billion in August, and a surplus of USD 300 million in September. In the same period, banks' foreign-related receipts and payments for customers recorded a deficit of USD 111.5 billion, down by 56% year on year, compared with a deficit of USD 3.5 billion in August, and a further deficit of USD 1.7 billion in September.
Second, the sales rate of foreign exchange plummeted on a year-on-year basis and corporate demand for foreign exchange financing was on the rise. In the first three quarters, the foreign exchange sales rate that measures the motives of companies for purchasing foreign exchange, or the ratio of customers' purchase of foreign exchange from banks to customers' foreign-related foreign exchange payments, reached 66%, down by eight percentage points year on year. In particular, the rate was 68%, 67% and 63% in the first, second and third quarters respectively, suggesting companies are more sensible in buying foreign exchange, and have conducted foreign exchange financing based on demand, with their purchases of foreign exchange to service debt becoming a rarer case. The domestic outstanding foreign exchange loans by the end of September dropped slightly from the end of the previous year, and went down by more than USD 70 billion year on year.
Third, the sales settlement rate rose on a year-on-year basis while maintaining stability, and companies' and individuals' desire to hold foreign exchange was weakened. In the first three quarters, the sales settlement rate that measures the desire to settle foreign exchange, or the ratio of customers' sales of foreign exchange to banks to customers' foreign-related foreign exchange receipts was 63%, up by two percentage points year on year. The ratio was 62%, 63% and 64% in the first, second and third quarters respectively. As for companies' domestic foreign exchange deposits, the balance rose by nearly USD 40 billion in the first quarter, compared with an increase of USD 9 billion in the second quarter and a decrease of USD 25.3 billion in the third quarter. According to the individuals' domestic foreign exchange deposits, the balance rose slightly by USD 300 million in the first quarter, versus a deficit of USD 2 billion in the second and third quarters respectively, indicating a weaker desire to hold foreign exchange among domestic market participants, and a rise in using self-owned foreign exchange in making external payments.
Fourth, banks' forward foreign exchange sales and settlement recorded a surplus. In the first three quarters, the value of foreign exchange contracted for forward settlement by banks for customers grew 1.2 times year on year, while that of foreign exchange contracted for forward sales dropped by 5%, leading to a surplus of USD 7.7 billion, compared with a deficit of USD 58.1 billion for the same period last year, indicating markedly weaker expectations of RMB depreciation, and the demand for forward foreign exchange settlement and sales was adjusted.
Fifth, the foreign exchange market recorded a basic equilibrium between supply and demand, boosting the balance of foreign exchange reserves to rise continuously. As at the end of September, China's balance of foreign exchange reserves hit USD 3.1085 trillion, up by USD 98 billion from the end of 2016. In particular, the balance of foreign exchange reserves went up for eight consecutive months from February to September.
Q2: Could you explain why China's cross-border capital flows have been further balanced recently? What would you say about the prospects?
A: China's cross-border capital flows have been increasingly balanced since the beginning of this year, which indicates the developments and changes in the economic and financial environment both at home and abroad. Firstly, China, perseverant in implementing new development concepts in building its economy, deepens the supply-side structural reform, enhances the quality and benefits of developments, and optimizes its economic structure, leading to an obvious trend of more stable economy with a good momentum for growth and stronger internal foundation. Specifically, the new open economic system has been refined, the reform and opening up measures in the financial market have been implemented and the equilibrium of cross-border capital flows has been boosted, including the optimization and improvement of the RMB exchange rate market formation mechanism, introduction of a series of policies for fueling the growth of foreign-owned enterprises, the official launch of the Bond Connect between mainland China and Hong Kong, as well as the inclusion of A shares in the MSCI Emerging Markets index. Secondly, the global economy continues to recover, and the financial markets have been less fluctuating, suggesting a stable external environment. The latest projections from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show that the global economy will grow at a rate of 3.6% in 2017, 0.4 percentage point faster than in 2016. Moreover, although the FED has raised the interest rates for two times thus far and plans to shrink the balance sheet, market expectations are stable, and the USD exchange rates have been depreciating since the beginning of this year.
