The Dim Sum bond market is starting to show a pulse after expectations for swings in China’s currency dropped the most among major currencies this month.
Sales of yuan debt offshore have surged to 26.4 billion yuan ($4.08 billion) in March, more than double January and February’s combined 12 billion yuan, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The debt returned 1.2 percent since the end of January, after losing 1.2 percent in the previous two months, according to the BOCHK Offshore RMB Bond Index. Three-month implied volatility has fell to 6.4 percent from 8.3 percent on Feb. 29, the biggest decline among 31 major currencies.
After an August yuan devaluation that shocked global markets, the People’s Bank of China has sought to curb capital outflows and intervened to stabilize the exchange rate. National Australia Bank Ltd. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. were among foreign lenders to test the waters, while China’s finance ministry and Hungary’s government are preparing offshore yuan debt sales. PBOC Deputy Governor Yi Gang said on March 12 that the authorities plan to support the development of the market.
“I do expect that the worst part of the currency uncertainty is behind us, but I’m also realistic that there is still concern about potential depreciation, which might keep yields from going down too much in the offshore market,” said Rajeev De Mello, who oversees about $10 billion as head of Asian fixed income at Schroder Investment Management Ltd. in Singapore. “The higher yields, compared with the U.S. and many other countries, are going to be an attraction.”
While the average yield on offshore yuan bonds climbed to a record 6.18 percent on Jan. 28 — compared with 1.03 percent on three-year Treasuries — investors were reluctant to pile into the debt amid turmoil in the yuan and local stocks. Sentiment is slowly turning, with the yuan erasing its losses for the year and officials trying to soothe frayed nerves.
PBOC Deputy Governor Yi Gang said in a press conference on March 12 that the yuan’s internationalization and the development of the offshore market are driven by market forces. Policy makers have gone to extreme lengths to prop up the yuan — ramping up intervention, clamping down on capital outflows and waging a rare verbal campaign to restore confidence in the currency.
Global sovereign issuers are lending a hand. China’s Ministry of Finance is said to have chosen London to issue the first yuan-denominated bonds outside of Hong Kong and the mainland, following the PBOC’s sale of 5 billion yuan of one-year bills in October. The Hungarian government is primarily looking at selling yuan bonds outside China.
The yuan traded in Hong Kong has risen 1.5 percent so far this year, while the onshore rate has advanced 0.2 percent. Both fell to five-year lows in January as the PBOC sought to punish speculators trying to take advantage of the difference in the two rates. Yuan deposits in Hong Kong, the biggest offshore pool, shrank 15 percent last year in their first annual drop, before rising 0.1 percent in January to 852 billion yuan, according to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.
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“Given the shrinking pool following the depreciation, it was impossible for the Dim Sum market to not feel the spillover effects,” said Yang Xi, a Beijing-based analyst at Citic Securities Co., China’s biggest broker. “Now that the currency is stabilizing, we still think there are plenty of opportunities as the yuan’s globalization push is still on the top leadership’s agenda.”
Twelve-month forwards for the offshore yuan have rallied 2 percent so far this month in Hong Kong, outperforming the exchange rate’s 1.2 percent gain, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The one-year cross-currency swap rate, a leading indicator for offshore yuan bond yields, fell to 2.97 percent from a record 6.2 percent on Jan. 18.
“More stability is returning to the Chinese currency and swap rates have come down very sharply,” Schroders’ De Mello said in a March 16 phone interview. “That’s really among the main reasons for the much, much better performance of Dim Sum bonds recently.”
Certificate of deposit issuance accounted for most of the offshore sales in March. HSBC Holdings Plc, the top underwriter for such debt in the last five years, forecast in December that gross sales including CDs this year will extend a decline to 260 billion yuan-300 billion yuan from last year’s 423 billion yuan.
Sales of yuan-denominated debt excluding certificates of deposit fell 32 percent to 163 billion yuan in 2015, the first decline since the market’s inception in 2007, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Issuance in the first quarter was about a third of the amount of a year earlier at 12.1 billion yuan, largely because Chinese companies can get cheaper funding in Shanghai.
“As the currency market stabilizes, Dim Sum is clawing back lost ground, albeit slowly,” said Raymond Gui, a Hong Kong-based senior portfolio manager at Income Partners Asset Management Ltd., which oversees $1.7 billion. “For issuers, if the cost keeps falling, it will reach a level that will lure more sales.”
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