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The Reason China's Crash Will Unleash A Global Bond Shockwave

One narrative we’ve pushed quite hard this week is the idea that China’s persistent FX interventions in support of the yuan are costing the PBoC dearly in terms of reserves. Of course this week's posts hardly represent the first time we've touched on the issue of FX reserve liquidation and its implications for global finance. Here, for those curious, are links to previous discussions:

And so on and so forth.

In short, stabilizing the currency in the wake of the August 11 devaluation has precipitated the liquidation of more than $100 billion in USTs in the space of just two weeks, doubling the total sold during the first half of the year. 

In the end, the estimated size of the RMB carry trade could mean that before it’s all over, China will liquidate as much as $1 trillion in US paper, which, as we noted on Thursday evening, would effectively negate 60% of QE3 and put somewhere in the neighborhood of 200bps worth of upward pressure on 10Y yields. 

And don't forget, this is just China. Should EMs continue to face pressure on their currencies (and there's every reason to believe that they will), you could see substantial drawdowns there too. Meanwhile, all of this mirrors the petrodollar unwind. That is, it all comes back to the notion of recycling USDs into USD assets by the trillions and for decades. Now, between crude's slump, the commodities bust, and China's deval, it's all coming apart at the seams.

Needless to say, this "reverse QE" as we call it (or "quantitative tightening" as Deutsche Bank calls it) has serious implications for Fed policy, for the timing of the elusive "liftoff", and for the US economy more generally. Of course we began detailing the implications of China’s Treasury liquidation months ago and now, it’s become quite apparent that analyzing the consequences of China’s massive FX interventions is perhaps the most important consideration when attempting to determine the future course of global monetary policy. 

On that note, we present the following from Deutsche Bank’s George Saravelos.

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Beware China’s Quantitative Tightening

Why have global markets reacted so violently to Chinese developments over the last two weeks? There is a strong case to be made that it is neither the sell-off in Chinese stocks nor weakness in the currency that matters the most. Instead, it is what is happening to China’s FX reserves and what this means for global liquidity. Starting in 2003, China engaged in an unprecedented reserve-accumulation exercise buying almost 4trio of foreign assets, or more than all of the Fed’s QE program’s combined (chart 1). The global impact was indeed equivalent to QE: the PBoC printed domestic money and used the liquidity to buy foreign bonds. Treasury yields stayed low, curves were flat, and people called it the “bond conundrum”.

Fast forward to today and the market is re-assessing the outlook for China’s “QE”. The sudden shift in currency policy has prompted a big shift in RMB expectations towards further weakness and correspondingly a huge rise in China capital outflows, estimated by some to be as much as 200bn USD this month alone. In response, the PBoC has been defending the renminbi, selling FX reserves and reducing its ownership of global fixed income assets. The PBoC’s actions are equivalent to an unwind of QE, or in other words Quantitative Tightening (QT).

What are the implications? For global risk assets, they are clearly negative –global liquidity is falling. For fixed income, the impact on nominal yields is ambivalent because private safe-haven demand for bonds may offset central bank selling. But real yields should move higher, inflation expectations lower, and there should be steepening pressure on curves. This is indeed how markets have responded over the last two weeks: as if the Fed has announced it is unwinding its balance sheet!

The potential for more China outflows is huge: set against 3.6trio of reserves (recorded as an “asset” in the international investment position data), China has around 2trillion of “non-sticky” liabilities including speculative carry trades, debt and equity inflows, deposits by and loans from foreigners that could be a source of outflows (chart 2). The bottom line is that markets may fear that QT has much more to go.

What could turn sentiment more positive? The first is other central banks coming in to fill the gap that the PBoC is leaving. China’s QT would need to be replaced by higher QE elsewhere, with the ECB and BoJ being the most notable candidates. The alternative would be for China’s capital outflows to stop or at least slow down. Perhaps a combination of aggressive PBoC easing and more confidence in the domestic economy would be sufficient, absent a sharp devaluation of the currency to a new stable. Either way, it is hard to become very optimistic on global risk appetite until a solution is found to China’s evolving QT.

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