Going forward, China's cross-border capital flows will continue to stay stable, which is supported by three fundamentals. Firstly, the economic fundamentals will be stronger. Since the beginning of this year, international organizations have revised upward their projections of China's economy for 2017 many times. The IMF, for example, increased its expectations from 6.5% that was projected at the beginning of this year to the current 6.8%, and the World Bank, from 6.5% to 6.7%, denoting the international community is more optimistic about China's economy. China will continue to implement the new development concepts and build a modern economic system to boost the sustained and healthy development of the economy. Secondly, the policy fundamentals will provide guarantee. China will participate more in and boost economic globalization and developed a higher-level open economy. On the one hand, along with the improving business environment in China and the implementation of opening up policies, foreign capital inflows will continue to stay stable. On the other hand, the domestic bond and stock markets will cement their ties with global markets and relevant facilitation measures will be introduced, which will be helpful to promote overseas investors to invest in the domestic capital market. Thirdly, the market fundamentals will be strengthened. The enhancement of the RMB exchange rate formation mechanism, further diversified market participants, and weaker expectations of one-way sustained appreciation and depreciation will help to curb the significant fluctuations of cross-border capital and ensure the overall equilibrium between supply and demand of foreign exchange.
The above fundamentals will continue to play a fundamental role in the future. In particular, after the success of the 19th CPC National Congress, China will secure a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society to achieve its first centennial goals and open up a new chapter to build a modern socialist country with Chinese characteristics to move on to achieve its second centennial goals. Under such circumstances, there surely will be a stronger confidence in the long-term economic and social development of China in both domestic and overseas markets, and a more solid foundation for stable cross-border capital flows in China.
Q3: What impact will the Fed's shrinking of the balance sheet on China's cross-border capital flows?
A: The Fed's interest rate hikes and shrinking of the balance sheet will not fundamentally shake the stability of China's cross-border capital flows. Since the Fed's first interest rate hiked at the end of 2015, China has witnessed a process from outflows to equilibrium in its cross-border capital flows. The main causes are:
First, a gradual process will remain as the main characteristics of the Fed's boost to the normalization of its monetary policy. Since the Fed began to raise the interest rates, the gradual process has proved to have weakened the impact on the markets. After the September FOMC meeting, the chair of the Fed stressed in answering media questions that "the balance sheet will be shrunk in a gradual and predictable process". As a matter of fact, this accords with the economic and financial performance in the US. Given that the US' long-term economic growth prospects remain weak, an in-depth analysis shall be required on the impact of the Fed's monetary policy adjustment on its economy; the US' inflation has been low with fluctuations recently; and the rapid growth in the US' asset prices in recent years has drawn wide concern in the market that the fast adjustment of the Fed's monetary policy will prick the asset bubble.
Second, the US' interest rates and exchange rates are exposed to more diversified factors, including the Fed's monetary policy adjustment. As for interest rates, after the first interest rate hike at the end of 2015, the Federal Funds rate rose by one percentage point overnight, but the longer-term interest rates have grown in a descending order, indicating market interest rate will also be impacted by the long-term prospects of economic growth. As for foreign exchange rates, there are complex contributing factors, such as the US economic performance, and the economic and financial conditions in other major economics, in addition to the Fed's monetary policy. For example, during the Fed's balance sheet expansion, the USD exchange rate did not fall continuously, but featured two-way fluctuations; but since the beginning of this year, the Fed has raised interest rates for two times, but the USD exchange rate has depreciated.
Third, China has been stronger in adapting and responding to the changes in external environment. Firstly, China still has various fundamental advantages, such as relatively higher economic growth, a stable big picture, robust financial market, surplus under the current account, and adequate foreign exchange reserves. Secondly, China's ability to make response has been strengthened, such as a more remarkable momentum for growth in China's economy while maintaining stability, further opening up of domestic markets, enhanced RMB exchange rate formation mechanism, and more sensible investing and financing activities among market participants.
