China capital outflows stabilised in Q1 as capital controls bite

Less pressure from outflows has helped steady the yuan currency in 2017 and brought China's foreign currency reserves back over the closely watched US$3 trillion (S$4.19 trillion) mark.
Less pressure from outflows has helped steady the yuan currency in 2017 and brought China's foreign currency reserves back over the closely watched US$3 trillion (S$4.19 trillion) mark.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Capital outflows from China eased significantly in the first quarter, with cross border capital flows becoming more balanced, the foreign exchange regulator said on Thursday (April 20).

Less pressure from outflows has helped steady the yuan currency this year and brought China's foreign currency reserves back over the closely watched US$3 trillion (S$4.19 trillion) mark.

Expectations for further yuan depreciation have weakened significantly, State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) spokeswoman Wang Chunying told a news conference.

Net foreign exchange sales by China's commercial banks fell sharply in the first quarter after policymakers tightened supervision on money leaving the country and as a weaker US dollar took pressure of the yuan and other emerging currencies.

Net sales of foreign exchange by Chinese commercial banks dropped to US$40.9 billion in the first quarter, compared with US$124.8 billion in the first quarter of 2016 and US$337.7 billion in sales last year, SAFE data showed.

The yuan slumped around 6.5 per cent against the surging US dollar last year, but has firmed nearly 1 per cent so far in 2017 at the dollar recoiled, defying - for now - many analysts'expectations of further weakness.

China's improving economy has also helped support the currency even as the US central bank raises interest rates, Wang said. The economy grew at the strongest pace since mid-2015 in the first quarter.

Premier Li Keqiang said on Tuesday that market confidence in the yuan has significantly improved, Xinhua news agency reported.

Sources told Reuters on Wednesday that China's central bank has relaxed some of the curbs on cross-border capital outflows, the first signs of easing of measures put in place last year as authorities and financial markets feel more confident that pressure on the yuan has eased.

As the yuan fell against the dollar and capital outflows accelerated late last year, the government stepped up capital controls, making it harder for individuals and companies to move money out of China.

Those measures are credited with quashing speculative outflows and helping to stabilise the currency, but have also hampered legitimate outflows as China Inc goes more global.

Non-financial outbound direct investment from China tumbled 48.8 per cent in the first quarter year-on-year, with dealmakers saying many Chinese firms are unable to close deals because they cannot secure official permission to transfer yuan into foreign currency.

China will push forward with opening up its capital account in a prudent and orderly way and will not go back to the old road of capital controls, Wang said on Thursday.