The International Monetary Fund delivered a valuable imprimatur of respectability to Beijing last week, when it declared that its exchange rate was probably no longer undervalued. The assessment was not a surprise: respected independent outfits such as the Peterson Institute and the consultancy Oxford Economics have been saying similar for a while.
国际货币基金组织(IMF)近日宣布人民币汇率很可能不再被低估，这相当于对北京的声誉予以了宝贵的认可。这样的评估结果不算出人意料：包括彼得森国际经济研究所(Peterson Institute)与咨询机构牛津经济研究院(Oxford Economics)在内，许多受尊敬的独立机构一段时间以来就一再表达了类似的看法。
The judgment increases the already rising probability that the renminbi might be included in the units that make up Special Drawing Rights (SDR), commonly though inaccurately known as the IMF’s currency, when the composition of the basket is reassessed later this year. Some regard this as a pivotal moment in the internationalisation of the renminbi. But history suggests that, while it may be symbolically important, membership of the SDR is neither necessary nor sufficient for the renminbi’s acceptance as a global reserve currency.
IMF的结论提高了一种本来就在不断上升的可能性：今年晚些时候IMF重新评估特别提款权(SDR)货币篮子的构成时，有可能决定将人民币纳入这个篮子。 所谓SDR，也就是人们常说的IMF货币，虽然这种叫法并不准确。有些人认为，这将是人民币国际化进程中的一个关键时刻。但历史经验表明，虽然加入SDR 或许具有重要的象征意义，但对于人民币成为一种公认的全球储备货币来说，这既非必要条件，也非充分条件。
The SDR asset, sometimes likened to a monetary Esperanto, is a peculiar creature. Created in the 1960s to meet the world’s demand for reserve assets when the dollar — constrained by its link to gold — could not do so, that rationale disappeared when the Bretton Woods system collapsed in the early 1970s. Since then, even after the creation of $250bn in SDRs in 2009 to boost reserves and liquidity during the global financial crisis, they make up less than 4 per cent of non-gold global official foreign exchange reserves, less than half the level in the 1970s.
This renders the SDR largely irrelevant except in a minor role as an accounting unit: the basket of four currencies that compose it — the dollar, the euro, the yen and sterling — is occasionally used to value internationally traded goods. There is no liquid private market in SDR assets and to use SDRs for intervention or other purposes first requires them being broken down into their constituent currencies.
A few years ago Zhou Xiaochuan, then governor of the People’s Bank of China, called for the SDR to become a super-sovereign reserve currency. That call was treated respectfully as a contribution to the global monetary governance debate in much of the world. In the US, probably correctly, it was regarded as part of China’s campaign to get other countries to bail it out of its own lopsided reserve accumulation policies by allowing Beijing to transform its dollar-denominated reserves into SDRs without selling its dollars on the open market.
The renminbi’s potential addition to the SDR, whose basket is reviewed every five years, carries risks for the credibility of the asset itself. If the unit is to take off as a reserve and indeed privately held asset, it will need to develop a deep and liquid market. This may not be assisted by the addition of a currency like the renminbi which, though its use has been growing rapidly, is still not much traded in foreign exchanges and which has a very small share of global bond markets and cross-border bank lending.
It is not at all clear that the renminbi meets the IMF’s requirement to be “freely usable”. The renminbi is neither fully convertible nor free-floating, remaining subject to capital controls and opportunistic open market intervention. The inclusion of illiquid currencies has weakened the SDR in the past. To make it tractable at all, the IMF membership had to whittle the basket down from its original sixteen currencies in the 1970s to five after 1981, later compressed to four as the D-Mark and the French franc were subsumed into the euro.
As for the renminbi itself, it would undoubtedly get a symbolic boost to its credibility by being invited into the SDR basket with the big kids. But reserves managers around the world are conservative and independent characters, and are unlikely to outsource their assessment of what constitutes a liquid and reliable currency to a politically influenced process at the IMF. They are much more likely to want to hold renminbi assets if they know they can be bought and sold easily and quickly and that the value of the currency is not going to be jerked around by political meddling.
至于人民币本身，被邀加入SDR货币篮子（从而跻身主流货币行列）对其信誉无疑会起到象征性的提升作用。但世界各地的外汇储备管理者都是保守、独立的人 士，他们不大可能会将自己评估一种货币是否具有流动性和可信度的任务外包给IMF的一项受政治影响的程序。如果他们知道人民币资产能够便利、快速地买卖， 而且其价值不受政治干预所左右，他们会更有可能想要持有人民币资产。
Precautionary reserves are held for the purposes of market intervention, not to earn a return, so deep and liquid markets are leading concerns. SDR membership is neither necessary nor sufficient for reserve asset status. The Swiss franc, for example, is quite widely held as a reserve currency (certainly relative to the size of the Swiss economy) without being in the SDR basket.
Researchers at Citi asked official reserves managers recently if they agreed that SDR membership would increase their willingness to hold renminbi assets (Citi economists themselves are bullish on the issue). On average they found the answer somewhere between “agree” and “neither agree nor disagree”: not nothing, but unlikely to be a major influence.
As it happens, perhaps unexpectedly, the euro may serve as an example of reserves management reality overcoming symbolism. Upon its launch in 1999, the euro was often predicted to rival the dollar as a global reserve asset, eliminating the exchange rate risk between different European currencies and forming the basis of a large and unified pool of assets.
In practice, the euro’s share of reported global reserves, after rising to around a quarter, stalled and then somewhat fell back. The inept management of the euro crisis may be a factor, as may the fact that the eurozone sovereign bond market remains fractured into liquid safe assets (Bunds) and riskier instruments (most of the rest). But even before the crisis, the habit of European politicians in trying to talk down the euro whenever they considered it to be threatening their exports caused amused head-shaking by their American counterparts, who regarded the hands-off “strong dollar” policy as integral to the greenback’s status as a reserve currency. (Of course, it remains to be seen what effect on confidence will have the campaigns of quantitative easing in all four SDR currency areas, with consequent large swings in exchange rates, albeit without forex intervention.) China is likely to keep the nominal renminbi-dollar rate stable between now and the decision on the SDR at the end of the year, but is unlikely to eschew various forms of meddling indefinitely.
在现实中，欧元在全球外汇储备公开数据中所占的份额先是上升至25%左右，然后停滞不前，后来又有所回落。对欧元区危机处理不当可能是一个因素，而以下事实 可能也有影响：欧元区主权债券市场仍分裂为流动、安全的资产（德国国债）和风险较高的工具（其余大部分）。但在危机爆发前，欧洲政界人士每次感觉出口受到 威胁时就试图口头压低欧元的习惯，屡屡让美国同行笑着摇头，后者将放任自流的“强势美元”政策视为美元储备货币地位的一个要素。（当然，所有4种SDR货 币区域都采取的量化宽松以及尽管没有外汇干预却伴随而来的汇率大幅波动，会对市场信心产生怎样的影响还有待观察）。从现在开始到年底IMF做出关于SDR 的决定前，中国很可能会保持名义人民币兑美元汇率的稳定，但不大可能无限期地回避使用各种形式的干预措施。
China has been moving, sometimes slowly and jerkily, towards turning the renminbi into a floating convertible currency and a reserve asset. The prospect of SDR membership may encourage that process, or at least help to lock in what progress has been made so far. But it seems unlikely, by and of itself, to make a material difference to whether renminbi-denominated assets become a major part of the world’s foreign exchange reserves in the medium term.