Companies 'more willing' to hold foreign currency, SAFE reports
China had net capital inflows throughout the first quarter, although the surplus narrowed each month during the period, according to the State Administration of Foreign Exchange.
In the first quarter, domestic banks' foreign-exchange settlements totaled $516.8 billion and foreign-exchange sales reached $357.5 billion, yielding a surplus of $159.2 billion. That was up 57 percent from the previous year.
But the surplus fell to $40.2 billion in March from $45.7 billion in February and $73.3 billion in January.
"Positive changes are taking place in terms of cross-border capital flows, although the current situation of net inflows continues," Guan Tao, who runs SAFE's balance-of-payments department, told reporters on Thursday in Beijing.
The "positive changes" mainly refer to Chinese companies' growing inclination to increase their foreign-currency holdings, he said.
In March, foreign-currency deposits increased by $14.4 billion, rising 3 percent from the average level of the previous two months. Guan didn't specify whether these were corporate or individual deposits, or both.
The government is aiming for "a balance of supply and demand for foreign exchange and hopes to improve macroeconomic regulation and control".
Guan said the country also aims to see companies reduce their currency mismatches and better handle the risks of cross-border capital flows. On Thursday, the yuan closed at 6.2489 to the dollar, down 113 basis points from Wednesday.
The depreciation of the yuan since mid-February has slowed down foreign-currency settlements by Chinese companies, which are waiting for signs of the currency's longer-term trend.
Li Wei, a Shanghai-based economist at Standard Chartered Plc, said the yuan's weakening is a temporary phenomenon and global investors' interest in the currency will continue to grow with its internationalization and the diversification of channels to use it.
"Investors believe that the yuan still has room for appreciation in the medium and long term. They also believe that China will continue to record a trade surplus and a capital-account surplus in the next two or three years," Li said.
"We estimate that the yuan will rise to 6.04 to the dollar by the end of this year." Guan said it's normal for the yuan to rise and fall against the dollar and that the exchange rate will become more flexible as market forces are given more emphasis.
"People should not overinterpret the current small adjustment of the exchange rate of the yuan against the dollar. Instead, they should pay more attention to the medium- and long-term prospects," he said.