IMF poised to put Chinese yuan in elite currency basket

The Chinese yuan looks set to be included among the currencies with special drawing right (SDR) status by IMF.
The Chinese yuan looks set to be included among the currencies with special drawing right (SDR) status by IMF.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The International Monetary Fund is expected to approve inclusion of China's yuan in its SDR basket of elite currencies on Monday, rewarding Beijing's strong pursuit of the global status.

The IMF executive board is scheduled to meet Monday to decide on the recommendation by staff experts earlier in November to include the yuan, also known as the renminbi, alongside the US dollar, euro, Japanese yen and British pound in the grouping.

While not a freely traded currency, the SDR (special drawing right) is important as an international reserve asset, and because the IMF issues its crisis loans - crucial to struggling economies like Greece - valued in SDRs.

China, now the world's second-largest economy, asked last year for the yuan to be added to the grouping of world reserve currencies, but until recently it was considered too tightly controlled to qualify.

It is extremely rare that the executive board, which represents the IMF's 188 member nations, opposes the recommendation of its own experts. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in mid-November that she supported the experts' finding that the yuan had met the requirements to be a 'freely usable' currency - a key hurdle for SDR status.

If accepted, the decision would not take effect before September 30, 2016, to allow users more time to prepare. The last time the SDR basket was modified was in 2000, when the euro replaced the German deutschemark and the French franc.

The remaining question is the yuan's weight in the basket. It could be 10 per cent to 16 per cent, but the lower estimate is more likely due to the Chinese currency's limited convertibility.

The basket composition is reviewed every five years. At the last rebalancing in 2010, the dollar accounted for 41.9 per cent, the euro 37.4 per cent, the pound 11.3 per cent and the yen 9.4 per cent.

That weighting revision was based on the value of the exports of goods and services by country or currency zone, and the amount of reserves denominated in the respective currencies held by other IMF members.

The entry of the yuan is, above all, a major diplomatic success for Beijing, which will see its money graduate to the inner circle of the world's most important currencies.

The vote of the United States, the largest IMF stakeholder, will be closely watched, as will US political reactions. US officials have long accused China of keeping the yuan artificially low to gain a trade advantage, making its exports relatively cheaper.

The US Treasury Department, in an Oct 19 report, said that the yuan "remains below its appropriate medium-term valuation". Paradoxically, China's unexpected devaluation of the yuan last August received good marks from the IMF because it reinforced the currency's movements with market forces and opened the door to future revaluation.

Beijing on Wednesday announced an initial group of foreign central banks has been allowed to enter the Chinese currency market, which likely will promote further internationalisation of the yuan in global trading.

Credit rating firm Fitch says it does not expect the yuan's inclusion in the IMF basket "to lead to a material shift in demand for renminbi assets globally in the short term". However, it said, over time the emergence of the yuan as a global reserve currency could support China's credit rating.

An IMF decision to include the yuan among its elite currencies risks angering some lawmakers in the US Congress amid fierce maneuvering for the 2016 presidential election.

Congress, for example, has repeatedly refused to ratify a 2010 IMF reform that would give greater weight to the emerging-market powers, the so-called BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.