(Mossack Fonseca) – On November 30, 2015, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) admitted China’s renminbi (RMB), also known as the Yuan, into the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket of currencies. Effective October 1, 2016 the RMB will be a freely usable currency and will be included in the SDR basket as a fifth currency, along with the U.S. dollar, the euro, the Japanese yen and the British pound. Launching the new SDR basket on October 1, 2016 will provide sufficient lead time for the Fund, its members and other SDR users to adjust to the change, according to an IMF press release.
The following weights have been established for each of the five currencies in the new SDR basket that will take effect on October 1, 2016:
- U.S. dollar 41.73 percent (compared with 41.9 percent at the 2010 Review)
- Euro 30.93 percent (compared with 37.4 percent at the 2010 Review)
- Chinese renminbi 10.92 percent
- Japanese yen 8.33 percent (compared with 9.4 percent at the 2010 Review)
- Pound sterling 8.09 percent (compared with 11.3 percent at the 2010 Review)
The Role of the SDR
The SDR was created by the IMF in 1969 as a supplementary international reserve asset, in the context of the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system. The SDR is neither a currency, nor a claim on the IMF. Rather, it is a potential claim on the freely usable currencies of IMF members. Holders of SDRs can obtain these currencies in exchange for their SDRs in two ways: first, through the arrangement of voluntary exchanges between members; and second, by the IMF designating members with strong external positions to purchase SDRs from members with weak external positions. In addition to its role as a supplementary reserve asset, the SDR serves as the unit of account of the IMF and some other international organizations.
The SDR interest rate provides the basis for calculating the interest charged to borrowing members, and the interest paid to members for the use of their resources for regular (non-concessional) IMF loans. It is also the interest paid to members on their SDR holdings and charged on their SDR allocation. The SDR interest rate is determined weekly and is based on a weighted average of representative interest rates on short-term debt instruments in the money markets of the SDR basket currencies.
Why the IMF Added the Renminbi
China is the second largest economy after the United States and is first in world trade. The renminbi is the No. 4 currency for global trade, accounting for about 2.5 percent of the total, according to SWIFT, the organization for interbank financial transfers. Beijing controls the flow of money into and out of its economy but has encouraged the use of the renminbi abroad, especially for trade, which helps Chinese exporters by eliminating the cost and risk of volatile exchange rates. Since 2009, China has signed currency swap agreements with central banks in Britain, Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, South Korea and other countries. Branches of Chinese state-owned banks in Britain, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, France and Singapore have received authorization to take deposits or settle trade-related transactions in renminbi.
Impact on Global Finance
The SDR has no direct link to financial markets or private business. Over time, the IMF decision might prompt central banks to hold more reserves in renminbi. JP Morgan economist Haibin Zhu said renminbi holdings might rise to 5 percent of global reserves, or about $350 billion, over five years. That might encourage more use of renminbi for trade and investment. “Longer term, this is a huge step”, said Stephen Innes, chief trader for the currency firm OANDA in Singapore. “Once investors become more comfortable with Chinese markets, especially if they continue to progress with opening policies and make the same strides they did over the past year, international markets will really embrace Chinese capital markets”.
Impact on China
Economists say the IMF decision could encourage Chinese leaders to further relax controls on the renminbi. The ruling Communist Party’s latest five-year development plan says the renminbi will be “freely tradable and freely usable” by 2020. The surprise August introduction of a new mechanism for setting the government-controlled exchange rate led to 3.5 percent devaluation. However, the country’s top economic official, Premier Li Keqiang, said in September that there were no plans for further declines. Some traders worry Beijing might devalue once it achieved its goal of being added to the IMF basket. But others say Chinese leaders want to be seen as reliable. The renminbi’s addition is “an endorsement as an international currency”, said Chen Kang, chief bond analyst for SWS Research Co. in Shanghai. “That will encourage China to adopt more measures toward accelerating the process of the opening of its foreign exchange markets and capital markets”.
The renminbi’s government-set exchange rate still follows the dollar despite the new mechanism for setting its value. For now, that makes the renminbi a dollar in disguise, according to Derek Scissors of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Until the renminbi is allowed to trade freely, the IMF decision will “increase the dollar’s importance”, said Scissors. “Those governments or investors hoping for a dilution of dollar dominance for portfolio diversification or political reasons are getting exactly the opposite”.