Inclusion in SDR Does Not Spur Official Demand for the Yuan

The inclusion of the Chinese yuan in the SDR basket at the start
of Q4 16 did not appear to prompt central banks to include it in their
reserves. 
The latest IMF
COFER report
 showed that as of the end of 2016, the dollar value of
the yuan in held in reserves was $84.5 bln, which is in line with estimates of
both private and public sector economists prior
to the inclusion.  
This report is
the first that breaks out the yuan from the “others” category that
the IMF uses.  
The
yuan accounts for a little more than 1.0% of the reserves for which the
currency allocation is provided.  
Allocated reserves accounted for 73.2% or $7.9 trillion of the $10.79 trillion
stockpile central banks amassed.  
Not all central
banks provide the allocation of their currency reserves.
  China has begun gradually reporting
the allocation of its reserves, and that
is an important change that has been taking place.  Over the course of
2016, the dollar value of unallocated reserves fell $1.211 trillion to $2.893
trillion.  The total value of reserves (allocated plus unallocated) fell
by $128 bln.  
The gradual
allocation of Chinese reserves is one of several
factors that is driving investors’ understanding of reserve holdings.  
   Central banks may change the
allocation of reserves. This is what many
market participants get caught up with, but it typically happens at glacial
speeds meaning that often the changes are overwhelmed by more volatile
variables, like valuation swings and whether reserves are being accumulated or
liquidated.  
The dollar rose
against the other reserve currencies in the Q4 16, and some of the moves were
quite sharp. 
 The greenback appreciated nearly
13.5% against the yen in the last three months of 2016.  It gains almost
half has much against the euro, 6% against the Australian dollar, and 5%
against sterling.  
However, to
minimize the short-term fluctuations and to see larger patterns, we focus now
on year-over-year changes.
  The net valuation change in most of
the reserve currencies was within plus/minus 3%.  The euro stretched with
a 3.2% decline, but sterling was the real
exception.  It fell 16.25%.    
The dollar
holdings are not subject to valuation shifts. 
 They rose $679 bln in 2016. However, as a share of allocated reserves, the dollar slipped to 63.95%
from 64.16%.  The euro’s share was constant at 19.73%.  To remain steady in the face of the increase of
allocated reserves and the decline in the foreign exchange market, the
euro must have been accumulated.
 Its valuation rose $214 bln.  
The yen’s share
of allocated reserves edged higher in 2016 to 4.21% from 4.03%. 
 The dollar value rose to $332.77 from $274.77.
 Of this $58 bln increase, about $7.7 bln can be accounted for by the yen’s 2.8% appreciation.  The
remainder is accounted for by China’s declarations or new purchases of yen.  
Sterling’s
share of allocated reserves fell from 4.86% at the end of 2015 to 4.42% at the
end of last year. 
 The dollar value of reserves
allocated to sterling increased by $17.95 bln, but sterling’s 16.25% decline
would have drained $5.4 bln.  Between China and other central banks trying
to maintain a fixed allocation to sterling
likely played the decisive role.  
The Australian
dollar’s share of global reserves eased to 1.85% from 1.92%, while the Canadian
dollar’s share edged up to 2.04% from 1.87%. 
 We note that Canadian dollar
appreciated almost 3% against the dollar in 2016, while the Australian dollar
eased almost 1.1%.  The US dollar valuation of the Australian dollar in reserves rose $15.1 bln to $146.1 bln.
 The US dollar valuation of Canadian dollar holdings rose $33.2 bln to
$160.8 bln,
The use of the
Swiss franc as a reserve asset has diminished.
  It was hardly a significant reserve currency but the negative
interest rates that still go out a decade likely discourage reserve managers.
The franc’s share of reserves fell from 0.29% of allocated reserves to 0.17%
last year.  This represented a $6.0
bln decrease in the dollar valuation to $13.7 bln.  

The yuan share
surpasses the franc’s share easily, and it remains an open question how fast it
explores it upside potential.  
We suspect that central banks will be cautious and opportunistic.
China’s onshore bond market is accessible, but there may still be liquidity
concerns, and, as a store of value, there
may be open questions.  In the near-term, the risks are on the downside of
the yuan and Chinese bond prices.  

Let us conclude
with a word about the IMF’s “other” category of currencies.
  With the yuan being taken out, one
reasonably might have expected a corresponding decline in this category.
However, the decline was more modest $12.2 bln.  At the end of 2016,
reserves in currencies not broken out by the IMF had a dollar value of $201.2
bln or 2.55% of allocated reserves.  At the end of 2015, the
“others” were worth $213.3 bln or 3.13% of allocated reserves.
 What is going on?  We suspect that the results may reflect that
China holds some “other” currencies in reserves, like the Singapore
dollar, South Korean won.  Some central banks may also have an allocation
to Russian rouble, which appreciated 20% against the dollar in 2016.  

Disclaimer

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