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RMB inclusion in IMF basket to commit China to financial reform

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Back in 2009, the west was desperately seeking green shoots of recovery and paid little attention when Zhou Xiaochuan called for nothing less than a new world financial order. China's central bank governor proposed replacing the US dollar as the international reserve currency with a global system controlled by the International Monetary Fund. 

2009年时,西方国家只顾竭力寻找复苏苗头,却未在意周小川的呼吁,他呼吁构建的无异于世界金融新秩序。这位中国央行行长当时提议,用国际货币基金组织(IMF)控制下的一个全球体系取代美元作为国际储备货币。

If, as expected, the IMF this month approves the inclusion of China's renminbi as a reserve currency, it will mark a small step for Mr Zhou's 2009 vision, but a big move for the renminbi.

如果不出意外,IMF11月将同意把人民币纳为储备货币,对周小川2009年提出的愿景来说,这将是向前迈出的一小步,但对人民币来说却是一个重大举措。

The prospect of China's currency sterling in backing the IMF's Special Drawing Rights — its unit of account, restricted to member governments — has been described as everything from a symbolic ego trip by Beijing to the dawning of a new era.

人民币加入IMF特别提款权(SDR)货币篮子的前景得到各种各样的解读:从象征性的自我满足,到一个新时代的开启。

In all probability it will be like many Chinese financial reforms: significant in hindsight, but harder to get excited about in its early stages.

几乎可以肯定,这将会像中国的许多金融改革一样:虽然事后看来意义重大,但短期内很难激起热情。

Market enthusiasm over early-stage reforms such as the de-pegging of the renminbi 10 years ago has gradually given way to a level of ennui as the changes get smaller and China gets bigger. The result is often disappointment in the numbers as China maintains a staunch antipathy to the sort of sweeping changes, accompanied by headline-grabbing figures, beloved of newly installed western executives and politicians.

市场对早期改革(如十年前人民币与美元脱钩)的热情已让位于怠倦情绪,因为中国的体量越来越大、改革的步伐却越来越小。结果就是在数字方面往往令人失望,因为中国始终不愿进行全面改革。

Even the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect, one-year-old this week, was shrugged aside by many, because the absolute numbers involved are relatively small. However, its real significance lies in the fact that it was the first scheme under which China had let foreign investors in "blind" — that is, without requiring approval of each investor.

即便是实施一年之久的“沪港通”,在许多人看来也不是什么值得大书特书的举措,因为与之相关的绝对数字较小。然而,沪港通的真正意义在于,它是首个允许境外投资者直接购买在中国内地上市的公司股票的机制(不需要逐个审批)。

SDR inclusion risks being categorised the same way. That would miss the point, since this is not about boosting short-term demand from central banks for renminbi. Rather, it is about embedding the currency in the international system and committing China to financial reform.

人民币纳入SDR也有可能不被大书特书,但这其实就是没有抓住问题的关键。人民币纳入SDR的重点不是为了提升各国央行对人民币的短期需求,而是为了将人民币融入国际体系,促使北京方面推行金融改革。

If China were to constitute up to 10 percent of the SDR basket, that would result in a need for reserve managers to buy just $28bn of its currency — not a particularly meaningful number compared with the $20bn traded daily in the onshore spot market. High quality global journalism requires investment. Reserve figures are thus another source of headline number disappointment. If China were to make up 3 percent of the $11.5tn of reserves held globally by the end of 2016, as forecast by DBS economist Nathan Chow, the $340bn that implies would vault the renminbi straight into the top league alongside sterling and the yen. Yet the dollar comprises almost two-thirds of reserves and the euro a further 20 percent.

如果人民币占到SDR货币篮子10%的份额,储备管理机构将只需购买价值280亿美元的人民币——相对于在岸即期市场每天200亿美元的交易量,这并非一个特别可观的数字。储备数字是另一个令人失望的整体数字。星展银行经济学家周洪礼预测,2016年底全球外汇储备将达11.5万亿美元,人民币在其中占3%,相当于3400亿美元。如果真是这样,人民币将一举进入英镑、日元所在的第一梯队。不过,美元在全球储备中占近2/3,欧元占20%。

Numbers aside, the bigger ramifications of SDR inclusion come from its effect on financial reform. Xiangrong Yu, economist at CICC, likens it to the impact of China joining the World Trade Organisation in 2002. "Even if the renminbi fails to be added this time around, it will be impossible to reverse these reform measures," he adds.

抛开数字不提,人民币纳入SDR的重大意义在于其对金融改革的影响。中金公司经济学家余向荣将其影响与2002年中国加入世贸组织相比。他说:“即使人民币这次没能加入SDR,这些改革措施也不可能再回头”。

Changes so far seen include the scrapping in July of the need for central banks and other sovereign-linked players to gain approval to invest in China’s onshore bond markets. After all, reserve managers that want to add renminbi, however slowly they do so, will need assets to buy. And China likes and needs long-term steady investors.

到目前为止的变化包括,中国在7月宣布外国央行及其他主权相关机构投资境内债券市场将无需经过批准。毕竟,想增持人民币的储备管理机构需要有资产可以购买,不管增持节奏有多慢。而且中国既喜爱也需要长期稳定的投资者。

There are also the efforts, albeit with limited success to date, to allow the currency to trade more in line with market movements — a key goal of the mishandled August devaluation. The gap between onshore and offshore renminbi rates has increased recently, suggesting less response by the People's Bank of China to what the market, via the offshore rate, is implying. 

中国作出的努力还有允许人民币汇率与市场走势更加一致,这是8月人民币贬值举措想要实现的目标。近期在岸与离岸人民币汇率之间的差距拉大,表明中国央行减少了对市场通过离岸汇率表达出的信息的回应。

This, however, could be a function of the SDR campaign. And after gaining acceptance, pressure for a stronger currency to help win SDR approval should fade, potentially paving the way for a drift lower.

但这可能就是寻求加入SDR之举的功用之一。被纳入SDR货币篮子后,货币升值压力会逐渐降低,为贬值铺平道路。

For short-term investors the main outcome of SDR inclusion could be greater uncertainty. For longer term thinkers, it could be worth returning to Deng Xiaoping's famous maxim describing China's method of progress as "crossing the river by feeling the stones".

对短线投资者来说,人民币被纳入SDR的主要后果可能是不确定性增加。对长期投资者而言,或许有必要回想邓小平形容中国发展模式的一句格言:“摸着石头过河”。

2016-06-23

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