Q4: Since the beginning of this year, China has witnessed strengthened elasticity in two-way fluctuations of the RMB exchange rate. Do you have any ideas on hedging against exchange rate risk? Will the SAFE enhance relevant education and training?
A: As the RMB exchange rate is increasingly volatile, exchange rate risk management is more crucial to companies' production and operation. But some domestic enterprises have to raise their awareness of hedging against exchange rate risks: firstly, exchange rate risk shall be looked at in an objective manner. Some enterprises lack the concept of risk neutrality, and are used to betting on unilateral direction such as appreciation or depreciation, thus replacing precise risk management with subjective market judgment. Secondly, an accurate understanding of hedging shall be developed. Some enterprises are reluctant to pay for hedging, or use hedging as a profit tool, neglecting its essential function of risk aversion by locking up the impact of exchange rate uncertainties on companies' profits from primary business.
The SAFE will continue to guide the market to accurately understand exchange rate risk and improve exchange rate risk management. Firstly, boosting the in-depth development of the foreign exchange market by supporting financial institutions to make innovations to serve the real economy and foreign exchange products that adapt to the market demand. Secondly, guiding banks in prudential operations and urging banks to ensure customer risk education and management. Thirdly, guiding enterprises to build an accurate awareness of exchange rate risk, develop an accurate understanding of exchange rate risk aversion instruments, and hedge exchange rate exposure, avoiding deviation from principal business and reality.
Our experience and recommendation of corporate exchange rate hedging: enterprises shall adapt to the normal of two-way fluctuations of RMB exchange rate, change the uncertainties into certainties of two-way fluctuations through hedging, with a focus on primary business; enterprises shall understand their transactions, valuate derivatives before transaction and decide on the level of risk restriction; enterprises shall also engage in proper hedging, regarding derivative deals as the instruments to lock up risks rather than a way to make money. For enterprises, hedging against foreign exchange rate risk through RMB foreign exchange derivatives requires continuous education on risks to investors, and also is a process of learning from doing and accumulation.
Q5: As China's cross-border capital flows are being stabilized with a good momentum, what changes will take place to the orientation of policies for foreign exchange administration?
A: Going forward, foreign exchange authorities will get united around the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core and implement the gist of the 19th CPC National Congress. They will support the unified leadership of the CPC Central Committee on finance and carry out the decisions and plans of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council. With a focus on serving the real economy, guarding against financial risks and deepening financial reform, they will strive to enhance cross-border trade and investment facilitation, boost sustained and healthy economic development, guard against cross-border capital flow risks, and safeguard China's economic and financial security, so as to make great contribution to the fulfillment of the two centennial goals and the realization of the Chinese dream of the great renewal of the Chinese nation.
Two basic principles shall be adhered to in foreign exchange administration: first, foreign exchange administration shall serve the real economy and the reform and opening up, and support and boost the two-way liberalization of the financial market to enhance trade and investment facilitation. Second, efforts shall be made to guard against risks arising from cross-border capital flows, protect the macro-economy and financial stability from being impacted by disorderly and high-intensity cross-border capital flows and maintain the stability of the foreign exchange market, in a bid to create a healthy, benign, and stable foreign exchange market environment for reform and opening up.
Four basic connotations shall be stressed on the orientation of policies: first, adhering to reform and opening up and refining the foreign exchange administration framework to further promote trade and investment facilitation and ramp up the efficiency and level of foreign exchange administration in serving the real economy. Second, stably realizing capital account convertibility to drive reform and opening up in finance in an active and prudent way. Third, establishing a macro-prudential administration and micro market regulation system for cross-border capital flows, and cracking down on foreign exchange irregularities to maintain China's financial stability and economic security. Fourth, refining the RMB exchange rate formation mechanism to drive the in-depth development of the foreign exchange market. Efforts shall be made to preserve and grow the value of foreign exchange reserves while ensuring the security and liquidity of foreign exchange reserves.