The seemingly incessant strengthening trend of the Chinese Yuan (much as with the seemingly inexorable rise of US equities or home prices) has encouraged huge amounts of structured products to be created over the past few years enabling traders to position for more of the same in increasingly levered ways. That was all going great until the last few weeks which has seen China enter the currency wars (as we explained here). The problem, among many facing China, is that these structured products will face major losses and as Morgan Stanley warns “real pain will come if CNY stays above these levels,” leading to further capital withdrawal, illiquidity, and a potential vicious circle as it appears the PBOC is trying to break the virtuous carry trade that has fueled so much of its bubble economy.
Deutsche Bank notes that Chinese equities yesterday hit 1 month lows and are 65% off the all time highs. There’s a mix of reasons but one of the biggest stories of the past week or so has been the depreciation of the Chinese currency, both onshore where USDCNY is up 1.0% over the past week and offshore where USDCNH is up 1.25%.
Whilst these moves may not seem large in the context of other EM currencies, they are significant compared to the usual size of Renminbi moves.
As we noted here, Deutsche adds that whilst there has been some weak Chinese data which might explain part of the depreciation, the In their previous note, MS estimated that US$350 billion of TRF have been sold since the beginning of 2013. When we dig deeper, we think it is reasonable to assume that most of what was sold in 2013 has been knocked out (at the lower knock-outs), given the price action seen in 2013.
Given that, and given what business we’ve done in 2014 calendar year to date, we think a reasonable estimate is that US$150 billion of product remains.
Taking that as a base case, we can then estimate the size of potential losses to holders of these products if USD/CNH keeps trading higher.
In round numbers, we estimate that for every 0.1 move in USD/CNH above the average EKI (which we have assumed here is 6.20), corporates will lose US$200 million a month. The real pain comes if USD/CNH stays above this level, as these losses will accrue every month until the contract expires. Given contracts are 24 months in tenor, this implies around US$4.8 billion in total losses for every 0.1 above the average EKI.
Deutsche Bank concludes…
Looking forward it’s possible that the PBOC is not attempting to actively engineer a sustained depreciation of the Renminbi but rather is attempting to increase the level of two-way volatility in the market to discourage the carry trade and also excessive capital inflows. In terms of the broad risk going forward the sheer scale of the challenge the PBOC has set out to tackle likely means they will have to move with restraint. This is certainly a story to watch…
As Morgan Stanley warns however, this has much broader implications for China…
The potential for US$4.8 billion in losses for every 0.1 above the average EKI could have significant implications for corporate China in its own right, as could the need to post collateral on positions even if the EKI level is not breached.
However, the real concern for corporate China is linked to broader credit issues. On that, it’s worth reiterating that the corporate sector in China is the most leveraged in the world. Further loss due to structured products would add further stress to corporates and potentially some of those might get funding from the shadow banking sector. Investment loss would weaken their balance sheets further and increase repayment risk of their debt.
In this regard, it would potentially cause investors to become more concerned about trust products if any of these corporates get involved in borrowing through trust products. In this regard, this would raise concerns among investors, given that there is already significant risk of credit defaults to happen in 2014.
Remember, as we noted previously, these potential losses are pure levered derivative losses… not some “well we are losing so let’s greatly rotate this bet to US equities” which means it has a real tightening impact on both collateral and liquidity around the world… yet again, as we noted previously, it appears the PBOC is trying to break the world’s most profitable and easy carry trade – which has created a massive real estate bubble in their nation (and that will have consequences).
The bottom line is the question of whether the PBOC’s engineering this CNY weakness is merely a strategy to increase volatility and thus deter carry-trade malevolence (in line with reform policies to tamp down bubbles) OR is it a more aggressive entry into the currency wars as China focuses on its trade (exports) and keeping the dream alive? (Or, one more thing, the former morphs into the latter as a vicious unwind ensues OR the market tests the PBOC’s willingness to break their momentum spirit).
It appears, as Bloomberg notes, the PBOC is winning:
Yuan has gone from being most attractive carry trade bet in EM to worst in 2 mos as central bank efforts to weaken currency cause volatility to surge.
Yuan’s Sharpe ratio turned negative this yr as 3-mo. implied volatility in currency rose in Feb. by most since May, when Fed signaled plans to cut stimulus