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China tightens grip on forex capital

by Jonathan Adams

At the start of every year, many citizens of China take out their entire yearly allotment of $50,000 (£40,487.50) in foreign currency. The rest of the year, it’s a struggle to defeat capital controls.

Authorities complain of ‘leaks’ in system and demand reporting of large deals.

“China has tightened checks on citizens exchanging foreign currency in anticipation of renewed downward pressure on the renminbi in the new year.

Banks have been asked to improve standards for verifying customers’ identities and to report “large or questionable transactions”, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (Safe) said in a public statement at the weekend.

“There have been leaks in China’s system of personal foreign exchange purchases,” the statement said, giving as an example the way individuals and companies avoid capital controls on overseas investments by disguising their transactions as goods purchases.

China’s policymakers have clamped down on capital flows leaving the country in recent weeks, imposing fresh restrictions on outbound corporate acquisitions and investments. European companies have reported difficulties in remitting dividends to stockholders abroad. The restrictions are partly an attempt to keep the renminbi from steep falls in the future after it depreciated almost 6 per cent against the dollar in 2016.

“The first day of the new year can be crazy — it’s always a big test for the renminbi,” said Jonas Short, head of research at NSBO China, an investment bank. “People who are anticipating further renminbi depreciation will take out their quota early in the year, and some will want to take out the full amount as soon as they can.”

The central bank is trying to ensure the renminbi’s value stays above the red line of Rmb7 per dollar, a symbolic number for the country’s policymakers. The renminbi was trading at Rmb6.94 to the dollar at the weekend.

On Thursday night the central bank, the People’s Bank of China, scolded media outlets for being irresponsible in reporting the exchange rate crossing Rmb7 to the dollar, after a momentary glitch in the Bloomberg currency quote system showed the renminbi weakening beyond that point during overnight trading.

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