Carry Trade: USD -> China Yuan -> Commodities

The Yen carry trade is over for now, but there’s a new carry trade in town. For those (like me) not terribly familiar with a carry trade, it’s:

Strategy in which an investor sells a certain currency with a relatively low interest rate and uses the funds to purchase a different currency yielding a higher interest rate.

Basically, it’s a type of arbitrage where you borrow one asset, and use it to buy another asset assuming that exchange rates WILL NOT CHANGE. When the Bank of Japan set interest rates near 0%, speculators would borrow Yen, trade them for dollars, and then buy dollar denominated assets. The new carry trade is: USD -> RMB -> Commodities.

2009 US federal budget deficit will be $1.75 TRILLION or more.
Not even Bank of China can lend this money, it has to be borrowed.

US dollar bear leads to commodities bull.
People and nations will hoard physical goods to preserve wealth, hence generate demands higher than immediate needs and higher than available supplies.
China is on a big natural resources shopping spree around the world lately, in order to divest its huge foreign currency reserves.

Both events are occurring as people have noticed: Capital is escaping American soil; and China is on a global shopping spree of raw materials.
But people who notice these two things explain it as simply market behavior driven by speculative forces.
They fail to see a more direct, conscious and deliberate reason behind what’s going on, because no one noticed one quiet fact…

That is because for the past one year, trading between USD and CNY is equivalent to exchange one dollar into four quarters, nothing is gained or lost.

[From China, Shipping and the Great Commodity Carry Trade — Seeking Alpha]

But the interesting part is that: As the flood of US dollars flows in, China merely cranks up its own money printing press to print more RMB Yuan to exchange for the US dollars. It then uses some of the dollars to buy US Treasury bonds and prop up the value of the dollar, maintaining a constant USD/Yuan exchange rate. But China’s real goal is not to support the dollar in long term, but to buy time to allow it to divest the huge dollar assets it is holding, in exchange of physical assets: natural resources, raw commodities, foreign mining companies and other physical assets. It costs China nothing to print more Yuans to buy more US dollars and then use the dollars to buy up the whole world.

There are a few conditions that are important to point out and make changing the current status quo (exchange rate) very difficult in the next 12-36 months.

  • Speculators are dumping USD because of financial policy that is not helping to preserve wealth, but those dollars could be used to buy assets anywhere – so why in China?
  • Speculators are dumping dollars and buying CYN due to the long term positive fundamentals in the Chinese economy (large inexpensive labor force, good infrastructure, large trade surpluses)
  • 4 years ago, exchange rates were 8.3:1, for the last 12 months it’s been 6.84:1 (that’s a 17% rise)
  • This 17% rise is partially responsible for the closure of many export oriented businesses here in China — many were already struggling to survive before softening demand in western markets destroyed them.
  • The population in China Mainland is not nearly as productive or as well educated as the populations in Taiwan or Hong Kong, where wages are approximately 2x higher but trade barriers (import tariffs) are lower/non existent.
  • China Mainland Gov’t has raised Export Rebates (to manufacturers) 7 times in 2009 — making the official policy clear – the current export oriented growth is to be salvaged and preserved for the foreseeable future (rather than moving to fill domestic demand)

There are also very practical considerations though. If you own raw materials all over the planet, you must have a way to maintain peaceful seas to ensure delivery of those materials.

Basically, the US economy and the CYN economy are locked together for the foreseeable future – a pair of codependents, but the relationship has the impact of long term strengthening the CYN at the expense of the USD, migrating intellectual property, skilled labor, entrepreneurs, and assets from the US to China. The breakup will be rough, but when the dysfunctional couple is finally ready for a divorce, China is walking away with much more than 50%.

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