How does China Manipulate its Currency?

China’s currency manipulation remarks by Mr. Tim Geithner hit the front pages of all major newspapers last week. So let’s take a look at how China manipulates it currency.

To be fair to China, almost every country in the world manipulates its currency. In an ideal free market world – there would be no government intervention in the currency markets. However, there is hardly any Central Bank in the world that doesn’t intervene, when its currency starts to appreciate or depreciate beyond a certain price band.

Almost every Central Bank has a certain price band for its currency in its mind, and as soon as the currency goes beyond that band, governments start intervening in one way or the other.

This government intervention can be direct or indirect.

Buying Dollars to Keep the Dollar Price High

China has been interested in keeping the Yuan (Chinese Currency) undervalued relative to the US Dollar, and the easiest way (if you can afford it) to keep the Dollar price high, and the Yuan low is to buy dollars from the open market.

A country like China, which runs a huge Trade Surplus can afford to buy dollars in the open market to keep the demand for dollars high, and push the dollar price upwards relative to the Yuan. This keeps the Yuan undervalued.

Indirect Measures

There can be indirect interventions like putting a cap on the amount of foreign assets that locals can invest abroad. For example – India allows its residents to invest only up to $50,000 in foreign assets every year.

Other indirect measures can relate to taxation laws. For example – by allowing tax free repatriation of the Great Britain Pound – the British government can help boost inflow of Pounds in the country, and influence the exchange rate.

Why Does China Wish to Undervalue the Yuan?

China’s engine of growth is exports. The lower the value of the Yuan, the better it is for China’s exporters. Basically, if 1 Dollar buys 7 Yuans, and a exporter sells a Chinese Shirt for 10 dollars – he pockets 70 yuans. But if one Dollar was worth only 5 Yuans, the exporter would only be able to pocket 50 yuans.

By How Much is the Yuan Undervalued?

It is really impossible to tell by how much the Yuan has been undervalued, but estimates suggest that this range is between 15% – 40%.

A direct consequence of keeping the local currency undervalued is inflation, and since China faced rather high inflation rates in 2008 – it did plan to let its currency appreciate in 2008 (but that was before sub-prime).

How is the US Impacted?

It can be argued that the US is flooded with cheap imports from China not because China is really cost – competitive, but because China has artificially kept its currency undervalued. If the Yuan was allowed to appreciate – Chinese imports may no longer be cheap enough to compete with American produced goods.

On the other hand, it could really be that the Chinese are cost competitive, and it is really cheaper to produce goods in China than it is to produce them in US.

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

US Stimulus Spending

The US runs huge trade deficits, and has plans for massive stimulus spending. The deficits mean that this stimulus spending can be done by either issuing more debt to foreign countries or printing more dollars.

If Mr. Geithner’s comments continue; they may aggravate China to such an extent that it stops showing up at the Treasury Bond auctions.

If that happens, then the US will have to resort to printing currency and quantitative easing on a scale that unleashes massive inflation.

It will be interesting to see how the situation unfolds, and how Mr. Geithner deals with China’s “Manipulation” – if and when he actually takes office.

Update: Tried to get rid of the “irritating” hyphens.

38 thoughts on “How does China Manipulate its Currency?”

  1. Hi, I am a first year economics student and I found this article to be quite misleading.
    First and foremost, when the author says “Chinese imports may no longer be cheap enough to compete with American produced goods.” if the chinese stop manipulating the price of their yaun, suggests that they are ‘taking American jobs’ by doing this. Which is just not the case. If they were to discontinue their currency manipulation then input prices for firms in the United States would go up and we would have recession. How’s that for taking American jobs?

  2. After reading the article, the concept of currency manipulation still does not make sense to me. If the yuan is undervalued by the government of China, there is no one forcing Americans to purchase the yuan at the prices the Chinese government deems fit. It sounds like the American government wants to force the Chinese government to raise the price of the yuan, in order to ultimately force American businesses to buy the yuan at higher prices, which in turn discourages American businesses/consumers from buying Chinese products too.

    If this is true, then I think American politicians need to convince Americans to simply buy American products. There’s no need to talk about currency values.

  3. Guys, this is a currency War! It will be the 3rd World War! Watch it plays out.. Inflation going to hit the US so bad, we will pull our hair out. The reason for China doing what she is doing, She would like to replace the US Dollar on the world market with the Yuan.

Leave a Reply